Esquire: "Tony La Russa can't win at anything that counts"

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My take on Tony La Russa: he’s a bizarre, often humorless and mildly unpleasant guy who manages in ways that aren’t aesthetically pleasing to me. But Charles Pierce at Esquire Magazine makes me look like La Russa’s P.R. director:

But the truly remarkable thing about La Russa is his rather unspectacular record at winning anything that counts. Eugene McCarthy once said of Walter Mondale that the latter “had the soul of a vice-president.” Tony La Russa has the soul of a semifinalist. Yes, he’s won a couple World Series — the same number as have Cito Gaston and Terry Francona . . .

. . . What more ably limns La Russa’s career, however, is his remarkable inability to win with talent . . . since moving his law degree and (as far as I know) his ballet school T-shirt to St. Louis, La Russa holds the distinction of bringing into the 2004 World Series against the Red Sox perhaps the least well-prepared 105-win team in baseball history.

I hate to defend La Russa — like I said, I really don’t like the guy — but this is an outrageous reach. The author here is simply trying his best to be provocative while completely failing to acknowledge the nature of the playoffs (i.e. that they’re subject to wildly random fluctuations of luck and circumstance). Even I, an avowed La Russa loather, appreciates that he’s a Hall of Fame manager.

Heck, he has one more ring than my team’s Hall of Fame manager has, and I’d say that my team’s Hall of Fame manager has, over the course of his career, had more talent than La Russa has. Indeed, it’s pretty tough to make an argument that any manager over the past quarter century has been better than old Tony. At most it’s a three-way argument between him, Cox and Torre, quite possibly in that order.

I got all kinds of guff for that Jeter piece the other day. The difference between this and that, however, is that when I’m trying to stir the pot, I’m not going to misrepresent a guy’s record on the field. Indeed, even when I’m messing with Jeter and his many, many fans, I’ll be the first to acknowledge his greatness as a ballplayer.

By the same token, it’s a free country and you can hate on Tony La Russa all you want. But you gotta do way better than this guy at Esquire does in order to even begin to argue that La Russa is not a great manager, let alone make a convincing argument.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.