O’Brien: Fredi Gonzalez is “a pretty good manager”

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In a scathing column directed at Braves bloggers, the AJC’s David O’Brien spent a great deal of time setting up and then knocking down a plethora of strawman arguments supposedly made by Braves bloggers and Tweeters. Gonzalez has been the target of criticism ever since he took over for Bobby Cox in 2011.

Look at the wording O’Brien uses in his column:

The most predictable tweets and blog comments today and — depending upon game results — later tonight will come from a segment of the audience that’s convinced itself that Fredi Gonzalez does nothing right (at least not on purpose).

“Will blame”. “Surely will complain”. “Watch the anti-Fredi contingent twist itself into pretzels arguing”.

O’Brien then defends Gonzalez because the Braves have a good record in an arbitrarily-selected period of time, because Gonzalez is bilingual, and because Cox was also the target of criticism during his tenure. It’s just a very curious column overall, one that is very unconvincing.

I cannot speak to the day-to-day strategical decisions made by the Braves’ skipper (Craig can do that), but I do notice a lot of parallels to the praise Phillies manager Charlie Manuel received from the Philadelphia media between the time the Phillies won the World Series in 2008 until they disappointed in the NLDS in 2011. In fact, almost the same exact arguments O’Brien uses in favor of Gonzalez were used by Stan Hochman to praise Manuel back in 2011, just to cite one example.

But Manuel’s flaws are plenty — he is easily one of the worst managers in terms of decision-making. He refuses to use closer Jonathan Papelbon in non-save situations on the road, he has a strong aversion to platoon match-ups (only exacerbated by the same aversion of GM Ruben Amaro), and he is unable to enforce scheduled off-days for oft-injured stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley despite insistence they would get more rest. The Phillies media, for the most part, either did not recognize these as flaws or ignored them due to the club’s success. Over the past year and a half, though, Manuel has been criticized quite a bit by the same Philly media that was quick to defend him. The Phillies teams circa  2008-11 were good enough to hide Manuel’s flaws; now that the team is weaker in almost every way, his shortcomings are much more apparent.

It seems like the media ebbs and flows between deifying and dethroning managers. It’s not the media’s job to do either. And there’s a difference between rebutting criticism and deifying. Citing team wins since last July 4 and praising bilingualism is about as close to deifying as you can get, at least as far as baseball managers go.

Manuel, by the way, can speak Japanese.

Johnny Cueto expected to opt-out of his deal after the season

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Johnny Cueto signed a six-year $130 million deal with the Giants prior to the 2016 season. In his first season he went 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA and 198 strikeouts in 219.2 innings, helping lead the Giants to the playoffs. This season has been rocky for Cueto — he’s got a a 4.42 ERA in 15 starts and has battled blisters — but they’ve been far rockier for the Giants overall, as they sit in last place in the NL West and have the second worst record in baseball.

Many suspect that the Giants will either rebuild or, at the very least, restructure some in response to this nightmare year. If so, they’re likely going to be doing it with Cueto, who Jon Heyman reports is going to opt-out of his deal:

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Johnny Cueto is planning to opt out of his contract at the end of the year, but he would listen to any extension offer . . . Cueto has $84 million to go over four years. It would probably take an injury or major slump for Cueto not to opt out. But it makes sense that he will.

Heyman says the Giants are not inclined to give him an extension, so expect to see Cueto on the free agent market three days after the World Series ends, which is the deadline for him to exercise his opt-out rights.

The Dodgers are concerned about Julio Urias’ shoulder

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Things are going great for the Dodgers lately. They’ve won seven consecutive games and 13 of their last 14. They lead the National League in wins and are in first place in, arguably, the best division in baseball.

But there are a lot of moving parts on a baseball team, and even when some things are going great, other things can go not-so-great. Like this:

Urias has been diagnosed with shoulder inflammation and shut down indefinitely. An MRI last week showed no structural damage, but his shoulder is still bothering him. He has not pitched in the bigs since late May, when he allowed seven runs in less than three innings against the Miami Marlins. He was sent down after that and went 3-0 with a 3.12 ERA, six walks and 17 strikeouts in 17.1 innings pitched in three starts with Oklahoma City before being shelved.