How Long Do You wait?
The 2012 major league baseball season is still relatively young but there are some trends emerging and already some questions for management of teams and players who are struggling badly. Sometimes it’s not that you are slumping or losing but how you are slumping or losing. For these players and teams, the time to hit the release button is now.
The most glaring problem for the struggling Pittsburgh Pirates brings up a name I have discussed in earlier columns and a situation which is very near having to be resolved one way or another and now. A decision has to be made about Pirate third baseman Pedro Alvarez. The Pirates are in several Catch 22 situations with their young third baseman and desperation is beginning to set in for the Pittsburgh 2012 season. The Catch 22 situation is this -the team can’t afford to have Alvarez in the lineup given their current offensive struggles. The plan in the beginning of 2012 seemed to be to sit Alvarez against tough lefthanders and bat him sixth or seventh in the lineup until his bat got going. After only four games, this plan was altered, slightly at first. Then the plan became sitting him against the better starters of any opposing team but using him to pinch hit in crucial situations late in the game. Then the plan changed again. I watched a couple of Pirate games where this very situation arose. Yet someone else, and someone else who was not hitting either and was a right handed batter singles hitter in a situation where a homerun was needed and against a right handed pitcher was used. Alvarez has become the forgotten man on the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In order for Alvarez to improve and reach anything near his vast potential, he must be in the lineup almost every day. But the Pirates aren’t winning and haven’t looked good in any except two of their first eleven games. They can’t afford to sit back and cross their collective fingers and hope that Alvarez finally puts things together. The Pirates can’t afford to drop out of sight early in the 2012 season. Their fan base simply won’t support another dismal season from their home team. They must play their only other power source as often as possible (Garrett Jones) and can’t afford to not have Casey McGehee playing full time any longer. That leaves Alvarez with few playing opportunities and no position.
If the Pirates demote Alvarez to Triple A, it might do irreparable mental damage to his career. He might not get another chance to prove his worth as a major leaguer. He might become labeled with the dreaded Four A designation. If Pittsburgh trade Alvarez, the fear is that he will suddenly find himself and become a star player for someone else. We all know how the long suffering fans in Pittsburgh would react to such a move. If Pittsburgh simply bites the bullet and releases him, they will have received little for their $6 million investment and more importantly, wasted a first round pick.
There is also trouble in Fenway Park this season. The Boston RedSox has been struggling and I sense that just the slightest bit of panic is beginning to set in. Boston panicked after their disastrous 2011 September and allowed their legendary GM Theo Epstein to leave and dropped manager Terry Francona. The ownership in Boston blamed Epstein for the Carl Crawford signing, blamed Francona for dissension in the clubhouse and signed a manager which no other team wanted any part of, Bobby Valentine. The signing of Valentine was justified by accusing Francona of being too laid back (two championships so something must have been working) and stated that a fiery no nonsense guy like Valentine was just what the team needed. Nowhere did I read that Valentine was a good baseball strategist. I heard only that he would ensure that the beer and fried chicken ion the clubhouse would be eliminated and that the players would have to get serious this season. There would be no more fun on the team and the players would be expected to win all 162 games this season or else heads would be rolling.
Valentine has always been a good source of controversial quotes. This is the only reason the press have always liked him. He’s always seemed gruff and very undiplomatic. Someone with the calmness of a Terry Francona is needed in a town where even spring training games are over analyzed and moves are always questioned. The clubhouse needs to be calm and any outside controversies or distractions have to be avoided. The manager’s job in cities such as Boston and New York involves dealing with the demands of the press and ownership as much as it does dealing with the day to day on field situations.
The way to go about your business in these two cities is not by criticizing one of your best players. The comments Valentine made about Kevin Youkilis were not only out of line but should never have been made public. Other star players on Boston reacted harshly and immediately. Of course Valentine is old school and perhaps his thinking was that motivation can be achieved by angering a player. The old “I’ll show you that I’m still a great player” playing with anger isn’t and never was the way to treat a professional athlete. It might work for a week or two but alienating the team against you isn’t the best choice for unifying 25 players. Acting professionally would have been the better choice.
The choice for Pittsburgh doesn’t seem clear at all. The choice in Boston seems all too obvious. But how long do you wait?
By: Doug Bird