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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: December 3, 2021 11:04 pm PDT
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During this “winter meetings’’ time of year, it is a good time to think ahead to next season. What I always like to do is predict what fan base will be the angriest fan base, not the happiest, the angriest.

Their team is miserable and so are they.

Anybody can pick winners. I go with anger.

Once again they’ve been sold a groupthink bill of goods by ownership and their number-crunching GMs. If Hollywood ever wants to do a reboot of the Wizard of Oz, central casting has to look no further than Major League Baseball, where there are a whole bunch of Cowardly GMs, who with a little makeup could take on the role alongside Dorothy as the Cowardly Lion.

Of course, this is the time of year where every GM is brilliant. Every lineup is vastly improved. At least that’s what I’m reading around baseball.

Right off the top I’m picking the Red Sox as a team headed for big trouble and mass anger from the fans. The Red Sox have the uncanny knack of not being able to hold onto homegrown talent, players who should have been Red Sox players for life.

Here are two examples: Jon Lester and Mookie Betts.

The Betts Decision, as I like to call it, will haunt this franchise for the next 10 years.

In a game that ever so slowly appears (hopefully) to be getting back to some basics like base-running and defense, letting Mookie get away in the trade to the Dodgers will be looked upon as one of the worst moves in baseball history. The Dodgers then signed Mookie to a $365 million extension, solidifying their future and World Series runs, starting with this Covid Cup Championship.

CHAIM BLOOM

Chaim Bloom

The Mookie-less Red Sox finished with a 24-36 record, last place in the AL East, 16 games behind the Rays.

How any organization that has gobs of cash can say they are there for the fans and let Betts get away is incredible. And I’m not just talking about signing Betts to a long-term contract as he neared free agency. He should have been signed years ago, his talent was recognizable from the start, but the Red Sox did not have the sense nor the guts to commit. He should have been made a showcase Red Sox player for the rest of his career.

It wasn’t done. If a move was made like that the Red Sox would not have to be talking about gaining payroll flexibility because they would be winning, if they managed to locate some pitching.

They let Lester get away in 2014. He is 83-48 since and won a World Championship with the Cubs. But wins don’t mean anything, right – it’s all about spin rate – at least that’s what I’m told.

It will be interesting to see how Alex Cora can manage this team without Mookie. He will be challenged to say the least.

I know Chaim Bloom was instantly recognized as a Red Sox savior when he took over as head of baseball operations, but he has not shown Baseball or Bust anything so far in his lead role, even though the coronation took place the moment he was hired.

Red Sox fans had their success once the Curse of the Bambino was broken in 2004, and then more championships in 2007, 2013 and 2018. They will not be patient with this pitching-short team and seeing Mookie and his guaranteed success with the Dodgers is only going to make Red Sox fans more frustrated and more angry.

And I can’t blame them.

Dave Dombrowski

Dave Dombrowski

Let’s stay in the East, but this time in the NL East.

My second choice for Angriest Fan Base is the Phillies.

Of course, it’s Philly. It doesn’t take much to make those fans angry, but again, let’s be clear, I am not picking on the fans. In fact I am advocating anger in the fan base. For too long, baseball front offices have been getting away with the “we just want to play competitive games In September’’ or a five- to seven-year rebuild.

The sport is littered with seven-year rebuilds and those fans are beyond angry, they are despondent and that’s why I am not listing such obvious candidates as the Pirates, Orioles, Mariners or Tigers, teams like that who have so far to go.

For too long, teams have treated fans poorly. Philly fans know more about baseball than the Clown Show front office that was instituted there by ownership with Matt Klentak as the GM. This time a year ago, during the winter meetings, the moment Klentak showed up on the set of MLB Network the hosts were slobbering all over him. I was watching and saying, “This guy has no clue.’’ Just look at that bullpen. Signing Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius were moves that had to be made to have any chance of success. But there was no way that bullpen was going to survive even a shortened season. There is much weighing on a bullpen these over-relieving days when starters can’t go five innings. To me, the 2020 Phillies bullpen was the worst bullpen in the history of the game.

“The quicker these GMs and baseball ops honchos make baseball a complete game again, the more success they will have, but all that takes guts and know-how….’’

The bullpen ERA was 7.06, the worst since 1930. Joe Girardi’s team had a lead in 21 games that they lost. That’s astonishing in a short season, but that’s the Phillies bullpen in a nutshell. And here is a number that absolutely floors me, over 186 innings pitched in the shortened season, Phillies relievers allowed 246 hits and 87 walks. That’s 333 baserunners in 186 innings.

That’s shameful.

Dave Dombrowski, president of baseball operations, is in charge now and without a doubt, his first order of business should be to sign free agent reliever Liam Hendriks. Dombrowski has had trouble building bullpens in the past with the Tigers and Red Sox and to his credit that is something he realizes must be done better. He’s a smart guy and to have any chance, fixing the bullpen is Job No. 1. Re-signing free agent J.T. Realmuto, again something that should have been done the moment the Phillies traded for the catcher from the Marlins, should have been done, but it wasn’t.

It takes courage to go out on the limb with ownership to demand, “We have to have this guy for the future.’’ Courage is not often found in the front offices of teams these days.

The problem with the Phillies as one astute talent evaluator told BallNine is that they have some talent, but none of the talent fits into the big picture puzzle.

