Jed York taking 49ers down a dark, empty valley

 

JIM HARBAUGH’S FINAL PRESSER AS 49ERS COACH

How did we get here ? Four years ago the San Francisco 49ers were looking for a dynamic, confident proven leader who could mold the talented pieces into a thriving team. They found it. Jim Harbaugh had turned around the University of San Diego and Stanford. Now he was going to return the 49ers to football glory. He did, leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl and two conference championship games. This year doesn’t count. This year lies at the feet of the Niners entitled owner Jed York.

Like a boil on a leg left untreated, York let personality clashes in his very own front office fester. He let it fester to the point where no longer could that boil be lanced. Instead he is having to cut off the leg. He thinks it will save the host, but instead, he is taking its’ heart and soul.

We have arrived at this point of decision because York refused to address this personality clash head-on. Instead of acting like his uncle, Eddie D, he sat back like a silver-spoon fed rich kid and hoped it would work itself out. Jed York will never be mistaken for his more popular and infamous uncle who was the guardian of the franchise during their glory years. Instead the “Little General” has run this hallowed franchise into an abyss. Who are the 49ers going to hire that is better than Jim Harbaugh ? This franchise is not in an abyss yet. You don’t actually you know you are in an abyss until you finally stop sinking. The 49ers are still falling. When you hear the “thud” you will know they have hit bottom.

When Harbaugh was asked in the post-game presser whose decision it was that he was leaving the team, he responded with, “I serve at the pleasure of ownership.” That is clear. York and his minions didn’t want him back. Unless Vince Lombardi is walking through that door, the 49ers will be hard pressed to find a better leader.

The 49ers recent run of success had everything to do with the player’s belief in their coach. When those players sensed Harbaugh’s influence was waning, they could see the writing on the wall. The 49ers weren’t a bad football team this year, but they lacked that “edge” that made them a Harbaugh team. Those players could feel this coming all along. As soon as little-boy Jed let that boil fester, the players knew.

Eddie DeBartolo would not have allowed this to happen. He would have brought Harbaugh and General Manager Trent Baalke into a room. Eddie would sit at the head of the table. He would utter three words, “FIGURE IT OUT.” He would not have allowed the future of his head coach to be played out in the media. Eddie would have been front and center behind the scenes to make sure it didn’t get to this point.

We are going to hear a lot of excuses in Monday mornings press conference. York and Baalke will be meeting with the media and spinning this move. They will say this is a “mutual decision” and that “Jim and the organization” were on the same page with this decision. Don’t believe it. It’s a half-truth. Harbaugh expected and deserved a contract extension and raise with what he had accomplished with the 49ers. None was forth-coming. He felt marginalized, and when Harbaugh learned Baalke had York’s ear and Jim didn’t, that was it. That was all Harbaugh needed to know. He knew where he stood.

For 49ers fans this is bittersweet. This was a tremendous run of success and fun team to follow. Even though they didn’t win the big one under Harbaugh, and boy were they close, you felt eventually they would win it under him. Now the problems of the 49ers roster no longer belong to Harbaugh. He won’t have to worry about an over-paid quarterback who didn’t throw a 4th-quarter touchdown all year. He won’t have to worry about an aging defense that clearly lost a step and has several pieces to replace. He won’t have to worry about whether the institution of Frank Gore is resigned. Harbaugh probably has an even tougher task now in returning Big Blue Michigan to glory. He may need more than a 6-year contract to make that happen.

49ers fans were regaled with the familiar Harbaugh locker-room phrase “Who’s got it better than us?” To which all of his enthusiastic players would scream “NOOOOOOOBODY.” Today, I ask, “Who has it better than the 49ers?” I can hear the football landscape preening, “roughly 15 franchises Baca, roughly 15 franchises.”

