By Matt Straub
At the trade deadline we discussed the various ways a team can get itself out of its losing ways and at least start heading in a better direction. Just as important, however, is the timing of your rebuild or reboot, as teams like to call it now. Too often teams treat the trade deadline, which can be one of the most important times for a franchise both for the current season and the years beyond, as a throwaway.
This year, there were two examples of teams who threw away a crucial tipping point for their franchise by trusting it to men they didn’t trust. Dave Dombrowski, an underrated baseball man, seemed to be on the way out in Detroit, The Tigers let him make important decisions for their franchise, including trading two huge pieces and a good reliever (and more important, letting him decide what to take back for him. Then, they fired him.
I happen to like Dombrowski more than others might and would love to see the Red Sox bring him in this offseason. The point here, however isn’t whether or not he did a good job in Detroit, it is what Detroit was thinking letting him run the team through the trade deadline if they weren’t going to keep him. Why let someone you don’t trust decide who you’re going to get for your key players? If Daniel Norris doesn’t work out, will the Tigers wonder one day if they could have gotten more for David Price? Would another GM, knowing Miguel Cabrera was close to returning, have tried to make the playoffs this year instead of selling everyone?
Whether or not Norris works out, it always blows my mind when a team lets someone make crucial decisions, then fires him shortly after making those calls.
The same thing happened in Milwaukee, where Doug Melvin stepped down this week. He wasn’t technically fired, but the ownership in Milwaukee didn’t exactly beg him to stay, either. If not, then why allow him to fire your manager and trade your star player? Both of those things probably had to be done, but why not leave those tasks to the person you want leading your franchise going forward?
On the other hand, it is also possible to have too many people in charge. The Red Sox went through this for years when Larry Lucchino always had to mettle in the baseball operations department, consistently neutering the GM. Now, with Lucchino stepping down, Ben Cherington appeared to finally have a chance to run the team as he saw fit, letting us judge how good he is in the process. Instead, Boston brought in Jerry DiPoto, who was recently fired by the Angels, as an advisor who will provide a “fresh look” at the team. Even if DiPoto is only here for a short stint, how can Cherington feel in charge? It’s no way to run a team.
Speaking of running teams into the ground, there are two examples this week of teams trying to do so. Strangely enough, they are direct competitors.
The Washington Nationals came into the season with one of the best starting rotations ever put together, which any title contender would dream of. They lacked, however, a championship attitude. We should have seen it coming when they were talking about their ring sizes before the games even started. Now, the Nationals find themselves slumping and in one of the toughest stretches of their schedule while the Mets, the team they’re chasing in the NL East, is feasting on a soft part of their slate. While it’s a good to see the Nationals avoiding panic, their apparent belief that all is well and the division is still theirs to lose is troublesome. This team needs a kick in the pants, not another reassurance that everything is fine. I would have fired the manager a week ago. Matt Williams surely knows a ton about baseball, but making substitutions is the easiest part of a manager’s job. Guiding a team through the rigors of a full season mentally is the biggest challenge a manager faces, and Williams has shown no ability to do so. Instead, he continues to let his team coast while the Mets pull away.
Being handed the division lead wasn’t enough for the Mets, however. After Terry Collins showed what a manager should do by staying calm and getting his team through a disastrous stretch before they swept the Nationals and took off, his bosses did their best to take away a lot of the team’s confidence by hinting at inning limits for their star pitchers.
Yes, Matt Harvey is coming off elbow surgery, but he is clearly fine, having once again emerged in the last several weeks as one of the best pitchers in the game. Sure, their other big pitchers don’t exactly have a track record of 200-inning seasons yet. As we talked about with the trade deadline, however, long-term success is not guaranteed. There have been countless teams over the years who thought they were close and had years to go in their title window only to see it slam shut far too early. The 1980s Mets were supposed to be a dynasty. They won one title and never played for another. Anything can happen to a franchise, and a lot of it isn’t good. You have to try and win while you can. We don’t know what will happen in 2016-18, but we know the Mets are hot right now and can win the division in six weeks. If one of the pitchers has some discomfort or shows fatigue, yes, you have to then think about shutting them down. To even think of doing it ahead of time, even if it’s just for a few games in August in the heat of a pennant race, is ridiculous.
It is also another example of how teams are run affecting how they perform on the field. If the men in charge don’t know what they’re doing, the players have no chance.