More is Less
BY KEVIN KERNAN
There is a perplexing trend in baseball right now.
Some teams are trying to tell their fan bases they are getting better by bringing in a variety of mediocre players. They are convinced at the top that the path to greatness runs through the City of Mediocrity.
And no team is doing more to upset its fan base, and we are talking a fan base as big as New England, than the Boston Red Sox. Over on the West Coast, the Giants are pretty much doing the same thing with one difference. They have been trying to give their money away to stars; but stars like Aaron Judge have said no thanks, so the Giants answer has been to add a bevy of mediocre players.
What’s going on here?
How do these baseball bosses expect their Plan of Mediocrity to create greatness?
The Red Sox have changed baseball bosses, going from Chaim Bloom to Craig Breslow, but the plan is pretty much the same.
“We don’t need stars,’’ the Red Sox seem to be saying. Remember, they traded away Mookie Betts for mediocre talent. “We just need more mediocre talent to come our way to once again to be a contender.’’
So far, the plan has been a complete bust as the Red Sox have finished dead last two straight years in what used to be the star-studded AL East. Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner should be sending a box of chocolates to Fenway Park as a thank you for taking the heat off them.
Could you imagine how Yankee fans would be feeling if the Red Sox were like they once were with a star-studded roster that included Hall of Famers David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez and slugger Manny Ramirez – and heart and soul of the team in catcher Jason Varitek – and so many other high level players?
Their big signing this off-season was pitcher Lucas Giolito, who is coming off a season where he was traded to the Angels to boost their playoff chances and promptly went 1-5 with a 6.89 ERA -and then was handed off to the team formerly known as the Indians to boost their playoff chances and promptly went 1-4 with a 7.04 ERA.
Giolito basically pulled a Carlos Rodon. Both Giolito and Rodon are on the comeback trail in 2024.
The Red Sox are attacking the AL East with what I call merry-go-round players, similar-like players on a carousel, just going ‘round and ‘round. Some players have talent like Trevor Story, but they are not stars of the show, except in the minds of Boston owners John Henry and Tom Werner. Henry is overly concerned about his soccer team with the Red Sox now taking a back burner.
The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, breaking the Curse of the Bambino and then won again in 2007, both of those victories came in four-game sweeps; won again in 2013 and another in 2018. In three of the last four seasons though, the Red Sox have finished in last place with the Betts trade setting them back a baseball generation.
It used to be that Less is More.
However, we have entered an overly analytical era of baseball where the approach is More is Less.
There are more coaches than ever who really aren’t allowed to coach or, in some cases don’t have a clue what coaching is about, and that goes on throughout entire organizations.
More super utility players playing all over the place, and getting hurt out of position, instead of rock-solid starters in position. More arms in the bullpen to create a supposed bullpen superiority but the reality has created a bullpen of broken down arms that are not told how to fix mechanical issues but just throw harder – and more Frisbee pitches. There are also more starting pitchers than ever because of so many injuries and the idea that more arms can make up for not having an ace or near-ace in the rotation.
There are more assistant GMs than ever before, every team has a bunch. There are more analytical observers than ever. There are more coaches than ever who really aren’t allowed to coach or, in some cases don’t have a clue what coaching is about, and that goes on throughout entire organizations.
There are less scouts than ever and that is a huge problem. There also are less baseball people in front offices than ever and that is the essential problem.
I had to laugh when Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, a Hall of Fame coach considering his pro and college careers and his incredible longevity of enthusiasm, came out of his final meeting with Seahawks executives when he was surprisingly pushed out the door after 14 years and one Super Bowl win. In the meeting ,Carroll thought he was offering coaching solutions to the team’s problems and a week later summed up that meeting in a radio spot and what is really going on in Seattle with these words: “The difficult part is, if you guys could know, it’s really hard because they’re not football people. They’re not coaches, and so to get to the real details of it is really difficult for other people.’’
Welcome to baseball world, Pete.
By the way, Pete Carroll and super-agent Scott Boras are longtime friends and I remember Boras telling me at Dodger Stadium one day how much he likes Pete Carroll. With Carroll’s latest comments, Boras can tell Carroll, welcome to the club, Pete. This is what has been going on in baseball for a long time.
Former Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carrollspeaks at the Seattle Seahawks press conference at Virginia Mason Athletic Center on January 10, 2024 in Renton, Washington. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
As I have said and written over and over, the problem with baseball and the people in charge of baseball, both teams and MLB, is simple: They don’t know baseball.
To steal Pete Carroll’s words: They are not baseball people.
The NFL is now going down that Nerd path that baseball has been traveling for too long and it has already changed the game drastically. Just look how teams can’t tackle anymore. I equate tackling to pitching mechanics, if you don’t teach and practice the proper tackling techniques, your team will not be able to tackle, just look at what happened to the Jaguars at the end of the season. They couldn’t tackle.
While on offense some teams have become so predictable, just look at what happened to the Eagles, they fell apart down the stretch – they couldn’t tackle either – and the same goes for the Cowboys who were hammered by the Packers and Jordan Love at home.
Problems are not solved by sheer numbers, numbers of players, coaches, analytical people. No, problems are solved by problem solvers and those people are being pushed aside by the Nerds.
The Texas Rangers pretty much settled on one lineup, were strong up the middle and had a deeper rotation than most teams – and an ace in Nathan Eovaldi – and then traded for a near-ace in Jordan Montgomery. They were led by one clear voice in Bruce Bochy and it made a difference to them as they won the World Series for the first time in team history.