 

Warriors are ROLLING; look for 17 in a row on Tuesday

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The Golden State Warriors have won 16 in a row and they will look to make it 17 when they take on Memphis on Tuesday night. This could very well be the toughest game of the bunch as the Dubs are playing their third road game in four nights and are nursing injuries. No, I am not talking about the injuries to Andrew Bogut and David Lee, but Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes were knicked up in their overtime win on Sunday against New Orleans. In fact Barnes broke his nose because of an errant elbow from Dante Cunningham.

The Warriors are the toast of the NBA right now with their 21-2 record and their wide open style of play. The league knows about the Splash Brothers (Steph Curry and Klay Thompson) but the revelations have been Green and Barnes who are working in tandem to be the perfect complement to Curry and Klay. The Warriors are the best defensive team in the league. That is not just conjecture on my part, its truth. They have the best FG percentage defense in the league. It took New Orleans to catch the Warriors on the second night of a road back-to-back for an opponent to finally shoot over 45 percent against the Dubs during this amazing streak.

The challenge for first-year coach Steve Kerr will be to find a way to incorporate Lee back into the line-up without breaking up the flow and rhythm of a team that is stopping for no one. Lee has been a stand-out player for the Warriors during his tenure, but it would be foolish to insert him into the starting line-up at the expense of Green or Barnes. Lee will most likely accept his diminished role in the same way Andre Iguodala has. Winning certainly calms  playing time ills.

The Warriors are on a mission. They are best professional basketball team the Bay Area has seen since the 1975-76 team won 60 games only to fall to Phoenix in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors in 75-76 were even better than their 74-75 squad which won the NBA title, but a few rough nights in that series cost that 75-76 team a chance to repeat. This Warriors team has all the makings of a title contender. The huge question mark, can they stay healthy ?

Hard to understand Dodgers recent signings

Less than a week ago I heard the outrage from Dodgers fans as Matt Kemp and Dee Gordon were sent packing. It was part of the master diabolical plan being instituted by the new regime. Kemp dealt for an injured catcher, two prospects  and salary relief. Gordon  dealt for three prospects and a relief pitcher. I could make sense of these moves. I understood the end-game. Their most recent moves are tough to rationalize.

Eyes rolled when the Dodgers signed Brandon McCarthy to a four-year 48 million dollar deal. McCarthy had a solid second half in 2014 with the Yankees going 7-5 with an ERA under 3. But, his injury history is worrisome and leaves one to wonder what that contract will look like in 2016 and beyond. If you thought the McCarthy deal was bad, well you haven’t seen anything yet. Today the Dodgers signed left-hander Brett Anderson to a one year 10 million dollar contract. If Anderson pitches more than 200 innings he will get an extra 4 million dollars. 4 million or 400 million it doesn’t matter, Anderson will not throw more than 200 innings. Anderson has thrown 123 innings over the last three years. For you math majors he is averaging 41 innings pitched a year over the last three years. 10 million FOR THAT ?

Unless Mister Miyagi is going to slap those hands together and heal this dude the Dodgers just won the award for the worst free agent signing in the 2014 off season.

I thought when the Dodgers dealt Kemp they were clearing salary for a run at Cole Hamels or Max Scherzer. It made sense to build a legendary starting rotation and maybe add an arm or two in the pen. Throw in a healthy Chris Withrow and the Dodgers pitching staff would be nasty. I could actually live with McCarthy being an over-paid 5th starter. What the Anderson deal tells me is that the Dodgers are telling the baseball world, “we’re good, we don’t need Hamels or Scherzer.” I am here to tell them that if they don’t need Hamels or Scherzer, the rotation as constructed is not good enough, especially with the bullpen they have right now. The end-game was clear after the Kemp and Gordon deals, now the end-game has turned into a head scratching game of mix-and-match. Think about this one. The Dodgers will spend 22 million dollars next year on McCarthy and Anderson. They could have Hamels for 24 million or Scherzer for 25-to-27. I am all for getting multiple players that can help, but there is a big question on whether McCarthy and Anderson will even be able to suit up.

