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Phillips: Should Jays manager Gibbons be taking some heat?

Steve Phillips

8/2/2013 11:30:42 AM

Each week, TSN Baseball Analyst Steve Phillips breaks down all the big stories and issues around Major League Baseball on TSN.ca. In this edition, he looks at the blame game in Toronto, what Commissioner Bud Selig should do with Alex Rodriguez and the best moves made over the last week as teams jockeyed at the trade deadline.

1) Usually when a team has a lot of talent and does not succeed on the field, the manager takes the heat. John Gibbons, though, has not taken very many punches in Toronto this year at all. The players have taken the bulk of the darts from fans and the media. What is your assessment of the Jays manager this season? Should he be taking some heat?

The blame game is starting in Toronto.  Who is to blame for the dismal season?  What went wrong?  What could have been done differently? There is plenty of mud being slung but very little in the direction of manager John Gibbons who was hired for his second tour of duty with the Jays this past off-season. 

No matter whether a team wins or loses the results are about everybody and not any one individual.  The general manager picks the players, the manager manipulates them to succeed and the players try to execute to the best of their ability. When things go wrong everyone comes up short in some way. John Gibbons would be the first to tell you that he wishes he could have done a better job to get more from his players. 

Remember a manager can't hit, pitch, catch or throw for his players.  It's his job to put players in a position to succeed.  He needs to create an environment that holds players accountable for their preparation, effort and performance.  He is responsible for the process of his team's preparation.  He needs to be able to communicate effectively with his team to deliver a variety of different messages.   The manager should be judged on the logic of his decision-making and not solely the result. 

John Gibbons is well-liked and respected by his players. He communicates well. He has his players' backs. He has compassion for injuries and struggles. The Jays have played hard and they prepare to properly to succeed. 

A manager can manipulate his lineup to try and score more runs. The Jays are sixth in the AL in runs scored.  

The Jays greatest struggle has been starting pitching this year.  Their starters are ranked 29th in ERA.  This just so happens to be the area a manager can least impact his team   He hands the ball to the guy who should start on a given day and then it's up to him to get the job done.   The Jays starters have not gotten it done.

A manager can mix and match his bullpen to stop rallies.   The pen can hold leads and hold deficits to try and help the team win.  The Jays bullpen has been very effective this year and has developed depth as the season has progressed.  Gibbons is strong at handling his bullpen

Defensively the season has been a disaster. But it is impossible to blame Gibbons for his team's inability to catch the ball. 

There is no disputing that the results for the Jays have been well below what was expected.  But when you look at the areas Gibbons can most impact his team (offense and bullpen) he has gotten results.  In the areas that boil down to pure execution (starting pitching and defense)  the team has struggled. 

The fact is that the Jays don't have a managerial problem; they have a roster problem. 

2) There is a lot of speculation about a lifetime suspension or some kind of "deal" being cut for Alex Rodriguez regarding the Biogenesis scandal. What should Bud Selig do with A-Rod?

Every indication is that Bud Selig has mounds of evidence against Alex Rodriguez showing his use of PED's, possible recruiting of clients for Biogenesis, and obstruction of the investigation.  

Bud Selig needs to make a statement.  Enough is enough!  It's time for the Commissioner to be aggressive and go after Alex Rodriguez

Rodriguez needs to be banned for life.  Don't negotiate or settle for anything less than that.

Let A-Rod fight it.  Let the player's association and Rodriguez stand up and try to justify his actions.   I would love to hear the argument about how it was okay for him to try and buy the evidence against him from a former Biogenesis employees.

It doesn't matter if the lifetime ban is shortened by an appeal.  Selig needs to make a statement.  He needs to claim his title as the "Commissioner of the Steroid Era."   He will become an historic figure for the ages if he does this.

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis made a statement in 1920 in dealing with the "Black Sox Scandal."   He said enough was enough.  Eight White Sox players were banned from baseball for life for conspiring to lose the 1919 World Series, despite the fact that they had been acquitted by a Chicago jury. He also later banned other players and officials involved in "shady activities." He earned his place in baseball history by being aggressive and definitive.

In 1989, Commissioner Bart Giamatti banned Pete Rose indefinitely from baseball for his gambling while a manager for the Cincinnati Reds.  He made a strong statement that there was no place for gambling in baseball.  Giamatti died shortly after this decision but his courage lives on in his decision

Commissioner Selig can be remembered for saying "Enough is Enough."  Say it strongly and loudly.  Claim your place in history, Bud!!!!  Suspend A-Rod for life!

3) What were the best moves made over the last week as teams jockeyed at the trade deadline?

The July 31 trade deadline was a bit dull this year.  We had only one real blockbuster deal and didn't have many big names change hands.  Now that there are two wild card teams in each league there are more teams that feel they're in the playoff hunt.  That means there are fewer teams buying and more teams that are on the bubble uncertain whether they are buyers or sellers. 

The good news is that there will likely be plenty of waiver trades made over the next month. 

