August 2012

Towers: D-backs not hoisting white flag

PHOENIX — Despite what it may look like on the surface, the D-backs are not “waiving the white flag” in their race for a playoff spot with the trade on Sunday of veteran left-handed starter Joe Saunders to the Orioles for right-handed reliever Matt Lindstrom, Arizona general manager Kevin Towers said.

They dropped a three-game series to the Padres at Chase Field and ended action on Sunday, trailing the first-place Giants by seven games in the National League West and the Cardinals by 6 1/2 for the newly-minted second NL Wild Card berth. The two non-division winning teams with the best records in the NL will meet in a “win and in” playoff game on Oct. 5. for the right to play the top seed in this year’s best-of-five NL Division Series.

“We wanted to sustain what we did last year,” Towers said, referring to his club’s surprising 2011 run into the first round of the playoffs. “We’re not waiving the white flag. We have a lot of games in the division. Hopefully we can get hot. Until we’re eliminated we’ll just keep playing.”

In recent weeks the D-backs have shed themselves of two veterans — Saunders and shortstop Stephen Drew — which is usually not the message one wants to send either to the fans or the rest of the players on the team as the season heads into its crucial final weeks. The teams above them have added like crazy. The Giants brought in Hunter Pence and Marco Scutaro. The Dodgers, by virtue of Saturday’s mega trade with the Red Sox, have now added Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Hanley Ramirez and Joe Blanton to the current active roster.

The D-backs countered with Lindstrom and third baseman Chris Johnson.

In Zona, this all smacks of getting ready for 2013, despite Towers’ claims to the contrary. Towers said he wanted to get a good read on rookies Jake Elmore at shortstop and Tyler Skaggs in the starting rotation. In fact, Towers insisted that the D-backs are better right now with Elmore over Drew at short and Skaggs over Saunders. Only the last month of the season will tell.

But here’s the reality of it all: The D-backs had no intention of exercising a $10 million option to bring back Drew next season or paying him a $1.35 million buyout. They saved about $3 million shedding him when they did. They have to make a decision whether to pick up a $6.5 million option on closer J.J. Putz for next season or buy him out for $1.5 million. Don’t expect them to exercise that option, either.

Next season, the D-backs can slide setup man David Hernandez into the closer slot and replace him in the eighth inning with Lindstrom.

The D-backs have $15 million in deferred money coming off the books at the end of this season, but even that currently makes them bit players in a division where the Dodgers and Giants will just keep spending and even the Padres are at a different level with new ownership and a $1.2 billion television deal that will give them an average of $60 million to spend each year over the next 20 years.

And what happens when the Dodgers sign a new TV deal that could net them $5 billion over next 20 years? Already, with the $61 million additions of A-Gon, Beckett and Carl Crawford, the Dodgers payroll is pegged at $189 million for 2013. And we haven’t gone into the offseason.

The D-backs are simply up against it, which is why the more than adept Towers has to juggle the fortunes of the present with the projections of the future. No white-flag waiver is he.

“[Going into the current season] I felt we were better on paper,” he said. “I don’t think the division is that much stronger. We probably overachieved last year and this is who we are.”

Red Sox’s shake up signals Valentine’s return

The big shake up in Boston should leave no doubt about the immediate future. Bobby Valentine has won the immediate skirmish there and undoubtedly will be back next season to fulfill the second year of his contract as manager.

The deal that sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers gave the Red Sox about $260 million in salary space to immediately rebuild the club, but it removed the dissidents from the clubhouse. It took guts for Red Sox management to do this and that group should be commended. The process, though, really began earlier in the season when Kevin Youkilis was moved to the White Sox. But the bleating and the losing continued since then.

“Yes, it was necessary,” Valentine told the media about the trade. “It just didn’t seem like it mixed as well as it should. It has nothing to do with the individuals in the trade.”

Oh, it certainly did. And if Dustin “that’s not the way we do things around here” Pedroia doesn’t watch it he will be the next go. David Ortiz, down now with what appears to be a season-ending foot injury, will almost certainly be allowed to leave via free agency. And with that the Red Sox will be free of the Theo Epstein era, even though it ended with the Red Sox winning a rare pair of World Series titles.

To be sure, the results of this season do not stand alone. The Red Sox haven’t been a very good team since last August. They are 68-86 in nearly one full calendar year.

“It’s been a large enough sample size going back to last year that we needed to make more than cosmetic changes,” Boston’s first-year general manager Ben Cherrington said.

By dumping the two players making more than $200 million in salary over the course of the next five seasons — Gonzalez and Crawford — the Red Sox now should have a running chance. So does Valentine. The players and some members of the Boston media tried to run him out of town. One of the members of top management told me recently that the Red Sox weren’t going to be “bamboozled into doing that.”

Now the front office seems to have made its choice. There’s the old adage that you can’t get rid of the team so you have to get rid of the manager. Well, this time management got rid of the team.

Like Larry Bowa, Valentine’s a veteran old school guy who manages out of chaos. A team should know that when it hires him. Now it’s time to leave him alone and give him the opportunity to see what he can do.