We've reached the point in the season where 19 or so of the 30 franchises have turned their attention to foliage tours and preparations for a mirthful Oktöbërfëst. Happily, with the realization that they've punted on 2007 comes the inevitable scapegoating.
The heroes are easy to identify. Josh Byrnes and Bob Melvin, for having the confidence to play their kids. Brian Cashman, for ignoring Vinny From Yonkers' humble request to MAKE A MOVE RIGHT NOW BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT WE'RE PAYING YA FOR YA DUMB MORON. Aaron Rowand, for single-handedly keeping my keeper-league roto team in contention and, in the process, becoming my favorite person on the planet not named "Dad" or "Bruce Springsteen."
|Did J.P. Ricciardi make a mistake by paying Vernon Wells (above) big money? (Getty Images)|
So here's a moderately inclusive list of the season's biggest goats, the individuals who, had they performed their jobs with a modicum of competence, would have nudged their team in the general vicinity of the playoffs. Once more, with feeling: Finger-pointing -- it's the American way. Cue the confetti, the marching band, and the battalion of teenage twirlers flinging their batons skyward.
J.P. Ricciardi, Toronto Blue Jays: Take a look at Vernon Wells' last four seasons, including 2007, and answer me this question: Which one doesn't look like the others? That's right -- his magnificent 2006, after which he was proffered a nine-figure contract. Had the Jays sat still, Wells would've hit free agency in a year unusually rich with center fielders (even after the Ichiro signing, Rowand, Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones and Mike Cameron will be out there come November, with few big-market teams likely to get in on the bidding). Way to read the market, J.P.
Ah, who's kidding who? I'm just bitter at the guy for torpedoing roto teams everywhere by lying about the health and functionality of B.J. Ryan's left arm. I'll say this: If Ricciardi tells you that grass is green, don't believe it unless he presents a notarized affidavit and supporting evidence in the form of a licensed and bonded landscaper.
Jason Schmidt, Los Angeles Dodgers: A friend who's pals with ... well, somebody who would have some insight into such matters ... said that the Giants barely considered re-signing Schmidt after last season, owing as much to concern about his noggin as his arm. You and I, we aren't expected to work through pain, mostly because our professions (mall monkey and writer-type guy) enjoy a long and distinguished tradition of wussiness. Guys in Schmidt's line of work are expected to dig deep and grit their teeth and leave it all out on the field and all that, but Schmidt was said to have hesitated to pitch while less than 100 percent.
That assessment doesn't gel with what I saw from him in 2006 -- he seemed willing to gut his way through late-season contests with a logy fastball -- but that's the way it was related to me. In any event, even a quarter-season worth of Schmidt would've nudged the Dodgers into the playoffs. Not the smartest of free-agent signings, for a bunch of reasons.
Every person in the entire Houston Astros organization, except maybe Hunter Pence : I've carped on this too many times in this space, so let's abandon the Drayton McLane bashing and outline the steps the team might take moving forward. One, trade Brad Lidge before a potentially messy pre-arbitration negotiation; even the best closers aren't worth the $7 million you'll have to pay him. Two, accept that guys like Chris Burke and Luke Scott aren't going to evolve into anything more than below-average regulars, and see if contenders needing depth will hand over a prospect or two in a trade for them. Three, equip security personnel at Minute Maid Field with Craig Biggio detectors and empower them to use chemical weaponry in the event that he changes his mind about retirement. See? Constructive criticism and positivity! Yay!
Ken Williams, Chicago White Sox: Ozzie Guillen has already deflected blame for this calamity of a season, via a parade of unpronounceable expletives of indeterminate syntactical origin. So that leaves the guy pulling the strings, the alternately underrated and overpraised Ken W., as the designated dimwit. Everyone except Williams, it seems, saw this coming: the sabermetricians, the talking heads, the rest of the division, everyone. The capper came in the form of a contract extension -- through, like 2084 -- for Guillen, a guy whose temperament wouldn't appear to be ideal for a rebuilding project, which is what this is. It'll get worse on the south side before it gets better.
Daniel Cabrera, Baltimore Orioles: After once again failing to realize his great potential, Cabrera has become the official poster boy for this generation of Orioles and their who-gives-a-crap approach. There are several other offenders -- like Miguel Tejada, who runs out ground balls with the urgency of an invalid -- but Cabrera's pouty body language and general indifference on the mound, and the team's willingness to put up with it, tell you everything you need to know about the 2007 Baltimore Orioles.
Meanwhile, it's starting to look like Leo Mazzone was a great pitching coach because his Braves tenure happened to coincide with the primes of Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux, rather than because he eked random gravity-defying seasons out of Chris Hammond and Darren Holmes. The whole point in importing Mazzone from Atlanta -- well, besides letting him spend the summer afternoons swimming in the gulch and catching butterflies with best buddy in the whole wide world Sam Perlozzo -- was for him to make guys like Cabrera and Hayden Penn realize their potential.
George Mitchell, P.I.: I didn't understand this one from the get-go. You hire a guy and charge him with investigating something that happened years ago, even though he can't compel anybody who matters to testify. Yeah, yeah -- those who forget the past are destined to repeat it. But what can we possibly learn from this exercise? That lots of unidentified players may have used performance-enhancing substances? Whoa. Call me a cynic, but I have a feeling that MLB's turn-a-blind-eye complicity won't find its way into the final report.