Friday, October 4, 2013
Why Baker is out as Reds manager
By Buster Olney
Dusty Baker, after leading the Reds to a wild-card appearance this season, was fired Friday.
BOSTON -- There was a moment in the midst of the Reds' playoff loss to the Pirates the other night when Dusty Baker walked over to Johnny Cueto and looked directly into his eyes. He tried to connect, cajole and encourage. It was classic Dusty, whose strength as a manager was built on the fact that he connects with players -- not because of any X's and O's, but because he likes people, and supports people.
This is why scouts have always said that Dusty's teams have played hard for him.
But the Reds' front office clearly wanted more than that, which is why Baker was fired. Cincinnati's major league roster was steeped with talent this year, from its deep rotation to the presence of two on-base machines in Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto to the dominance of closer Aroldis Chapman. Club executives believed the team had the potential for a championship and instead it was bounced quickly from the postseason, fading down the stretch before playing just one playoff game.
There is a sense at the top of the organization that the clubhouse needs a shakeup: some personality with an edge, somebody who will raise the bar of expectations for the players. Maybe that'll come with some change in player personnel, but now the Reds will try to execute that with a new manager. Cincinnati's front office decided that Baker's personal touch wasn't working anymore.
The draft-and-development model is now being followed by most teams to the degree that there is less talent available for the many clubs drinking from this trough. As teams like the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees work to replenish their respective farm systems, the process of getting to where the Cardinals and Red Sox are at could take years.
But as you watch the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics in the postseason this fall, do not make the mistake of looking at them as the mad geniuses of baseball's draft. That title really belongs to the Cardinals.
No, the consistent excellence of the Rays and Athletics is really built on maximizing the value of players after they are drafted -- in trades.
Oh sure, the Rays took Evan Longoria and David Price at the top of the draft, back in the days when they were annually at the bottom of the standings. But remember, Tampa Bay actually had one significant mistake in the draft, passing on Buster Posey and taking Tim Beckham, and it's been years since they picked near the front of the draft.
Trading for players such as Ben Zobrist has made the Rays a consistent winner.
They traded for Ben Zobrist back in 2006, and Zobrist has merely been a linchpin player for them. They were extremely proactive in trading former No. 1 pick Delmon Young to Minnesota, for Matt Garza, who helped them contend for years. And then, before the 2011 season, they traded Garza to the Cubs -- three years before he reached free agency -- for a package of players that included Chris Archer, who is now one of the best young pitchers in the American League.
Along with getting some talent through the draft, like Alex Cobb in the fourth round and Matt Moore in the eighth round in 2007, they have made the right trades at the right time -- and picked the right players from other teams.
This is why you might see the Rays or the Athletics play into the World Series -- and then be the center of attention at the winter meetings again, as Tampa Bay proactively considers offers for Price and Oakland talks about Yoenis Cespedes. It's how they do their business, and because they have done it very well, they are still alive, still contending for a championship.
Time and again, you watch Clayton Kershaw pitch and it looks early on like he is struggling with his command, like he could be facing a tough night -- and then you look up and it's the eighth inning and he's allowed one run.
That's the way it was in Thursday's playoff. Kershaw didn't have a curveball to work with in the opening innings, and he was sometimes struggling for command of his fastball, which was often cutting inside. And you looked up in the eighth inning and he was out of the game with a big lead and 12 strikeouts.
• The Rangers intend to give a qualifying offer to Nelson Cruz, Jon Daniels says. And the negotiating probably ends there, unless Cruz wants multiple years and an extremely team-friendly deal, in which his annual salary is markedly less than the $14 million he would get in a qualifying offer.
Once Texas gives Cruz a qualifying offer, it'll cut the legs from under the player's free agency, because a lot of teams wouldn't consider surrendering draft-pick compensation for a player coming off a PED suspension. The open-ended question on Cruz going forward is: How good is he, really?
So in all likelihood, Cruz will go back to Texas on a one-year deal. There really is no incentive for the Rangers to offer him more than that, unless Cruz makes it worth their while by taking more years for less annual salary.
• We should get some clarity today in the situation with the Yankees and Joe Girardi. Contract talks have been ongoing, and the Yankees' history is that they will make their best offers quickly. If not accepted, they will move on.
By the way: It'd make no sense for the Yankees to not grant permission to Girardi to talk with the Cubs or any other team right now. His contract is expiring in 27 days, and if he wants to leave -- for greater money in Chicago, or for improved quality of life while working in television -- he'll be able to do that soon, anyway.
The Yankees know what their comfort level is in the offer they're presenting him, and if they give a last/best and he says no, well, they'd look small for making him wait another few weeks before moving on.
1. To be clear: Brad Ausmus would be very interested in talking about the Cubs' managerial job, and he is very interested in managing; he finished second to John Farrell in the running for the Boston job last year.