Cooper dismissal is oddly-timed, overdue

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Why Sept. 21? Cecil Cooper is no worse of a manager now than he was on June 21 or last Oct. 21. It’s hard to imagine that he was any less popular with the players, given that, according to pretty much every report out of Houston, he lost the team months ago.
Still, the Astros made the curious decision Monday to fire Cooper and replace him with third-base coach Dave Clark on an interim basis. The team enters the final two weeks of the season having dropped seven straight games to fall to 70-79 for the season. If the Astros like Clark as a possible manager of the future, why throw him into such a messy situation now? Roy Oswalt has already been shut down due to back problems, the lineup has big holes at three positions and neither Lance Berkman nor Carlos Lee is close to firing on all cylinders. The record will likely just keep getting worse.
Clark, who, like Cooper, is African American, was in his first year on the coaching staff after three years managing the team’s Double-A affiliate and one managing the Triple-A Round Rock club. It’s been known for months that he’d be the choice to take over when Cooper was fired, assuming that it happened during the season. It’s quite likely that he’ll be stripped of the interim tag and handed the job in 2010. So why risk the blemish on his record before he even really gets started?
Cooper, though, did need to go. He still had the acceptable 171-170 record during his time with the team, but it was a tenure filled with baffling decisions. His players seemed to have little respect for him. According to a Houston Chronicle report from May, they had taken to calling him “Hugo Chavez.”
Given that Cooper was presented with teams riddled with holes and overinflated expectations these last two years, he doesn’t deserve a whole lot of blame for the Astros’ place in the standings. However, nothing is more damning to his cause than the issue that his players simply didn’t believe in him. It’s hard to imagine him landing another major league managerial position.

J.D. Martinez tells teams he prefers an outfield role

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Free agent outfielder/slugger J.D. Martinez is reportedly seeking an outfield gig, says Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald. According to Silverman’s sources, Martinez’s suitors have been informed that the veteran slugger would give preference to teams that can offer a corner outfield spot, rather than a DH-only role.

That could spell trouble for the Red Sox, who appear to be Martinez’s biggest suitors so far this offseason. Outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi are firmly established at the corners, and prior reports from club president Dave Dombrowski suggest that center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is not going anywhere anytime soon (thereby eliminating the possibility of reshuffling the outfield). The DH spot is still wide open for Martinez, who doesn’t seem to be totally closed off to the idea, but any full-time or part-time role on the field is likely off the table at this point.

Of course, the Red Sox aren’t the only ones pursuing Martinez’s services this winter. The 30-year-old slugger has been linked to both the Diamondbacks and Giants in weeks past, and while they have the roster flexibility to accommodate his preferences, they’ll need to clear another massive hurdle: the seven-year, $250 million contract he’s said to be seeking. Both clubs will need to get creative to make such a deal work. The Diamondbacks are rumored to be shopping right-hander Zack Greinke in an attempt to free up some room on their payroll for Martinez, while the Giants appear more inclined to scour the trade market for outfield help than shell out cash for another hefty contract in free agency.