With Papi, the hard decisions are still to come

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Jayson Stark has a column up over at ESPN
gong in depth with Terry Francona and Charlie Manuel about how they’re
dealing with struggling veterans David Ortiz and Jamie Moyer. There’s
an extended bit lauding Francona for his diplomacy and tenderness and
whatever when it came to dropping Papi in the order:

So what does a manager do when he wakes up on Memorial Day and finds
a guy like that who ranks 86th (out of 88) among AL qualifiers in
batting average (.195), has a lower slugging percentage (.299) than
Endy Chavez and has fewer homers (one) than Yovani Gallardo? Well,
Terry Francona already knew what he was going to do. He’d known for
days, he said. But he also knew there was a respectful time and place
to drop Big Papi out of the No. 3 hole, and a weekend series against
the Mets wasn’t it . . .

. . . So Francona felt it was important to do more than just send
Ortiz to “the penalty box.” In the case of a player of this stature,
the manager felt it was almost mandatory to keep him involved in the
thought process involved in such a momentous decision. “When times are
getting tough, you’ve got to make decisions,” Francona said. “And
everybody understands that. But there needs to be some loyalty there.
There needs to be communicating — how it gets back to everyone else,
how you say it. I don’t want him to think he’s going through this by
himself. Just because he’s not hitting 50 homers, that doesn’t mean we
don’t care about him.”

That’s sweet and all, but I can’t for the life of me understand why the
decision to drop Ortiz in the order has gotten as much coverage as it
has in the last week, let alone Stark and Francona’s treatment of it as
some emotionally cathartic event. The exact order of the lineup really
ain’t that important folks, and if everyone thinks that Ortiz would
have a hissy fit over where’s he hitting in it, well, they haven’t been
paying much attention to David Ortiz’s career. I can’t recall him ever
having tantrums over perceived slights, and he’s almost always been a
pro about this stuff. What’s more, he’s been way more out front about
how he stinks this year than just about anyone.

No, the tough decision — to which Stark only briefly alludes — is
how Francona would deal with actually benching Ortiz for an extended
period or, even worse, how the club as a whole will deal with him if
and when it becomes necessary to trade him or designate him for
assignment. Which could definitely happen. This is the team that cuts
bait in bad waters quicker than most, and it would not shock me in the
least to see them do something drastic with Papi if he doesn’t turn it
around in the coming weeks.

The deeper implications of the A.J. Ellis trade

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers heads to the dugout at the end of the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on May 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The trade of a light-hitting backup catcher is normally about as inconsequential as it gets. The trade of A.J. Ellis by the Dodgers to the Phillies, however, is anything but that. Indeed, it may be the public manifestation of long-simmering, well, maybe “feud” is too strong a word, but a definite butting of heads between the team’s front office and its best player.

While almost all of the clubhouse drama in Los Angeles has surrounded a talented but aggravating corner outfielder currently toiling in the minors, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wrote last night that the Ellis trade could very well be seen as the front office’s shot across Clayton Kershaw‘s bow:

Kershaw’s preference of Ellis was the subject of a longstanding tug-of-war between Kershaw and the front office, which wanted Yasmani Grandal behind the plate as much as possible . . . Some players interpreted the trade as a message from the front office.

This isn’t Kershaw’s team. It’s not Corey Seager’s team or Adrian Gonzalez’s, either.

It’s Friedman’s.

The notion that Kershaw likes to pitch to Ellis is pretty well-known, but the idea that it was so strong a preference that it created a dispute as to whether he has final say over a roster spot is news, at least to people who aren’t around the Dodgers all the time. Hernandez is a good columnist and is particularly well-plugged in to the Dodgers after many years of being their beat writer for the Times. He wouldn’t throw the notion of there being something of a power struggle in this regard out there all willy-nilly in order to stir the pot or something. I don’t doubt for a second that something bigger than most of us have seen is going on here.

As for the trade itself: yeah, it’s pretty debatable as to whether it makes any kind of sense. Carlos Ruiz is likely an upgrade over Ellis, but it’s a pretty marginal upgrade when you consider how few plate appearances the Dodgers backup catcher will make for the rest of the year. It’s especially marginal if you assume, as Hernandez and others assume, likely with reason, that the loss of Ellis is going to harm morale. At least in the short term before they get to know Ruiz well (worth noting, though, that he comes pretty highly recommended from Kershaw-caliber aces for all the same reasons Ellis does). I can see a lot of reasons not to make that deal even for an extra hit or two a week that Ruiz may give you over Ellis.

All of which speaks to what we don’t know. What we don’t know about the mind of Andrew Friedman and whether or not there is something more going on here than is immediately apparent. About the relationship between him and Kershaw and, for that matter, him and the rest of the team that would cause him to make a deal that plays as poorly with his own players as this one does. It could be something about Ellis. It could be something about Friedman’s relationship with Kershaw. It could be something totally unrelated to any of that, such as offseason plans and the roster in 2017 (Ruiz has a team option for next year, Ellis is a pending free agent). Unless or until Friedman speaks or a reporter gets someone to shed more light on this, there will continue to be questions.

In the meantime, I’ll grant that there are certainly different rules which apply to superstars than mere mortals, but veto power over a trade and/or playing time for other players isn’t typically one of them. If, as Hernandez suggests, there was a sense that Kershaw and Friedman didn’t see eye-to-eye on that and it wasn’t otherwise being resolved, it makes Friedman’s move somewhat more understandable.

World Baseball Classic pools, venues announced

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 10:  Miguel Cabrera #24 of Venezuela gets a hit and drives in a run against Spain during the first round of the World Baseball Classic at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on March 10, 2013 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Yesterday the folks who run the World Baseball Classic (i.e. the Rand Corporation, in conjunction with the saucer people, under the supervision of the reverse vampires, the Illuminati and the Trilateral Commission) announced the groupings and venues for next springs’s tournament. It breaks down thusly:

  • Pool A will play in Tokyo, featuring Australia, China, Cuba, and Japan;
  • Pool B will play in Seoul, featuring Chinese Taipei, Korea, the Netherlands, and either Brazil, Israel, Great Britain, or Pakistan (final participant to be determined at a qualifying tournament in New York next month);
  • Pool C will play in Miami, featuring Canada, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and the United States;
  • Pool D will play in Guadalajara, featuring Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

A winner and a runner-up will advance from each pool following a round-robin competition. That will result in a second round robin made up of Pool A and B — which will be called Pool E, because it HAS to be complicated — and which will be played in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Pool C and D’s representatives will make up Pool F, who will play in San Diego at Petco Park.

The winner of Pool F will then take on the runner-up of Pool E in a semifinal at Dodger Stadium, while the winner of Pool E will face Pool F’s runner-up there as well. The winners of those matches will play in the WBC final, also at Dodger Stadium.

Got it? Good.

Now we wait. And listen to people tell us how much we should care about the World Baseball Classic between now and March.