Daily Dose: Hello Billy, Goodbye Gary?

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Billy Wagner came off the 60-day disabled list Thursday, rejoining the Mets’ bullpen less than 12 months after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery. He looked great while rehabbing in the minors, tossing seven scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts and zero walks, but now enters an odd situation because the Mets have little use for him now and aren’t planning to pick up his $8 million option for next season.
Wagner’s remaining contract means that he should clear waivers without a problem, which would allow the Mets to trade him to a contender willing to take a shot on the greatest left-handed reliever in baseball history still having some gas left in the tank. He’s owed another $2.5 million or so this year with a $1 million buyout for 2010, so the Mets need to eat salary to get anything in return. He’s worth a pickup, for sure.
While the Mets welcome someone back from the shelf ahead of schedule for once, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Of course, it wouldn’t be the Mets without some trouble to go along with Wagner’s return and Gary Sheffield provided the drama Thursday by reportedly asking for an extension and then threatening to leave the team. Earlier this week Sheffield made some odd statements about not expecting to finish the season with the Mets, so his causing a stir now is hardly shocking.
He’s had a very nice season, hitting .286/.378/.468 in a part-time role for one of the best adjusted OPS+ totals in baseball history by a 40-year-old outfielder, but clearly the Mets can’t be blamed for not looking to lock him up to an extension. They pulled Sheffield back from waivers when he was claimed earlier this month, so a release is the only possible resolution if he can’t be placated.
* Cincinnati decided to put Johnny Cueto on the disabled list Thursday after he went 0-6 with a 10.63 ERA in his last eight starts. Obviously something isn’t right with the promising 23-year-old and the official word is right shoulder inflammation, although the Reds gave no indication that the injury is serious and are hoping that he can get back in the rotation when eligible to return early next month.
Cueto had followed up a very solid rookie campaign by going 8-4 with a 2.69 ERA in 16 starts prior to his implosion, so assuming that the injury proves minor the horrible recent numbers are likely to make him significantly undervalued heading into 2010. For now Micah Owings will replace him in the rotation after spending three weeks on the DL with shoulder problems of his own, but he has little fantasy upside.
AL Quick Hits: Jon Lester tossed eight innings of one-run ball Thursday for his fourth straight Quality Start … Joba Chamberlain is scheduled to make six more starts this season as the Yankees limit his workload … Nelson Cruz came off the disabled list with a homer Thursday … Jason Varitek missed his third straight game with a sore neck Thursday, so Victor Martinez filled in behind the plate … Matt LaPorta rejoined the Indians by driving in three runs Thursday … J.D. Drew went 4-for-4 with a pair of homers Thursday while batting eighth in the lineup … Jarrod Washburn served up four homers to his former Mariners teammates Thursday, giving him eight long balls allowed in four Tigers starts … Justin Morneau has flown back to Minnesota to have his inner-ear infection and dizziness examined by a specialist … Chris Duncan was released Thursday less than a month after coming to Boston in the Julio Lugo trade.
NL Quick Hits: Drew Stubbs hit a walk-off homer Thursday in his second MLB game after going deep three times in 107 games at Triple-A … Carlos Zambrano (back) threw five shutout innings in a rehab start Thursday at Single-A … San Francisco’s dominant pitching and awful hitting continued Thursday as they wasted a Matt Cain gem … Ian Stewart struck out in all four at-bats Thursday and has now whiffed in 30 percent of his at-bats overall … It took 23 starts of a 5.47 ERA, but the Mets finally cut Livan Hernandez loose Thursday … Anibal Sanchez will return from the 60-day disabled list to start Friday against the Braves … Justin Upton (oblique) is slated to begin a rehab stint Monday at Single-A … Johan Santana got stuck with another tough-luck loss Thursday despite giving up three runs in seven innings … Aaron Harang allowed one run in seven innings Thursday, but once again was left without a victory … Nick Johnson (hamstring) is likely headed for the DL if he doesn’t show improvement soon.

A-Rod will be back on Fox for the playoffs

Alex Rodriguez
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Alex Rodriguez made for a shockingly good analyst during last year’s playoffs. He’s clear and concise and is able to criticize players without being a jackass. That’s key, as so many current and former players who spend time doing analysis seem loathe to call out a player despite the fact that that’s what they’re there for.