Friedman and Zaidi profess they are buying wins, not players. I fail to understand how buying oft-injured hurlers McCarthy and Anderson makes sense over signing a Scherzer or trading for a Hamels.

 

Moneyball: Dodgers style

Los Angeles Dodgers fans are freaking out this morning. Their beloved Matt Kemp has been dealt to the San Diego Padres and fans, especially those of the fairer sex, are beside themselves. When analyzing all of these Dodgers moves you must remember, the players in question are inconsequential. These moves are about “buying wins.” That is the Moneyball motto. And, make no mistake, the Dodgers are springing their own demented version of Moneyball on baseball.

If Andrew Friedman and the Dodgers brain trust don’t believe a 107 million dollar player can net them more wins than upgrades at multiple positions, then that 107 million dollar player will be traded, even if his name is Matt Kemp.

Theo Epstein brought Moneyball to the big-market Boston Red Sox more than a decade ago. Three World Series championships later, the Sox are still employing some of those same philosophies even after showing Theo the door and hiring his protégé Ben Cherington.  Epstein has brought his special brand of big market Moneyball to Chicago with the Cubs and has the north-siders on the brink of being a very good team for a long time with an influx of young talent and savvy trades that have netted Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arietta.

The Dodgers were already competitive when Andrew Friedman took over a month ago. Coming off of a 94 win season the Dodgers brass was trying to figure out why their neighbors to the north kept winning World Series, while Los Angeles kept flaming out in the post-season. Enter Friedman.

The sabermetrics guru looked at the Dodgers and saw great imbalance. He saw a team with big names, decent numbers and ballooning contracts or contract demands. In short, he saw money being wasted. Remember the Moneyball motto, you aren’t buying players, you are buying wins. Friedman and his pack of nerds are crunching numbers to try squeeze as many wins out of the roster as possible. Contrary to some Moneyball tenets, Friedman is addressing defensive need. The Dodgers were poor up the middle defensively last year. He has addressed that, bringing in Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick to patrol short and second respectively. He has brought in Yasmani Grandal to take over as the catcher. Grandal is considered a  good receiver, who gives the Dodgers an upgrade at this pivotal position. And, by jettisoning Kemp to San Diego he alleviates the log-jam in the outfield by giving Joc Pederson his chance to play everyday in center. By all accounts Pederson is a far superior center fielder to Kemp and greatly enhances the Dodgers defense. The Dodgers in three days completely revamped their middle defense, which is pivotal when you are relying on preventing runs.

Ah, run prevention. The Dodgers feature a solid rotation but a porous bullpen. So, Friedman and company are crunching numbers to try to buy wins through preventing runs. Even the big budget Dodgers plan on doing this economically because who doesn’t love saving money ? The Dodgers brass has put a value on players available. They plan on either signing free agents; or using this influx of young talent just acquired in the Gordon and Kemp deals, to try to pry another big time ace. Most notably the Dodgers have their eye on Southern California native Cole Hamels. In baseball terms Hamels is a bargain. A top-notch pitcher locked in for 96 million dollars over the next four years. This is a lot of money.  But when you compare his value to Kemp at 5 years and 107 million dollars, the Dodgers brass feels the cost/benefit comparison between the two isn’t close. In essence, they feel Hamels will bring them more wins than Kemp. The Dodgers still need to address the bullpen. While I am surprised they didn’t try to corral Andrew Miller, Pat Neshek or Luke Gregerson, I shouldn’t be. Miller signed for 36 million, Neshek for 12 million and Gregerson for 18.5 million. The Dodgers numbers guys have determined these contracts over-value the player. The dollar figures involved don’t match the number of wins those relievers will be responsible for. The dollar figure and win totals need to match the mathematical algorithm. While I don’t expect the Dodgers to go on the cheap when it comes to the pen, I do see them scouring the system and making deals that net them arms at a cost that makes sense in their “buying wins” philosophy.

