Assessing the Blame

Posted by Dave Nichols | Tuesday, September 30, 2008 | , , | 1 comments »

Chico Harlan of the Post had an in-depth interview with Manny Acta at the end of last week (unknown if it was before or after he knew almost all of his coaches would be released). Among the nuggets was that Manny wouldn't evaluate himself, that he would let others do that. So, where should we start? Obviously Acta was not dealt a full hand on the playing field, so it's hard to access the job he did baseball-wise. So how about in the clubhouse?

Acta talks about the "change in character" of the guys in the clubhouse at the end of the season compared to the beginning. How much can a couple bad apples spoil the cart? To hear Acta and other team officials the last few days, quite a bit. But what the team hasn't said, despite further trying to distance themselves from Paul LoDuca, Johnny Estrada, Felipe Lopez, Jon Rauch and Luis Ayala, is how these players became the malcontents in the first place. Who should be held responsible for that?

LoDuca has a long and storied history of being a trouble-maker in the clubhouse. He's the rah-rah guy that isn't getting the job done in the first place. If LoDuca had hit .280 instead of .230, would he still have been a bad character guy? So LoDuca and Estrada both complained about not starting at catcher when they came back from injury as Jesus Flores cemented the starting position -- one he probably should have had from spring training. Did the team lead them on when they signed them? Did they promise X amount of playing time? Or did they just assume as "dependable veterans" they would have a spot waiting. And so much for Estrada's vow to get back at the Nats. He hasn't even has so much as a sniff of a contract since his departure.

Lopez is a head-scratcher. He started for this team pretty much from the get go, first in left then at second base. In 325 at bats, he hit a paltry .234/.305/.314 with 2 HRs and 25 RBIs. Some wondered if his playing career was over. Then, a day after the team couldn't give him away at the trade deadline, he signed with St. Louis as a free agent, and in 156 at bats he hit .385/.426/.538 with 4 HRs and 21 RBIs. He drove in almost as many runs in his 156 at bats in St. Louis than in 325 at bats here. How does a player flip a switch and go from bad to good just like that?

Luis Ayala was passed over for the closers job, twice. When Cordero got hurt, the job went to Jon Rauch. By many accounts, Rauch and Ayala did not get along very well. Not shocking; the men come from different backgrounds, have vastly different personalities, etc. At least Rauch was a veteran with extensive experience like Ayala, but that didn't keep Ayala from apparently asking for a trade and sulking all season like Rauch ripped the head off his teddy bear. Then, when Rauch was traded, Ayala was passed over AGAIN, this time for rookie Joel Hanrahan, a pitcher who has had his share of commend problems. Granted, Hanrahan has done a mostly good job since given the keys to the ninth inning. But how would YOU feel if you were passed over for a promotion you felt qualified for, TWICE; once by a disliked co-worker and the second time by an entry-level staffer?

So if this team was filled by attitude problems and malcontents for much of the year, who is to blame? Certainly no one has stepped up so far to say "I could have done a better job at handling that situation" or "I made a mistake signing this guy to begin with". Acta makes a point of how he goes about his business:
"But I haven't done anything different than I've done in the past. At all. And that's where bad characters come out, when things are not going well. I have no regrets, and I'm not going to change. I give players space. I let them have their own space. I don't need to be in their locker room all day and in their faces. I need to give them space. That's why I draw a line. I have a good atmosphere for them over here, and they respect me and I respect them."
But then later he acknowledges there was a problem in his clubhouse:
Q: Looking at the clubhouse -- beginning of the year to now, has there been a change in the character here, and do you feel better about the composition of things?

A: I do. I think everybody was able to tell the difference. We needed some new blood in here, some hungry young guys like we have gotten, and things have gotten better. Listen, not one clubhouse in the big leagues is perfect. You can never put together 25 high-character guys. You're always going to find a couple of guys who need more work than the other ones when it comes down to shaping their attitude and how they approach their job. But we're moving in the right direction.

Q: Were there too many bad characters on this team at the beginning of the year, do you think?

A: Umm... I think so. I think so. I think when you're building, like we're doing here, I think you need more high-character guys than what we had at the beginning of the season. Without naming any guys.

Q: Organizationally, lesson learned maybe?

A: Yes. I think we have. I think we have.
So if you have "a couple of guys who need more work" and know that when you're losing "that's where bad characters come out," but insist on "giv[ing] players space", what else would you expect than to have a clubhouse that "need[ed] some new blood in here."

For all the penny pinching the Larners have been accused of -- including allowing their first round draft pick go for what amounted to $900K -- it's indicative of this management team to have to throw away almost $14MM in salary to get rid of bad characters Lopez ($4.9MM), LoDuca ($5MM), Estrada ($1MM), Ayala ($1.7MM) and Rauch ($1.2MM), most of which they went out and acquired on purpose in the first place.

So who is to blame? The Larners for being cheap in the first place, making the team sign washed up veterans to start with? Bowden for selecting and signing the malcontents? Acta for his laisse-faire attitude in the clubhouse? Seems like there's plenty of blame to go around, but to this point, no one has accepted it.


  1. Simon Oliver Lockwood // October 1, 2008 at 3:19 PM  

    I can see Ayala being miffed at being passed over for Rauch at the beginning of the season. But how could he complain in July when he wasn't given the closer role when he was sporting a 5.32 ERA and had gone 0-2 6.75 in the previous 6 weeks?