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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: February 8, 2023 9:47 am PDT
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BY KEVIN KERNAN

Cleanup in Aisle 6.

Without a doubt, the most amazing aspect of baseball right now is that every head of baseball operations and GM promised the moon to the team’s owners.

They all said the same thing.

Check out what they promised when they were hired.

The plan basically was to build an organization top to bottom that would produce a conveyor belt of talent year after year that would keep the team in the hunt – and produce World Series titles on occasion. Now it might take seven years, but that’s the plan.

The owners fell for it every time, hook, line and sinker. Turns out, for the most part, that most of these GMs are really good at one thing: overpaying to buy talent, not creating and developing talent.

The plan was simply to overpay talented – but in many cases older – players and kick the can down the road when the bill comes due. The fans are left holding the bag. Pure genius.

There is nothing wrong with that plan, money talks in baseball, it always has, but don’t sell a plan that you can’t put in place; and the ultimate irony is that some teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets had the opportunity to sign players long term when they were younger but could not even identify the talent at the time.

In the Yankees case, they kept Aaron Judge – they had to keep Aaron Judge for nine years and $360 million – but it would have been nice to identify that talent in 2018 and get it done long term back then. That takes vision.

In the Red Sox case, that’s how you wind up losing a glue player Xander Bogaerts to the Padres, who went completely over the top signing the shortstop to an 11-year, $280 million deal, a deal from nowhere. The Padres are desperate. They have never won a World Series, so I get it, but don’t tell me you are going to have one plan in place and then just play checkbook baseball with a fantasy twist when the Winter Meetings come to your town.

This past $1.6 Billion San Diego Winter Meetings spending binge also makes it clear that so many cheap teams just don’t care, they are selling nothing and have no clue – and how in the world can you remain a fan of those teams?

It’s not shocking when teams like the A’s (last won the World Series in 1989), Reds (last won the World Series in 1990), Pirates (last won the World Series in 1979), and Tigers (last won the World Series in 1984), to name a few of the perennial losers, do this, their owners are only in this to make easy money; but when teams like the Red Sox put together pretty much a lineup of questions and lose a Bogaerts, it’s really saying something about the state of the game and the lack of respect a franchise has for its long devoted fans.

In a nutshell these baseball GMs are pretty much all the same guys, Nerds playing fantasy baseball, but using real money that belongs to the owners to try to make that final jump to success.

New San Diego Padre Xander Bogaerts. (AP / Denis Poroy)

I’ve always wondered how in the world could the Red Sox sell Babe Ruth to the Yankees way back when – how could that be possible – but with the way these Red Sox are maneuvering in 2022, you can kind of see how it was possible for them to sell the greatest player in baseball history for $100,000 back on December 26, 1919… and to the Yankees no less.

Current Red Sox ownership, which includes Tom Werner, who was Padres owner for the Great 1993 Padres Sell-off (and I was there to witness it) has seen their club quadruple in value since purchased 21 years ago, are now going the cheap route. That’s certainly their right and they are counting on Kenley Jansen holding up another season as the new closer to fix their massive bullpen woes and are counting on Japanese star Masataka Yoshida to make the transition to MLB for them to at least be respectable come next season.

The Yankees can be thankful that the Red Sox remain in the AL East because this team looks a long way off from ever appearing in a World Series again after winning four World Series since 2004.

Here is what the Red Sox are going to encounter next with ownership not showing true loyalty to the fans and their home-grown stars ie: Mookie Betts, Bogaerts and to a lesser degree Andrew Benintendi – the current players will have lack of loyalty for the likes of John Henry, Werner and team president Sam Kennedy. And that is going to show itself over a 162-game season in really ugly ways.

The jig is up in Boston.

The players will look at current GM Chaim Bloom as someone who will sell them down the river. The immediate impact of such a club-wide perception is that it will affect the performance of left-over stars like Rafael Devers. The team will become more selfish and you can’t blame them. Each player will be after what is best for him at the moment and that will make life for manager Alex Cora that much more difficult.

Red Sox Manager Alex Cora, President & CEO Sam Kennedy and Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom during their season ending press conference at Fenway Park on October 6, 2022 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)

The Yankees, meanwhile, pretty much have a free pass to the postseason in 2023 and Brian Cashman can get around to putting together a team that can handle the postseason, not like last year’s home run or nothing team that had to squeak by Cleveland. By the way, the Yankees owe a debt of gratitude to the Guardians for starting Aaron Civale in Game 5 at Yankee Stadium in the ALDS, and then promptly got swept by the Astros. It could have ended in the ALDS.

The Blue Jays showed they could not step up in class when needed, the Orioles, despite getting a little bit better because of all the top draft picks they got after stinking it up for years, are not ready to make the jump to true contender. The Rays can be pesky but every year the smoke and mirrors of the team eventually runs out, so the AL East, which used to be the best division in baseball, is essentially a wacky Experimental Division with a wide assortment of GMs who are throwing all kinds of stuff against the wall to see what sticks. Maybe the Blue Jays will get it together and be a thorn in the Yankees side but the regular season is so watered down now it doesn’t matter. The Yankees will get to the playoffs.