Many Dodgers fans are despondent over the “personalities” that are leaving the team. Kemp and Gordon were certainly entertaining players, beloved by many in the Dodgers fan base. But, Friedman and his cohorts have determined that they will get more value for the money being spent by letting these two players go, and bringing in players who are more rounded in their games.

Many people will point to the recent foibles of the Oakland Athletics and the Billy Beane fiasco of 2014 as to why this won’t work for the Dodgers. You can’t compare the A’s and Dodgers. They are in two different stratospheres. The Dodgers can be economical and smart while still employing the same mathematical strategies in building a team. The Athletics must be more financially prudent and can not let a longer term deal hamstring their franchise. The Dodgers can buy and hold expecting to get value, the A’s can’t afford to do that. While big-market and small-market Moneyball/sabermetrics are the same, they have distinct differences in terms of tolerance and player. Small markets look for the under-valued gem. Big markets look for the same thing, but on a grander scale and the deep pockets allow more patience.

This does nothing for the 5-year old kid who is crying today because his favorite player has been traded to the San Diego Padres. But, it is where the Dodgers are right now. Guggenheim and company brought in Andrew Friedman to bring his number crunching brilliance to Dodger Stadium to build an organization that can consistently compete for World Championships without worrying that a trade here or  there would decimate their minor league system. Friedman inherited a ton of bad contracts, he is trying to rid the team of those deals while creating a largesse of riches down on the farm. It won’t happen overnight but I believe he is off to a good start.

Friedman determined that Dee Gordon didn’t get on base enough and flipped him for four prospects. Friedman determined that Hanley Ramirez was a defensive albatross so he let him walk and Friedman determined that Matt Kemp’s 107 million dollar contract would not buy enough wins over the next five years to justify the deal. Personalities be damned. We are living in a new universe Dodger fans, where smiles and kisses to the crowd are replaced by WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numbers. Commodities in uniforms with Dodgers script

 

Dodgers brass gets bold on Day Three of Winter Meetings

 

For two days they appeared to be sitting on their hands. On the third day they made the splash. The Los Angeles Dodgers jolted the winter meetings in San Diego by acquiring Jimmy Rollins and cash for a couple of low-level prospects. Rollins is a welcome sight in Dodger land as now the team has a veteran short-stop who is on the down-side of his career but is a nice stop-gap while the Dodgers wait for Corey Seager to claim his rightful place in the six-hole. This is a one year rental to fill a spot of great need and it didn’t cost the Dodgers a high level prospect. Great move. Then, the stunner…..

The Dodgers traded All-Star second baseman Dee Gordon and right-handed veteran pitcher Dan Haren for four prospects. Social media and Twitter were enraged at the announcement of this deal. Dodgers fans were beside themselves in trading a young All-Star who seemed to be a piece that you could build around. Never-mind what the Dodgers might be getting in return, “how could they trade Flash Gordon, they cried?” I will tell you why.

Andrew Heaney people. Andrew Heaney. Sure, not a household name now. But, the best pitching prospect in the Marlins system. A left-handed hurler with a plus-fastball and slider and comes with tremendous upside. If the deal had included Heaney alone it would have probably been good enough for me, but there was more. The Dodgers also received Enrique Hernandez. A 23 year-old outfielder who is versatile enough to catch and could be a key reserve down the road. Chris Hatcher, a 29 year-old right-handed pitcher that immediately can step into the bullpen and give the Dodgers an arm that brings power stuff. Hatcher appeared in 52 games throwing 56 innings and striking out 60 batters. He had an ERA of 3.38 and a WHIP of 1.20.

The fourth player is the guy I am really excited about. 24 year-old Austin Barnes. He is the nephew of former big leaguer Mike Gallego. He is an Arizona State product who hit .304 in High-A an Double-AA with 13 home runs and 57 RBI’s. He also had an OBP of .398. Better yet, he is a catcher. A position of weakness in the Dodgers system.

