Scenes from Spring Training: Meet The Mets Part 2

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Francoeur Marquis small.jpgAfter walking the grounds I went to the media work room. Same setup as the Winter Meetings, writ-small: tables with outlets and internet connections, a lot of handouts with lineups and player facts written on them, and a bunch of working reporters who looked at me like I was from Mars. I knew most of them though, and as they walked in I kept thinking “I wonder if he read that post I wrote calling him a dumbass that time.”

One of the reporters brought in bagels for everyone. A voice from the back of the room yelled “where the bagles from?”  The reponse “Panera.”  Dejected groans filled the room.  Panera bagels are perfectly edible of course, but even a Midwesterner like me knows that they don’t compare to the real McCoy.  I actually felt kind of sorry for all the New York reporters for having to deal with something so inferior to that which they are used to. It’d be like someone from California trying to give me what they consider to be bratwurst.

As I uploaded pictures and surfed the web, I listened to the New York media chatter. Two guys were discussing Bob Klapisch’s piece about Darryl Strawberry from Saturday. They were convinced that Klapisch included all the bits about Strawberry smoking and his gut and everything as a way of getting back for some dismissive things Straw said to Klapisch during their interview. “Bob’s just killing Darryl,” one of the guys said as he read, “he must have been pissed off.”  A few minutes later one of them looked at his Blackberry and said “Rodriguez is still out with pink eye.  What the f— kind of pink eye lasts three weeks?” Good question. My daughter had pink eye last year. Two days of drops and it was over.

Leaving the media room I walked out onto the field. The Nationals had arrived and were taking batting practice and infield.  Mets players were hanging around.  At one point Jeff Francoeur and Jason Marquis had a mini-Braves reunion. I was surprised to see Ivan Rodriguez taking BP as established veterans don’t usually make road trips in spring training, but there he was hacking away. He obviously didn’t like how it went, though, because as he left the cage he threw his bat towards the dugout. It landed close to a photographer. Pudge gave the “I’m sorry” wave. The photographer gave the “no problem, but if it had hit me I would have sued you and retired, so next time throw it a bit harder” wave in return.

By this time the Mets reporters had assembled in a little circle in front of the Mets dugout. I went to go eavesdrop.  I heard two really good dirty jokes and some stories about guys from New Jersey with bad grammar. Then the subject of Davey Johnson — now an assistant to the GM in Washington — came up. One of the writers said that they heard Johnson might make the trip to the game. An almost hushed reverence came over the four or five of them, and then one of them said “Oh, I hope he comes down, gosh I’d love to see him.”  After dropping f-bombs and ethnic jokes for five minutes, the sudden switch to “gosh” made it feel like I’d entered church or something.  The old writers really love them some Davey Johnson.

After a quick lunch in the media room — questionable chicken and pasta that they actually charged us for rather than provided gratis — it was up to the press box.  After all, there was an actual game to be played yesterday.

Dusty Baker calls the Nationals “a baby making team.” Whatever that means.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 31: Manager Dusty Baker #12 of the Washington Nationals looks on before the start of a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on August 31, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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When the Nationals fired Matt Williams a year ago, it might’ve been a safe assumption that they were going to go with that new breed of young, handsome recently-retired player-turned-manager who, despite a lack of experience, allegedly knows how to deal with modern players better and knows how to handle a clubhouse. Those assumptions have proved largely off with these guys — Williams was a disaster, Matheny wins despite himself and Ausmus looks like he’s perpetually on the verge of a breakdown — but that’s the all the rage these days anyway.

Instead, the Nats hired Dusty Baker. Though Baker had tremendous success as a manager everywhere he went, he was maligned by some for some pitcher handling stuff in Chicago (which said pitchers have long denied was an issue, but let’s let that lie). He was also, more generally, thought of as a “retread.” Which is what people who prefer younger folks for jobs tend to call older people, even if the older people know what they’re doing.

And yes, I will cop to thinking about managers that way a lot over the years, so I’m not absolving myself at all here, even if I was pretty OK with the Dusty Baker hiring. I’ve evolved on this point. In no small part because of how Dusty Baker has done in Washington. Flash forward a year, the Nats are division champions and Baker may be a top candidate for Manager of the Year. That, in and of itself, should show you how wrong the haters were.

