Wait? Did Bobby Cox really pencil in the right lineup tonight?

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An hour ago I said that Bobby Cox did the best he could given some bad choices with tonight’s lineup.  My friend Rob Neyer views it a bit differently:

If Cox really thought his best lineup included Troy Glaus at third base and Omar Infante at second base, that’s the lineup he would have been writing out every game.

He hasn’t been. In his heart, Cox believes his best lineup includes Infante at third base and Brooks Conrad at second base. Except now psychology has come into this thing . . . If Conrad really isn’t good enough to start, Cox should have known that
before today. And I can’t stop thinking that all this could have been
avoided, if Cox had simply lifted Conrad for a better defensive player
in the ninth inning of Game 3.

I’m sorry to say this about a Hall
of Fame manager who’s on the way out. But he blew this one from six
ways to Sunday. Plain and simple.

Is psychology such a bad thing in this instance? I ask because in many ways Cox has operated like this for his entire career.  He has pitched Charlie Liebrandt or started Keith Lockhart or any number of other things that weren’t always the best tactical move. Maybe not even what he thought was the best tactical move himself. Such an approach may have cost him some games. Maybe even some big ones.

But he’s never lost his clubhouse. He’s never, as far as I know, had his players seriously question his judgment.  His steadiness and his attention to player psychology has arguably been his greatest asset over the years.  It’s who he is as a manager. It’s who the Braves are as a team for better and for worse.

We on the outside can’t know for sure, but I bet Cox’s decision to go with Glaus is a function of him knowing — as really only he can know — that his players need that lineup tonight. That no matter how politic he has been, Derek Lowe will freak out if he looks back and sees Conrad at second tonight.  That Alex Gonzalez or Derek Lee will try to do too much if they see him there.  That Conrad himself may freeze up and, if it’s at all possible, play worse himself if he gets the start.

Maybe Cox does realize, deep down, that starting Glaus is the wrong move, tactically speaking. But for him to ignore what is most likely unanimous — albeit likely unspoken — team sentiment that Conrad shouldn’t start tonight would be for him to reject everything that has made him the manager he is. At this late date — perhaps six hours before his career comes to an end — how could he possibly change the only approach to managing that he’s ever known?  And why would any Braves fan want him to, no matter what the stakes?

We’ve reached a point where the micro-level tactical considerations seem, I don’t know, beside the point. The Braves are bleeding. They’re tired. There’s only one bullet left in the chamber and the place they’ve holed up in is surrounded. Even if they get out of this mess, there’s a much scarier horde waiting for them just over the ridge. 

No manager is perfect. Bobby Cox certainly isn’t perfect. But I believe in Bobby Cox. I have no choice but to.  And if he’s going to go down tonight, I want him to go down doing it the way he always has.  I think his players do too.  And I think he’s doing just that.     

2016 Winter Meetings Preview

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - FEBRUARY 26: The Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center is seen along the Potomac River February 26, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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The baseball world will descend on Washington D.C. — well, the Maryland suburbs of Washington, at the Gaylord Resort at National Harbor — this weekend for the 2016 Winter Meetings. There’s a lot of work to be done.

Twenty free agents from a class of 191 have signed thus far. Among the notable: Yoenis Cespedes, Edinson Volquez, Neil Walker, Josh Reddick, Bartolo Colon, and R.A. Dickey. That, of course, leaves a ton of notables left, including Edwin Encarnacion, Justin Turner, Jose Bautista, Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, Mark Trumbo, Mark Melancon, Rich Hill and a host of others. Here is our rundown of this offseason’s top free agents if you’re curious. As you have come to expect from us, we’ll have a writeup of everyone who signs, faster than almost anyone else will.

Despite the sheer number of available free agents, this is an historically thin free agent class in terms of talent. That means that, for a team to improve significantly, they may be better served by making a trade. We’ve seen a couple already, most notably the deals which sent Taijuan Walker to the Diamondbacks, Jaime Garcia to the Braves and Brian McCann to the Astros. Most experts believe there will be plenty more this winter, and the ball could really get rolling on that in the next week with guys like Andrew McCutchen, Chris Sale, Chris Archer, Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson and Brandon Phillips on the block.