Heaney is known commodity and should be solid pitcher for years to come. There are some who believe he already will anchor the Dodgers rotation as their 5th starter this season. Even if the three other players do not make it to the big leagues, it gives the Dodgers farm system depth, something that was lacking. The Dodgers have a top-heavy system. Stars on the horizon with Julio Urias, Corey Seager and Joc Pederson, but not a lot of length that they can use as trade bait when they need something. At best this trade gives the Dodgers some farm system depth, and a possible trade chip to land a big-time arm (Hamels.) At worst, it gives the Dodgers length in their system and options. Something the farm has been lacking for several years.

I love the trade and applaud Andrew “Nerd Boy” Friedman on his bold move. Selling high on a marginal player is always a good thing, and the Dodgers got one of the best pitching prospects in baseball for a guy that was a fan favorite, but was limited in how much he could help the Dodgers long-term.

Patience Wildcat fans…..Patience

 

I noticed more than one Chico State Wildcat basketball fan muttering to themselves after watching the men’s basketball team lose both games in the Mac Martin Invitational over the weekend. Brace yourselves, because contrary to what you may think, supporting a winning basketball team is not your birth-right.

To borrow a line from current Louisville Cardinals men’s basketball coach and former Boston Celtics head coach, “Amir Carraway is not walking through that door. Sean Park is not walking through that door. Rashad Parker is not walking through that door. Gio Estrada is not walking through that door.” The Chico State Wildcat men’s basketball team saw roughly 85 percent of their scoring and four starters graduate, yet somehow this group of underclassmen and freshman are being held to a higher standard ?

After this weekend I was even more encouraged about the direction of Greg Clink’s team. I know the Wildcats lost a pair of games at their own tournament, but they lost with five freshman playing significant minutes against two senior-laden teams. When push came to shove the seniors of Dominican were able to gut out a win on Friday, while Azusa-Pacific was able to jump on the Wildcats early on Saturday and never really let up. That is what veteran players do. And, they are especially good at it late in games. We saw veteran teams use their familiarity with their teammates and their togetherness to beat Chico. Something we have witnessed for much of the Greg Clink era.

I would venture that many Chico State fans forget how dis-jointed the Carraways, Parks and Parkers were, when they first suited up as Wildcats. It wasn’t pretty people. They made a lot of mistakes and it took awhile for that group to gel. This young group of Wildcats should be afforded the same time to find their rhythm. As impressive as a recruiting class last year’s team was, I find this group even more talented. It remains to be seen whether they can reach the heights of three NCAA Tournaments, an Elite Eight and a CCAA regular season title. But, I wouldn’t bet against them. This young group is bursting with talent and is going to bring the fans of Chico State basketball a lot of enjoyment over the next several years.

It struck me on Friday night as I watched Dominican so deftly move the ball and then move without the ball on how important veteran players are. Dominique Taplin, the long-time guard for the Penguins, never seemed rattled. He seemed to always be in control of the situation. Dominican ball movement and understanding of one another was on a different level than Chico State, and you know what? THAT’S OK.

While Chico State’s Jordan Semple, Jordan Barton and Mike Rosaroso will be expected to lead this year’s group, there is a transitional phase with this team that they must experience. Four red-shirt freshman and a true freshman in Jalen McFerren will all see significant time. They are all getting used to playing in this system at this time with one another. It’s going to take time. It will not happen overnight.

Can this team compete at a high level this season ? Absolutely. The pieces are in place, but first, they all have to learn how they fit together before they can play at their highest level. That will take time and it will take patience.

This year’s Chico State Wildcats are that meal cooking on the stove. You can hear it simmering, you know it’s going to taste great, you know it will be fulfilling, but that meal isn’t ready to be served yet. You just have to wait until dinner is served.

PHOTO Courtesy of Chico State Wildcats Athletics…..