David Ortiz doesn’t give a [expletive] about what you think makes a leader

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David Ortiz has, what I think anyway, is some righteous anger. It came out last night after the Sox beat the Orioles, and it came in response to reports that he called a closed-door meeting a couple of weeks ago in which the hitters yelled at the pitchers.

Since that meeting, by the way, the Sox have won 9 of 11 and the starting pitcher has been back on point.  Which, if you’re into these sorts of stories, makes David Ortiz look a hell of a lot like a team leader.  And, while he has done nothing to proclaim himself a leader  publicly — indeed, he was irked that the story of the team meeting leaked out  — Ortiz bristled at the Boston media’s notion of what a leader looks like. From Gordon Edes’ article:

“Well, let me tell you, I was reading an article [that] talked about the leaders people call ‘leaders’ in this town,” he said. “Basically, it seems like no matter what you do, it’s not good enough. And you can only call leaders the guys who are out diving for balls on the field or calling pitches behind the plate?” …

… “No. 1, I don’t agree with that,” Ortiz said. “And No. 2, what I do I don’t do for people to know. I do it for my teammates, to get to know things better. I don’t give a [expletive] about anybody knowing what we talk about, No. 1. And No. 2, I don’t give a [expletive] what they call leaders …

He went on to say “I don’t get no respect.” Which, while if it was said in an isolated way, could come off petty or self-centered.  But I think in context with all of this other stuff, he has a pretty good point.

Our ideas about leadership in sports are kinda screwy. When things go well for a ballclub, we look at certain people and call them leaders. When they go poorly, we rarely blame them for their lack of leadership. A couple of writers asked where Jason Varitek was when it was allegedly all going to hell for the Sox last September, but it was certainly a minority view. For the most part, guys who are cast as captains are only talked about in those terms when things go well. When things go poorly it’s because of screwups like Josh Beckett.

And, as Ortiz may or may not have intended to imply, it’s funny how the people we call leaders on ballclubs tend to fit a certain type. Everyday position players who, coincidentally or not, are often scrappy or fiery players. And, coincidentally or not, are usually white dudes. Why couldn’t David Ortiz be a leader? Why must someone like Dustin Pedroia be assumed to be? Why must it be a vocal person as opposed to someone who leads by example or behind the scenes? Why must it be one person? I often get the sense that we writers unconsciously project leadership on people who have traits that we understand or share ourmselves because it makes something amorphous and complicated a lot more understandable to us.

Anyway, I’m not saying that Ortiz is a great leader. I have no idea what he does along those lines. Maybe he had a good moment with that team meeting and the rest of the time he’s like everyone else.  Maybe the Sox’ good play of late is a total coincidence (if the Sox played poorly for the past week, would the narrative be “Ortiz sows dissension in the clubhouse?”).

But I can certainly see how he or other players could get a bit rankled when it comes to the leadership talk we like so much in the media.

(Thanks to reader Big Leagues for the heads up)

Jose Canseco to join NBC Sports California as an A’s analyst

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Hey, I have a new coworker: Jose Canseco has been hired by NBC Sports California as an Athletics pregame analyst.

OK, maybe he’s not technically a coworker, as the folks at NBC Sports California — formerly CSN Bay Area — and I do not hang out at the water cooler, have potlucks in the conference room or exchange secret Santa gifts at Christmas time, but dang it, I’m gonna TELL people I work with Jose Canseco. The only downside will be people assuming that, because he and I are on the same team, my performance is something less than authentic. Or, perhaps, Canseco may write another book and tell all of my secrets.

Anyway, Canseco will be part of NBC Sports California’s A’s Pregame Live and A’s Postgame Live shows. Live TV can be hard. I’ve done a bit of it, and there is certainly more to that gig than meets the eye. You can’t always prepare for what happens on the fly. I’m sure Canseco will do well, however, as he’s great with coming up with the best stuff off the top of his head.

2017 Preview: Cleveland Indians

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Cleveland Indians.

The Cleveland Indians almost won the World Series without their best hitter for the whole season and two of their starting pitchers for the playoffs. This year that hitter — Michael Brantley — is back and the starters — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — are healthy. Oh, and they added arguably the best free agent bat available in Edwin Encarnacion.

Baseball teams love to downplay their expectations, but given where the Indians are at the moment, anything less than another American League Pennant will have to feel like a disappointment, right? Fortunately for the Indians, they stand as the favorites to do just that.

They didn’t lose much in the offseason. Yes, World Series hero Rajai Davis is gone, but the Indians outfield will be fine if Brantley remains healthy. Mike Napoli‘s loss will be felt but it will be made up for with Encarnacion’s bat and probably then some. Coco Crisp left too, but he was not a key part of the equation.

The biggest losses are guys from last year who will start the year on the disabled list, most notably Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis is just starting to work out following time off to rest his sore shoulder. Chisenhall ran into a wall the other day and is being evaluated. There is no sense that either will miss extended time, however.

Otherwise, the lineup should score a lot of runs, with on-base machines Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor setting the table for Encarnacion, Brantley and Carlos Santana, who is entering his walk year. The Indians trailed only the Red Sox in runs scored in the American League last year and they should score a lot of runs this year as well.

The strength of the club, however, remains its pitching. Corey Kluber looked like his old Cy Young self last year, particularly in the playoffs. Danny Salazar built on his excellent 2015 season in the first half before falling prey to injury. Carlos Carrasco posted an ERA+ of 141 before breaking his hand and Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer both stood out for fourth and fifth starters.

The bullpen is excellent too, as relief ace Andrew Miller is joined by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and newcomer Boone Logan make up one of the relief corps in baseball.

Pitcher health is probably the biggest uncertainty for any contender, but the Indians have the best pitching in the AL if everyone stays healthy. And maybe even if one or two guys don’t.

It’s hard to find much fault with the 2017 Cleveland Indians. They are the class of their division and, while the slog of the regular season turns a lot of surefire contenders into hash before it’s all said and done, there is no reason to look at the Indians right now and think of them as anything other than the best team in the American League.

Prediction: First place, American League Central.