Dombrowski really has his work cut out for him but he needs to start demanding more from his “superstar’’ Bryce Harper as well. He needs to get Harper on board with putting the ball in play more often. If Harper would hit the ball to all fields and not just try to hit everything out of the ballpark he could regain his superstar status. Use Mookie Betts’ offensive approach to motivate Harper. Harper is much too talented not to be doing more to help the team win. He is in his prime at 28.

Brian Cashman

Brian Cashman

Instead of having Harper fixate on running the team and re-signing Realmuto as he did last season, fixate on the baseball things he can do to make the Phillies better. Fix Harper’s mindset, fix the bullpen and the Phillies can compete. Challenge Harper by challenging his baseball instincts not his home run instincts. That’s some ballsy stuff to accomplish but that’s why this column is taking on the movers and shakers.

If not there will be even angrier fans in Philadelphia in 2021.

My third choice for Angriest Fans is one out on a limb and it all depends what happens this winter and the moves GM Brian Cashman makes. If Cashman plays it safe, it will be a mistake. If the Yankees don’t add quality to their starting pitching and somehow let DJ LeMahieu get away as a free agent, Yankees fans will be up in arms. Signing LeMahieu figures to get done, but you never know.

Yankee fans already are in a bad mood with the team not making it out of the ALDS and the way the Yankees lost Game 5, something that never should have happened but turned out to be an omen how the Rays were going to lose the World Series.

The Yankees over-thought the pitching matchup in Game 5. Landing a Blake Snell in a trade or signing Trevor Bauer would work wonders but none of that seems to be happening. The Yankees desperately need more starting pitching, a year after signing Gerrit Cole and that is hard to believe but it shows you how poorly the Yankees designed their rotation. Every year Cashman blames it on injuries and every year they have new injuries. Just imagine if LeMahieu goes to the Dodgers or Blue Jays – that will be devastating for Cashman, who has a major Gary Sanchez problem. Seems like the Yankees are going with the status quo. If it all breaks down again Yankee fans will be really, really angry.

A.J. Preller

A.J. Preller

In laid back San Diego, they are loving Padres life now because of the fun run the Padres went on and the inspirational leadership of shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. But there are problems and again it starts with starting pitching. Mike Clevinger was supposed to anchor the rotation but instead is out for 2021 following Tommy John surgery. The Dodgers are only going to get better and having spent 10 years in San Diego covering the Padres and the Chargers I know the disdain that town has for anything L.A. They hate L.A.

With the new watered down playoff system, the Padres will be guaranteed October baseball but how long they hang around depends on the starting rotation.

This brings the conversation back to Blake Snell. The Padres have some young arms that could entice the Rays to make just such a trade. Snell in the rotation for the Padres makes it a more fascinating future for the team. I believe Snell will be traded and not just because that’s what the Rays do, I believe that Snell will never again be fully trusting of Rays leadership when he was pitching the game of his life in the World Series and was promptly pulled because of his past history. San Diego would be a great fit for Snell in every way and a fresh start. The Rays could reload some young arms and perhaps in a few years win this trade as much as they won the Chris Archer trade with the Pirates.

Again, there is no room for cowardly GMs in this scenario. A.J. Preller has got the winning itch and has shown he is not hesitant to pull the trigger on big trades. There is a time and place for every big trade. This is the time and place as it makes sense for both sides.

If the Padres stand pat and don’t do anything bold, the fans will not be happy. They are looking at this window of success and it is only there as long as Tatis, Jr. is a Padre. Of course the Padres could step up to the plate and do a long-term contract with Tatis, Jr. but that is not going to happen with the current labor situation. Dealing for Snell will make everyone happy in America’s Finest City.

Theo Epstein

Theo Epstein

This brings Baseball or Bust to another potential angry city – Chicago. With the White Sox on the upswing and Theo Epstein, who was the assistant public relations director of the Padres when I covered the team, bolting the broad shoulders of Chicago and the Cubs, this could get ugly although nobody is really any good in the NL Central.

The Cubs won the division last year but then were swept away in the wild card by the upstart Marlins. In those two games the Cubs scored a total of one run, count ‘em, one. They hit .145 in the two games.

Most interesting was Theo’s comment as he walked away, saying he takes some responsibility for baseball becoming an unwatchable mess much of the time now.

“Executives like me who have spent a lot of time using analytics and other measures to try to optimize individual and team performance have unwittingly had a negative impact on the aesthetic value of the game and the entertainment value of the game in some respects,’’ Theo pondered.

All true.

“Clearly, the strikeout rate is a little bit out of control. We need to find a way to get more acting in the game, get the ball in play a little more often, allow players to show their athleticism some more, give fans more of what they want,’’ he added.

You think?

I’ve been saying that and writing that for years. In those two losses to the Marlins, the Cubs struck out 16 times while getting only nine hits. Theo broke the curses in Boston and Chicago but the game has been cursed by this style of play and his legion of front office followers who are in power positions throughout the game. Mets new GM Jared Porter is the latest from the Tree of Theo to run a team.

This column is called Baseball or Bust for a reason. It’s not Home Run Derby or Bust. The quicker these GMs and baseball ops honchos make baseball a complete game again, the more success they will have, but all that takes guts and know-how…

Cowardly Lion GMs please step to the rear, right behind the ruby slippers.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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