Bo Porter

We’re not going to pretend that Bo Porter had no idea what he was getting into, are we?

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At the outset, allow me to say that none of this is a defense — or an indictment — of the Astros front office. I have no idea what really goes on there, and neither do you.

We have had reports in recent days that there was a lot of strife between fired manager Bo Porter and GM Jeff Luhnow. We have heard that there was dysfunction. But we don’t know how much dysfunction there truly has been. We don’t know if the strife between Luhnow and Porter was one guy’s fault or the other’s, although most of the time such things are a two-way street. We can likely expect to hear more about this in the coming days and, in all likelihood, sometime this offseason. It’s possible Houston is a nuthouse. It’s possible Porter and Luhnow simply didn’t get along in the way lots of GMs and managers don’t get along when teams lose a lot. Let’s wait and see about that.

But one thing I think that deserves some pushback at the moment is the notion — which I’ve seen creep up in the past 24 hours — that Bo Porter was somehow wronged in terms of how the Astros chose to rebuild. That he was sold a bill of goods about what his situation would be like or that he somehow had the rug pulled out from under him after he took the job.

The strongest argument in that regard comes in Buster Olney’s column this morning (sorry; ESPN Insider only). It starts out like this:

With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, we know a lot more about the position that Bo Porter signed up for in the fall of 2012, when he became manager of the Houston Astros. Whether he knew it or not at the time, this is what the job notice probably should’ve looked like . . .

After which Olney offers a lot of comments implying that it was unknown at the time that the Astros were going to have an extremely low payroll and run out a lot of not-ready-for-prime-time talent in the first couple of years of what was and continues to be a massive rebuild job. Also, that it was unknown that GM Jeff Luhnow was going to rely on his front office staff to an extremely high degree and take an approach that made the “Moneyball” A’s look like poster boys for laissez-faire front office management.

I have no idea if the Astros’ rebuilding plan is a good one. On the one hand, that organization was a smoking pile of rubble when Luhnow took over and new ownership came in, so perhaps something radical was called for. On the other hand, the Astros’ tear-down/rebuild has been really extreme, the losses have been close to unprecedented and there are lots of examples of teams who have rebuilt while still putting more resources into “win-now” efforts than the Astros have. Veterans that, while unlikely to be part of the next good ballclub for that city, at least push them closer to 90 losses a year than 110. Whether this is truly something worthwhile is something people debate, but it has been done. Maybe the Astros made a mistake in not doing that. Maybe they’ll be shown to have done OK with the approach they took.

But no matter what you make of all of this, it’s impossible to say that Porter had no idea that was what was coming. The Astros made all kinds of headlines in 2011 and early 2012 when they hired Luhnow.  He, in turn, made unconventional hires like a “Director of Decision Sciences,” and made several hires from the sabermetric community and/or online analysis world, such as Mike Fast, Kevin Goldstein and Colin Wyers. The notion that this was a going to be a tear-down unlike that seen in recent years was pretty darn clear. Also clear: that a lot of baseball writers have scoffed at what the Astros have been doing, presumably because it’s either unconventional or because they are reflecting the displeasure of their baseball sources. Olney himself has engaged in this before.

Again, none of this is to say that the Astros are doing the best things or even the right things. It’s possible that the strategy ends up a failure. It’s possible that three years (and possibly more) of copious losing does more to undermine the team in the eyes of fans and others than the presumed reward at the end of the process gains them. It’s also possible that, yes, Luhnow is a flaming jackwagon and the Astros’ front office is a mess. I have no idea.

But to suggest that Bo Porter was somehow surprised and wronged by the low payroll, the piles of losses and the idea that this was going to be a front office which took an extremely active role in day-to-day decisions is just fiction. At least as far as those things go he, and everyone else, knew what he was getting into.

Russell Martin is not a fan of the automatic intentional walk

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 15:  Russell Martin #55 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts after being struck out in the fourth inning against the Cleveland Indians during game two of the American League Championship Series at Progressive Field on October 15, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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On Tuesday, it was announced that Major League Baseball instituted a new rule allowing for a dugout signal in order to issue an intentional walk rather than having the pitcher throw four pitches wide of the strike zone. It’s commissioner Rob Manfred’s attempt to help improve the game’s pace of play.

As Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi reports, Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin is certainly not a fan of the change.

My thing is, if they really want to speed up the game, then when a guy hits a home run, to speed up the game should a guy, just like in softball, when he hits it, should he just walk to the dugout? It’d be quicker. I’m just wondering, at what point do we just keep the game, the game? Or, how about this calculation: take all the intentional walks that were made in the last couple years and calculate – or maybe just ask to see if they have that information, to see if they really did their homework. Is it really that important to speed up the game (with this rule)? Because how many games did we play last year where we didn’t have one intentional walk? That’s something I’d like to know.

Martin also expressed concern that eliminating the four-pitch intentional walk will hurt teams’ ability to buy time for their relievers to warm up.

It’s called getting your bullpen ready so the guy doesn’t blow out his arm on the mound. Speed up the game, speed up the game.’ How about we just give guys – the human being – time to warm up on the mound after maybe something’s happened in the game? I’m not a manager, but I’m just trying to put myself in the position of a manager. OK, we’re up by one run or two runs and our bullpen’s been taxed and we’re trying to save their arms, and then the other team walks, ball gets away, guy gets to second base. When the coach visits the mound to talk to his player, it’s not like the player necessarily needs somebody to talk to him.

It’s because the guy (in the bullpen) needs time to warm up, man. It’s the same thing when you throw over to first base, like, eight times in a row. It’s not like we’re trying to keep the guy close. The guy maybe has two stolen bases in 18 years. It’s because the guy needs time to warm up. At what point does that become a problem with guys warming up in the bullpen? Sometimes it’s just strategy to give guys a little bit of time to warm up.

The Jays’ backstop then said he’d prefer if Manfred were honest about the intent behind this rule change and others which have been proposed. Martin said, “Save it. I’m tired of hearing that same lame excuse all the time. Just be honest. If they’re honest about it, we’ll get over it. But don’t hide behind the fans.”

We should be hearing from a handful of players about the new intentional walk rule in the coming days. I can’t imagine the rule is very popular among the players.

Leonys Martin feared for his life from alleged human traffickers

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 30: Leonys Martin #12 of the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on September 30, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
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Leonys Martin, outfielder for the Seattle Mariners, testified yesterday that he feared for his life after he was smuggled from Cuba by a group of men prosecutors say worked for a sports agent and a baseball trainer currently on trial for human trafficking in Miami.

Martin took the stand at the trial of Bartolo Hernandez and Julio Estrada, who face felony charges. He said that, after getting to Mexico from Cuba, men threatened to take him away. There was a kidnapping attempt against one of the men who had taken him from Cuba as well. Martin said that, eventually, he crossed the U.S.-Mexico border into Texas without any valid papers because his life was in danger and his safety was at risk.

Players like Martin who fled Cuba often hole up in Mexico while waiting to be declared free agents by Major League Baseball. There is pitched competition to sign agreements with the players in question, seeking to obtain promises of a cut of future baseball earnings for their services. Those promises can come under the threat of violence. Eventually, Martin promised to pay Hernandez and Estrada, but ceased paying them later, fomenting a lawsuit from them. In the wake of the suit, the allegations of threats and smuggling arose, leading to this trial.

Martin has been late to Mariners camp as a result of having to testify. He’ll likely report in the next day or so. The trial continues.