But if it doesn’t, this sure should:

I have no earthly idea what that means and Castillo gives no further context. All I know is that it sounds cool as hell and of any current manager, only Dusty Baker could say that and pull it off.

Because he’s Dusty Baker and has nothing to prove to you. And if you don’t like it, shoot, he’ll just go back home to his winery or whatever and live out the rest of his days being cooler than you.

Who should win the manager of the year awards? Who Will?

PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 15:  Manager Dave Roberts #30 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on from the dougout during the seventh inning of a MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on July 15, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
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With the regular season ending on Sunday and most of the playoff spots locked up, there’s really only one big thing left to argue about: postseason awards. So let’s spend some time looking at who should win each of the four major awards and who will win them. Which are often totally different things. Next up: The Manager of the Year Awards

The Manager of the Year Award is pretty dumb. Numbers aren’t everything in any award, but there are literally zero numbers that gauge a manager’s effectiveness or performance apart from wins and losses and wins and losses are mostly a function of talent on the roster, for which the manager is not responsible. This is not to say managers aren’t important. Of course they are! They make important decisions every day and keep the clubhouse running smoothly and that’s important. It just so happens to be unquantifiable and subject to anecdote and projection.

For instance, Matt Williams won the Manager of the Year Award with he Nationals in 2014. He was run out of town on a rail in 2015. Did he suddenly forget how to manage? Or did he never really know but was blessed with good fortune and better players the year before?

Joe Maddon won the award last year, in large part because the Cubs outperformed expectations. This year the Cubs are the best team around. But everyone expected them to be because of all that talent! Does that mean that Maddon’s 2015 award was fraudulent? The product of poor expectations assessment on behalf of the media? At the same time, there’s a pretty strong vibe that he won’t win it this year, so are we to say that winning between 101 and 104 games is . . . a worse job than last year? Don’t even get me started on arguments that Bruce Bochy somehow became a lesser manager this year, because I suspect — and bear with me on this — something else is going on with the Giants.

Manager of the Year has always been about narratives and expectations of people on the outside looking in who nonetheless purport to know how the manager performed his job in the most inside baseball kinds of ways. It’s poppycock. It may as well be the Golden Globes.

So, rather than just break it down the way we did the other awards, let’s just thrown this out like the big mess that it is:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Bill and Ashley say that Terry Francona should be the American League Manager of the Year. Bill’s reasoning: “The Indians went essentially the whole year without Michael Brantley and their pitching staff imploded in September. Francona deserves a lot of credit for holding the team together.”

Hey, works for me too! Let’s give it to Tito. Even if we can tell a compelling story about John Farrell and the Red Sox and even if Jeff Banister, the reigning AL Manager of the Year, improved by anywhere from 6-9 games in the standings this year over last in a division most people thought the Astros would win.

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Bill says Dusty Baker, arguing that “The Nationals had all kinds of bullpen issues and Stephen Strasburg wasn’t able to pitch the final two months of the season. They could’ve easily folded but they didn’t, and I think that’s a reflection on Baker.”

Ashley says Dave Roberts. She didn’t give me her reasoning, but I bet she’d agree with me if I said “The Nationals Dodgers had all kinds of bullpen rotation issues and Stephen Strasburg Clayton Kershaw wasn’t able to pitch for two months of the season. They could’ve easily folded but they didn’t, and I think that’s a reflection on Baker Roberts.” You could throw in some stuff about how Yasiel Puig was managed by Roberts (i.e. better, though his come-to-Jesus demotion may have been the front office’s doing). I think I’ll go with Roberts, simply because I feel like it’d be bad precedent to give it to a Nationals manager every even numbered year simply because that dang franchise is inconsistent.

What about the Cubs? Here’s Bill again:

I considered Joe Maddon of the Cubs, but the team was so good I think the Cubs could’ve had a kitten manage the team to a playoff berth.

I say we give it to a kitten. Kittens are the best.