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Phillips: On Pillar, All-Star snubs, Padres' Byrnes and more

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Steve Phillips
6/27/2014 3:36:37 PM
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TSN Baseball Insider Steve Phillips answers several questions each week. This week's topics include his take on the Kevin Pillar incident, All-Star snubs, the firing of Padres general manager Josh Byrnes and more.

1. The Toronto Blue Jays demoted Kevin Pillar in a surprising move today. As Scott MacArthur noted in this piece , it was at least in part due to the rookie showing up his manager. Your thoughts on this move and the way it was done, as opposed to a quiet word with the kid?

When I signed to play professionally in 1981 out of high school I went to Kingsport, TN to play rookie ball.  I signed my contract after a protracted negotiation and reported in July after the season had already started.  One of the first rules my manager told me when I walked in his office was to never show up him (the manager), the coaches or any of my teammates.  Every season after that, my manager proclaimed the same rule in the very first meeting with the team. 

It is a commandment of baseball:  ""Thou shall not show up the manager." 


Kevin Pillar violated that commandment when he threw a temper tantrum for being pinch hit.  I understand that Pillar wanted the opportunity to deliver for his team and to solidify a role on the roster.  What he doesn't seem to understand is that every at bat is an audition for the next at bat.  Players don't get to pick and choose when they get used and how they get used.  If he wanted that at bat then he should have earned it in his previous at bats. 

Now I like players who want to play.  I would be disappointed if a player wasn't disappointed to get pinch hit for and lose an opportunity to be a hero.  But Pillar needs to learn it isn't about him.  It is about the team; a first place team at that. 

I love that the Jays demoted Pillar over this.  There are times when handling things quietly behind closed doors is appropriate.  I am not big on airing dirty laundry in public.  But this was an opportunity for Gibbons to make a statement to all 25 players on his major league team as well every kid in the minor leagues.  The Blue Jays are about team and not individuals. 

Over the course of the season, every player coach and manager does something selfish at some point.  The severity of the selfishness as well as the way it is handled by everyone impacts the chemistry of the team.  Gibbons and Anthopoulos moved swiftly and firmly on Pillar and the Jays organization is better for it.  My hope is that the Pillar will learn from it and not feel like a victim or hold on to resentment.  He messed up and had to pay the consequences. 

Pillar set it on a tee and Gibbons knocked it out of the park. 

Manager of the year?


2. Based on the current All-Star voting, is there a player that stands out as not getting the respect he deserves from the fans?

The fan balloting for the All-Star game is a popularity contest and not always a true indicator of the quality of the players' seasons.  There are always players who get a raw deal.  It happens every year.  Certainly the player votes coupled with the fan votes gets us close to the right participants even though we may not have the proper starters. 

This year we can see where the injustices are a headed after the fan votes.  Hopefully the players will rectify the problems. 

Currently there is a great race at the NL third base position.  The Brewers' Aramis Ramirez is barely ahead of Mets' third baseman David WrightPablo Sandoval of the Giants is within striking distance as well.  However Todd Frazier (.283/17 HR/ 45 RBI, 50 runs) of the Reds isn't even in the top five and he is having the best season of the group.  I understand that Frazier is a relative unknown to the fans and has come out of nowhere at an underperforming position in the league, but he deserves the nod. 

In the outfield in the NL, Andrew McCutchen (PIT), Yasiel Puig (LAD) and Carlos Gomez (MIL) lead the way.  All three are having All-Star worthy seasons but I do think that Miami's Giancarlo Stanton (.310/21 HR /59 RBI/55 runs) would edge out Gomez on my ballot.

The greatest injustice in the NL is at the catcher's position.  By far, Jonathan Lucroy (.328/8 HR/ 40 RBI) of the Brewers is having the best season.  He is trailing Yadier Molina by close to 700 votes.  Lucroy will likely make the team but he should be the starter.  Molina (.282/6HR/27 RBI) is winning by reputation and not performance.

In the American League it seems inevitable that Derek Jeter will win the fan vote for shortstop.  The White Sox Alexei Ramirez has earned the starting role on the field this year but Jeter will get it for long and meritorious service.  And he should.

Baltimore's Matt Wieters is leading all AL catchers in voting which tells you how weak the field must be.  Wieters is out for the season with an injury and surgery. They should just draw names out of a hat to see who goes.

Robinson Cano of Seattle leads the second base vote followed by Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia.  All three have been All-Stars previously and are recognizable names.  The guy who should represent the AL at second base is Jose Altuve of Houston.  His .334 batting average leads the league as do his 30 stolen bases. 

The AL outfield has a big omission too.  Jose Bautista and Mike Trout are one and two in the balloting and deserve it.  Currently Melky Cabrera is in third place.  He is having a nice year but with all due respect probably shouldn't be in the top five candidates for the team.  Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes deserves consideration before Cabrera but mostly it is Michael Brantley of the Indians who is getting short-changed.  Brantley is tied for third in hitting in the AL with a .325 batting average to go with 51 RBI.  He is having a breakout season and deserves appropriate recognition. 

I credit Blue Jays fans for their support of Melky because I don't believe that he is gaining big time votes from fans around the league. 