That means if the Yankees can then get their act together for a few weeks in October they have a chance, but that’s still a big if because the Yankees simply are not athletic enough to beat the Astros. That was obvious again in the four ALCS playoff games. Their pitching staff could not match up to the Astros staff, either.

The Astros remain the Class of Baseball and the signing of veteran Jose Abreu helps them even more. All these other teams, and that includes the Dodgers who get way more credit than they should for a team that has won one World Series in decades and which came in a shortened season, really haven’t produced much. The Dodgers have an October problem that needs to be addressed.

In a nutshell these baseball GMs are pretty much all the same guys, Nerds playing fantasy baseball, but using real money that belongs to the owners to try to make that final jump to success. They don’t build what they promise to build.

They all are exactly the opposite of what they sold themselves to be when they got the job. None of them can build sustainable success.

Brandon Gomes, General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers talks about the 2022 season at a press conference at Dodger Stadium Tuesday, October 18, 2022. The Los Angeles Dodgers lost to the Padres in the NLDS after having the best record in Major League Baseball. (Photo by David Crane/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)

Which brings us back to the Padres. I have a friend in San Diego who is quite smart when it comes to the Padres and he believes that what they wanted most of all was to land Trea Turner, a player they stupidly gave away in the Wil Myers trade. Once Turner signed with the Phillies for 11 years and $300 million – and that is a signing I love for Philadelphia – all bets were off. There became this sudden out of nowhere fascination with Aaron Judge.

What?

Tip to A.J. Preller and the Padres, you can’t just pull that out of your sleeve at the last minute. Judge should have been courted long before that by the Padres but that was a desperation move and, in some ways, so is the Xander Bogaerts move.

It’s like going to the movies back in the day when people went to the movies, finding out the movie you wanted to see was sold out and you settle for some other movie.

Okay, it’s good to add Bogaerts (a wild 11-year deal good for $280 million) but now you have to shift everyone around defensively including Fernando Tatis who has proven time and again he is not mature enough to lead a team – and now you are asking him to go to left or right field. Juan Soto, who looks a little out of shape to me, would move to left if Tatis is in right and other moves involving Ha-Seon Kim, Jake Cronenworth must be made. That’s another thing with Fantasy GMs, they think anyone can move to any position at any time.

In many ways this was the Silly Winter Meetings.

There were some solid moves, I like the Cardinals locking up a new catcher in Willson Contreras (five years, $87.5 million) and weakening the Cubs, a team that can’t get out of its own way. But a lot of moves simply made no sense and let’s start here with the San Francisco Giants and their head baseball guru, who gets way more credit than he should, Farhan Zaidi.

Again, the Padres are a little bit like the Yankees, they should make the postseason and maybe figure something out like they figured out how to beat the Mets but then made bizarre moves in their loss to the Phillies. The Padres are lucky to be in the Giants division with Zaidi as Giants president of baseball ops, who could not even close the Judge deal. Now the Giants could wind up overpaying for Carlos Correa because $43.5 million for three years of Mitch Haniger certainly is not a game changer. Zaidi is no Brian Sabean, who won three World Series titles in five years with the Giants.

Farhan Zaidi before a game between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on April 03, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

When Zaidi was hired in 2018 he was referenced as a “NextGen’’ GM by ownership, whatever that mean,s but it must have something to do with not landing the free agent you needed to land and then overpaying for the next free agent in line.

Remember the Giants also lost out on Bryce Harper. At the time of his hiring as president of baseball operations Zaidi said, “I hope we are messing up people’s commutes with parades very soon.’’

Yeah, right.

I don’t know if anyone still commutes to jobs in San Francisco, but the commute should be clear sailing until the Giants get a real plan that works.

Here are some other quick thoughts about the Money Meetings: The Mets don’t seem to care about money so that means the Manager of the Year Buck Showalter will be on the hot seat this coming season. Certainly signing back Brandon Nimmo (eight years, $262 million) was a no-brainer for Billy Eppler and owner Steve Cohen and the pivot to Justin Verlander was a wise one because Verlander is perfect for New York even at his advanced age, and Jose Quintana is a pro, but still the Phillies have gotten better and the NL East will be difficult.

Josh Bell only hit .192 after coming over to the Padres but that was good enough for the Guardians, who have a power deficiency like most teams that don’t spend big money, to give Bell $33 million over two years and he can opt out after one season. Bell is a top-of-the-line person and could offer leadership to the Guardians and if he hits a big home run in the playoffs I don’t expect him to rock the baby like Josh Naylor did in that bizarre performance against the Yankees.

I also like the Rangers adding Jacob deGrom to Bruce Bochy’s staff for crazy money at five years, $185 million but the Rangers needed to make a splash and knowing Bochy as well as I do, he will get the most out of deGrom, and the addition of lefty Andrew Heaney also is interesting because he appears to have figured some things out with the Dodgers last year so the Rangers took an expensive flyer on him for two years and $25 million.

It’s always smart to add starting pitching even if you have to overpay.

There is still a lot of winter to go ­– and deals to be made ­– and teams could change overnight; but no matter what they say when they are hired, most of these baseball operations heads have a common theme:

We know how to spend money.

Now only if we can build that conveyor belt of talent coming through the system.

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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