More teams need to be like the Rangers, follow that path to success and not follow what the Red Sox and so many other teams are doing.
And I am not just picking on the Red Sox, there are a host of Red Sox out there with different names. They talk the game of having a conveyor belt of talent coming their way on an annual basis, and the reality is they are just re-purposing baseball junk.
I remember Jack McKeon telling me what he once said to an opposing GM in his rejection of a trade, and Trader Jack did not like to reject trades: “I have enough of my own shit, why do I need your shit.’’
Talking to a top talent evaluator on Wednesday about the Red Sox and some other going nowhere teams who are just looking busy, he offered these wise words.
“The Red Sox have done a crappy job with their pitching,’’ he began. “Trading off Chris Sale for Lucas Giolito it’s not even close to me.’’
Lucas Giolito #27 of the Cleveland Guardians reacts to a two-run home run hit by Christian Encarnacion-Strand of the Cincinnati Reds during the third inning at Progressive Field on September 26, 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)
The Yankees haven’t done a lot in the pitching department, but they did add Marcus Stroman, who is at his core a fierce competitor.
“If they get a bounce-back from Carlos Rodon they could be okay,’’ said one scout who has covered the Yankee organization.
Most teams are missing the boat these days in two areas: patience and urgency. Now that may sound counterproductive but let the baseball evaluator explain.
“I just don’t know if there is ever any sense of urgency or a sense of patience,’’ he said. “Patience to let a player get there, and then a sense of urgency when they get there to try and win, to put together a good team.’’
You can throw the Orioles into that mix, have they done enough this offseason to help the young talent they have acquired through years of losing and being rewarded for losing with high draft picks? They certainly could have done more this winter. The off-season is not over, there is another month to make deals so let’s see where everything goes, including the two big remaining pitching pieces in Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery.
A lot of these baseball bosses hold onto their jobs by constantly selling ownership on the future instead of going for it in the present, and sometimes the teams that go for it, they have such a flawed plan they go for it and fall flat on their financial face as the Padres did last season.
I am really curious to see how the Padres play this year without having Juan Soto in their clubhouse and lineup. For all his talent, I’ve heard from a number of people in San Diego that Soto was a thorn, not a rose in San Diego.
I expect Soto to be on his best behavior with the Yankees in a free agent year and with Aaron Judge running the clubhouse – so this should be a good spot for him with the Yankees in 2024.
The Mets are in a weird place, what are they doing?
They seem to be on that merry go round of mediocre players and all we hear is that they are shooting for 2025 and 2026, and the 2026 season will mark the 40th years of their last championship. Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling are locked into at least three more years of representing greatness for the Mets. Good for them. Bad for the Mets. Mets fans are so lost in the desert, they are going with the team’s mediocre plan put forth by David Stearns and this year appears to be a season with a nod to the past with Darryl Strawberry and Doc Gooden both having their numbers retired in different months.
(Original Caption) Former Mets Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry greet for a post game ceremony after the last regular season baseball game ever played in Shea Stadium against the Florida Marlins on September 28, 2008 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets plan to start next season at their new stadium Citi Field after playing in Shea for over 44 years. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Good for Doc & Darryl but what about the present?
Remember, it’s about patience and a sense of urgency. I have heard that the Mets may be cutting back on their scouting at the major league level and kind of re-assigning their pro scouts to the minors, low-level stuff. That would be interesting if that really is the case.
“It’s like they hired a new guy to manage Peter Luger’s,’’ the evaluator said, “and he’s turned it into Burger King.’’
Steve Cohen: Have It Your Way.
Again, I am not yet ready to go there until it actually happens, but let’s see where this season goes and what the plan is for the future because the Pete Alonso free agent situation has to be resolved as well. The Mets shifted gears last year going from the Scherzer/Verlander Way to let’s get as many prospects, including Little Acuña, way.
Right now, they remain nothing but prospects and that sure looks like a rebuild.
It is the Yankees who now have the greater sense of urgency in New York and the Yankees made a quiet but important hire recently, bringing veteran hitting coach Pat Roessler to the organization. Roessler is a workaholic mechanic when it comes to working with hitters and he also had the experience of dealing with Juan Soto in Washington – so that was a small but important move by the Yankees.
The AL East is there for the taking, even though the Orioles have dramatically improved. The Rays appear to be losing ground, the Blue Jays are a confused organization – we’ll see if they land Cody Bellinger – and the Red Sox’ main owner is focused on soccer.
“The Red Sox and the Blue Jays can both be a nightmare this year,’’ the scout said. “And I think the charm of the Rays is starting to wear off a little bit, too.
“A good team is not a bunch of interchangeable utility guys,’’ the scout said of the current fascination of utility players everywhere.
“A good team is a really good core of seven guys who basically play every day and a little bit of bench depth. Instead of having a rotation in the outfield, have three good outfielders, and a guy who can play centerfield who is athletic and can give your main guy a blow, and maybe a big bopper off the bench to give someone a spell in the corners; have a solid infield, with one utility guy, a good catcher and a backup. It’s beyond me what is going on in the game. It’s like a travel ball mentality, ‘you are going to play shortstop the first game, centerfield the second,’ bleep that!
“Put a solid team out there.’’
Indeed. More mediocrity is much less.