Fox obviously liked what they got out of A-Rod, because he’s coming back:

Now, if they can refrain from hiring Pete Rose and if TBS brings back A.J. Pierzynski, tuning in to the pregame and postgame shows may actually be worth your time this October.

Blame Baseball’s copycat behavior for its lack of diversity in the executive ranks

Rob Manfred
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Following on yesterday’s stuff about baseball’s marked lack of diversity in the executive ranks comes a Ken Rosenthal column which digs into it a bit.

I might observe that, while, Rosenthal is right on all of the facts, there is a whiff of pushback in the story. As if MLB folks were hearing the criticisms Murray Chass and others have leveled in recent days about the lack of women, minorities and other candidates who don’t fit the “30-something MBA from an Ivy League school” mold of so many of today’s top execs and wanted to get some points out there. The league’s search firm is examined and there is a bit of “well, here is an exception; and here are a few more . . .” to it. Which, hey, that’s fair. Like I said, Rosenthal has his facts right and treats the issue seriously.

I think Rosenthal’s best bit, however, is the point he hits on at the end, when he says “homogeneity is dangerous in any industry, particularly when bright people are excluded.” That’s probably the key word to think about when you think about baseball’s hiring practices. “Homegeneity.” Baseball has a distinct lack of women and minorities in key positions, but I don’t think it’s because baseball is maliciously racist or sexist. Rather, it’s because baseball is acutely prone to copycat behavior that breeds homogeneity.

Everything about baseball culture, from the first day of a player’s minor league career-on and from the first day an intern is hired to get coffee for an assistant general manager is about not being different. About not sticking out. About emulating successes. You may mess up or you may fail, but if you do it while going about your business the way other, successful people went about theirs, you’ll be way better off than if you did things differently or stuck out.

This is true of all industries to some degree, but it seems far more prevalent in baseball. It’s a smaller world with fewer opportunities than business at large. It’s a more conservative world in terms of temperament. It’s one where you’re far more likely to have a reporter ask you about why you did something than, say, the accounting industry. It makes people afraid to take chances and makes people far more likely to do what that last successful guy did than to go out on even the shortest of limbs.

Not that things don’t change. Indeed, today’s preference for 30-something MBAs is radically different than the old model of hiring some old “baseball man” to run baseball operations. But it only came to the fore after the sabermetric and analytical model forced its way into the conversation with success and/or efficiencies that were impossible for even the crustiest old baseball man to ignore. That said, it was a transformation that was so difficult and radical that it was literally turned into a book and a movie and led to a decade and a half of arguing. A philosophical change which may have been casually noted in another business and then quickly emulated played out like some sort of cultural civil war in baseball circles. Change came, yes, but it wasn’t easy.

But here we are again, with the old baseball men replaced by the “Moneyball” disciples, who have become the new normal. A normal which one deviates from at great risk in baseball’s conservative world. I don’t believe that baseball’s homogeneity in the executive ranks is a function of bad people who believe bad things making bad decisions. I think it’s about fear and conformity more than anything else. Now there is a fear that not hiring that Ivy League MBA is the radical and perilous move. And if that Ivy League MBA was one who worked under another Ivy League MBA with another, all the better. And the easier we can sell him to fans as “the next Theo Epstein,” well, the better. And it sure would be easier to do that if he looked like Theo Epstein! Comps are the lingua franca of old baseball scouts. They’re the lingua franca of baseball decision makers too.

Whatever the causes, the net effect of all of this is no different than if there were virulent racism and sexism in the hearts and minds of baseball’s decision makers. It’s the same rich white boys club that maliciousness and bigotry could’ve created, even if it was created via more benign means. If baseball’s leaders truly believe that diversity in their leadership ranks is important — and I believe them when they say they do — they need to attack the problem of its homogeneity in the same manner they would if there was something malicious afoot. They need to stop throwing up their hands and saying “well, that’s what clubs do” or “that’s what our search firm gave us” and make achieving diversity a goal with an action plan, not just a goal which is merely stated.