Another major activity of the Winter Meetings is the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee vote. Except, this year, there is no Veterans Committee, at least in name. It’s now the “Today’s Game” committee. Here are links to breakdowns of the candidacies of all ten men on the ballot the new committee will consider:

Harold Baines
Albert Belle
Will Clark
Orel Hershiser
Mark McGwire
George Steinbrenner
Davey Johnson
Lou Piniella
John Shuerholz
Bud Selig

Trade deals, free agent negotiations and Hall of Fame votes take place behind closed doors at the Gaylord Resort. One of the major public activities of the Winter Meetings is when all 30 of the managers meet and greet the press. This year’s new faces are Torey Lovullo with the Diamondbacks, Rick Renteria with the White Sox and Bud Black with the Rockies. Brian Snitker, now the permanent manager of the Braves, will get his first go-around at the managerial cattle call. I’ll be in the scrum for a lot of these guys — they do them two at a time so I can’t see everyone — and will let you know if they say anything fun.

Outside of the transactions and the Hall of Fame stuff, we have the more mundane Winter Meetings business. And a lot of it. Indeed, the vast majority of the people at the Meetings aren’t there for transactions. They’re there to network, seek jobs and discuss the business of baseball like any other industry convention. Ever year we hear about a rule change or a proposal for future rule changes at the Meetings, though this year’s brand new Collective Bargaining Agreement should overshadow that. We’ve already discussed the major points of that and, yesterday, I speculated that, as time goes on, the way this agreement was reached could lead to some serious strife going forward, particularly on the union side. Expect to hear some anonymous rumblings about all of that in the next few days, from players, agents and other interested parties who may not be all that pleased with how it goes.

The final event of the Winter Meetings is the Rule 5 Draft, which will take place at 8am on Thursday morning. You likely have no idea who most of the players who will be selected are, but here’s a good place to start your research on that. If your team takes someone in the draft, the most important thing to know is that he’ll either be on the big league roster all year or he’ll have to be returned to his original team. Well, they could be stashed on the disabled list with phantom injuries so they won’t have to be returned, but no team would ever do that, would they? Perish the thought.

So, yes, there’s a lot to be done. I’ll be on the scene at National Harbor, bringing you all the best hot stove business we have to offer and, as usual, some more fun odds and ends from baseball’s biggest offseason event. As they used to say in radio, tune in to us and rip off the dial. Or, at the very least, keep a tab open to us and refresh a lot.

The Padres non-tendered RHP Tyson Ross

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 04:  Tyson Ross #38 of the San Diego Padres walks off the field as he's taken out of the game in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on opening day at PETCO Park on April 4, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Per a report by MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell, the Padres non-tendered right-handed starter Tyson Ross on Friday, cutting loose their top ace after three seasons with the club.

Ross, 29, was sidelined for the bulk of the season with inflammation in his right shoulder and underwent thoracic outlet surgery in October. His injuries limited him to only 5 1/3 innings in 2016, during which he gave up seven runs and struck out five in a 15-0 blowout against the Dodgers.

Prior to his lengthy stint on the disabled list, the right-hander earned 9.5 fWAR and pitched to a 3.07 ERA and 9.2 K/9 rate in three full seasons with the Padres. He avoided arbitration with a one-year, $9.625 million deal prior to the 2016 season after leading the league with 33 starts and delivering a 3.26 ERA and career-best 4.4 WARP over 196 innings in 2015.

The Padres appear open to bringing Ross back to San Diego, reported Cassavell, albeit not at such a steep cost. Cassavell quoted Padres’ GM A.J. Preller, who was reportedly in trade talks involving Ross but unable to strike a deal, likely due to the right-hander’s recent health issues. Preller denied that those same health issues factored into the club’s decision to non-tender their ace.

With the move, Ross became one of 35 major leaguers to enter free agency on Friday.