This is the time of year that I loved the most as a GM.  Making trades is fun, exhilarating and exciting, especially when you are a buyer and vying for a playoff spot. 

This is the time of year that General Managers can compete.  It is frustrating watching your team play during the season knowing you can't catch, hit or pitch for them.  You feel so helpless. But walking in the clubhouse after you make a big trade deadline deal is extremely rewarding. 

The general managers that felt the best walking in their clubhouses are Dave Dombrowski of the Tigers, Ben Cherrington of the Red Sox and Dan Duquette of the Orioles. 

Detroit Tigers.  The Tigers had closer problems all season long.  They added Jose Veras from the Astros to support Joaquin Benoit.  It was a great move to add depth and protection as Benoit hasn't ever closed games when they mean something. 

The Tigers also added Jose Iglesisas from the Boston Red Sox as part of a blockbuster three-team deal sending Jake Peavy to Boston and several prospects to the White Sox.  This was a brilliant move as it protects the Tigers for the imminent loss of shortstop Jhonny Peralta to suspension for his role in Biogenesis in the short term.  Plus Iglesisas is the long term answer at the position as well as he is only 23 years old. 

Boston Red Sox.  The Sox needed a starting pitcher and they got the best available on the market in Jake Peavy.  When healthy Peavy is a bulldog competitor with shut down stuff.  He will thrive in Boston as the fans will feed his emotions.  The Red Sox rotation can match just about anybody now, especially if the get Clay Buchholz back at some point.

The Sox also added Matt Thornton, one of the best left-handed relievers in the game, adding power and depth.

Baltimore Orioles.  The big question for the Orioles has always been whether they have enough pitching.  Give Dan Duquette credit he added depth to his rotation at the deadline.  He acquired Scott Feldman, an underrated veteran, from the Cubs along with young righty Bud Norris from the Astros.  The Orioles will control Norris for three seasons making his addition even more valuable.

The Birds also added reliever Francisco Rodriguez from the Brewers to add depth and protection to the end of the game. 

The Orioles have the third best pitching staff in the AL East but it still may be enough to get them to the playoffs. 

There are never any guarantees that trade deadline deals will make the anticipated difference but these general managers gave their teams the best chances possible, 

Fair of Foul

We love villains in sports.  As much as we enjoy rooting for the home team, we love to root against someone or some team too.  The Yankees have been baseball's villains for a long time.  Everyone loves to take shots at the Yankees. Their struggles this year on the field has brought great joy to cities around the league.

The Yanks have been the game's biggest spenders.  When a star player is available the Yankees are in on him.  They have had the highest payroll in baseball since 1998.  In addition to their high payrolls they have also paid millions of dollars in luxury tax and revenue sharing over the years.  This money has gone to help small and mid-market clubs compete.
 
The Yankees though have been motivated to get their payroll below $189M in order to reduce their luxury tax payments. They have to pay a 50 per cent luxury tax if their payroll is over the $189 million threshold. But if they are under $189 million, the Yankees' luxury tax is only 17 per cent

Baltimore Orioles manager Buck Showalter told USA Today Sports that if commissioner Bud Selig suspends Rodriguez, it would be unfair that the Yankees benefit economically.
"They're the ones who signed him to that contract," Showalter said.

"If Bud lets them get away with that, they're under the luxury tax," the Orioles manager told USA Today. "If they can reset, they can spend again, and I guarantee you in two years Matt Wieters is in New York."

Wieters is the Orioles catcher and he will command a hefty free agent salary in a couple of years as he is one of the better all-around catchers in the game.  And yes, he will likely be a target of the catching-depleted Yankees.  It is surprising though that Showalter mentioned Wieters specifically because he created a controversy for his own team. Wieters will have microphones in his face now for the next few weeks asking him if he would consider playing for the Yankees someday.

Showalter's frustration is shared by many managers and general managers around the game.  Every team has a player that in two years could become a target of the Yankees if they get out from under the A-Rod contract and gain financial flexibility with payroll space and reduced luxury tax.  

It just doesn't feel fair that commissioner Selig relieves the Yankees of their burden and then allows them to poach other team's players away. 

I have a solution to the issue: If Rodriguez is suspended; he will be suspended without pay.  This will give the Yankees the financial relief they deserve since Rodriguez won't be playing for them. 

But to Showalter's point the Yankees did sign A-Rod to the contract and with that assumed some risk.  Rodriguez's salary should remain part of the luxury tax calculations even though they are not paying him. This way the Yankees are still on the hook for all of the players under their control even those they are not paying.  It seems to me that is the fairest way to handle this. 

One thing all major league teams should remember is that they need the Yankees to be formidable. In fact all of baseball owes the Yankees a great big thank you because for years in addition to subsidizing payrolls the Yanks have been the biggest draw at the gate.  That is a tough pill to swallow but it is true. Showalter and the Orioles and every other MLB team need the Yankees to be the villain.

Steve Phillips was general manager of the New York Mets from 1997 through 2003, helping lead the club to a National League championship in 2000 and its first World Series appearance in 14 years.