3. The Padres fired GM Josh Byrnes this week. Where did it go wrong for him in San Diego?

I always hate to see general managers get fired.  It doesn't only impact them but also their families and their entire staff.  You know the routine; a new GM will want his own people and many more will lose their jobs.  It is the nature of the job and the industry but it still stinks.  In many ways GM jobs are thankless.  You can make the right decision and things can still go wrong.  Expectations of owners can often be the downfall of general managers. 

Ownership in San Diego said they expected more from this roster.  They had approved Josh Byrnes increasing the payroll from $68 million to $90.  When payroll goes up so do expectations from owners.  They are tied together.  However, even with the increase San Diego has the lowest payroll in the NL West.  The Dodgers have the highest payroll in all of baseball ($235M) while the Giants are seventh ($154M).  The Diamondbacks and Rockies are spending $5M-$6M more than the Padres as well. 

In his two plus year Byrnes made a number of trades.  Most of which have been fairly successful although none in a significant way.  It is the contract negotiations which burned him.  Shortly after his arrival in San Diego he traded for Carlos Quentin from the White Sox.  That in and of itself is no big problem.  It was the signing of Quentin to a three-year, $27M contract which hurt.  Quentin has been hurt and unproductive as a Padre.  He signed three more players, Cory Luebke, Cameron Maybin and Nick Hundley to pre-arbitration multi-year deals and got burned by injuries and underperformance again.  Then this spring he signed second baseman Jedd Gyorko to a $35M extension after only one season in which he hit .243 with 23 homers and 63 RBI.  This year, Gyorko rewarded Byrnes's confidence with a .162 batting average in 200+ at bats before getting injured. 

The Padres are baseball's worst offensive team by far.  In fact, their offence is offensive.  They are last in the baseball in runs scored and have been outscored by 38 runs by the Braves who have the second fewest runs scored.  Their slash line of .213/.273/.337 is the worst in each category. 

There is more than enough "stuff" for the owners to make a change in San Diego.  That is tough to dispute.  But did the owners actually have expectations that they would be dramatically better than they are?  I never saw it.  They are undermanned in every aspect of the game. 

I am not sure who will get the job next.  But whomever it is, has their work cut out for them. 

Omar Minaya, former Mets and Expos' GM is part of the three-man team running things now.  He is a creative guy and may have the right style for a small-market team.  Gary Larocque is another name you will hear.  He is in charge of minor leagues and scouting for the Cardinals.  They always seem to have major league-ready talent in St Louis.  Larocque may be able to work his magic in San Diego as well.  Padres' President Mike Dee came from the Red Sox so there is speculation that Sox assistant GM Mike Hazen could be in the running as well. 

By the way, I like the weather in San Diego…I'm just sayin'
 

4) In most sports we all love to play the blame game.  When something goes wrong, someone is surely to blame.  Typically that person pays with his job.  We saw that exact scenario play out with the San Diego Padres with GM Josh Byrnes' dismissal.

Typically changes are made when expectations are not met.  In Texas over the last few years, there have rightfully been big expectations. They have had tremendous success.  This year was no different.  They had acquired Prince Fielder in the off-season and seemed poise to battle for the top position in the AL West.  Injuries and underperformance have crushed them.  They have 14 players currently on the DL including seven pitchers. 

In many organizations the training staff could find themselves in trouble with this many injuries.  Strength and conditioning coaches have been axed.  I have seen organizations that have changed team doctors.  Even general managers have paid the price for a roster depleted by injuries.  Owners don't want to hear excuses about injuries they just want results.  There is not a single current Ranger employee that I would hold accountable for the injuries this year. 

Sometimes the best executives know when to get out of Dodge before things go badly.  Last October, Rangers' CEO Nolan Ryan, stepped down from his position.  It was unclear as to why exactly he left, but he did.   I am not saying that he knew what might happen in Texas with the massive number of injuries but his absence is making playing the blame game a bit more difficult.

Remember it was Nolan Ryan who made such a big deal about how pitchers are babied today compared to the past.  He expected more from his pitchers.  Pitch counts wouldn't dictate performance in his organization.  He wanted the organizations pitchers to be like he was when he pitched.  

Nolan Ryan was a freak of nature.  He was a big strong powerful workhorse of a pitcher.  He played 27 seasons accumulating over 5,300 innings, the fifth most of all-time.  He even had a year where he pitched 332 innings.  My experience has been that a great player who becomes an instructor often expects players to do what the star did in his career.  It just isn't possible. 

I believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that pitchers get hurt by throwing too much.  Ryan wanted his pitchers to throw more not less.  Is it any surprise that seven pitchers are currently on the DL, while several have undergone surgery?  It isn't to me.

I know it is not a popular position to take on a baseball icon.  It is a losing battle typically.  Remember when Robin Ventura charged Nolan Ryan after he hit him with a pitch?  Ryan got him in a headlock and pummeled Ventura. 

At the risk of being pummeled I would like to suggest that Mr. Ryan's view that pitchers need to throw more not less is flawed beyond belief, and despite the fact that he is no longer there, his presence is still really being felt.

Kevin Pillar (Photo: David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

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(Photo: David Cooper/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
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