Hurdle feeling pinch of slow start; Wedge might survive Tribe's funk
The reeling Rockies haven't done much right since winning the NL pennant in '07
Clint Hurdle and fired skipper Bob Melvin have shared many career parallels
The Dodgers will surely welcome Manny Ramirez back with open arms on July 3
The managing careers of Bob Melvin and Clint Hurdle seemingly have run a parallel course out West, with the pair often appearing to rise and fall in unison but most apparently in the fall of 2007, when they met in the surprise Arizona-Colorado NLCS matchup of upstart teams.
And now the question comes up: Will they have even one more thing in common?
The Diamondbacks' Melvin was fired this week, and the Rockies' Hurdle appears to be on the firing line.
Colorado GM Dan O'Dowd has been an unfailingly consistent supporter of Hurdle, but Rockies people were said to be in deep discussion in recent days over what direction to take the club. It's possible that direction may not include Hurdle, whose Rockies beat Melvin's Diamondbacks in that 2007 matchup of young teams out west that have slipped south.
Hurdle has outlasted Melvin. But it remains to be seen by how many days. Reached Sunday, O'Dowd declined to comment on what's obviously a very sensitive and difficult situation.
"Hurdle's relationship with Dan is really good, but Hurdle's on the spot now,'' one competing executive said.
The Rockies, now 12-18 and tied for last with the rebuilding Padres, avoided a series sweep at the hands of the Marlins at home on Mother's Day but have seemingly lacked inspiration most of the year, a problem manifested in a surprisingly ineffective offense. Coincidentally, that was Melvin's Arizona team's biggest issue: They couldn't hit, though the D-backs' hitting woes were more pronounced (a baseball-worst .226 batting average).
This past winter, Colorado dispatched its best hitter, Matt Holliday, after he rejected an offer of around $72 million for four years, a reasonable small-market bid but $108 million short of what the comparable Mark Teixeira would receive on the open market. The Rockies still seemingly had plenty of young hitters remaining, including Garrett Atkins, Brad Hawpe, Troy Tulowitzki and Chris Iannetta. Yet without Holliday, it's been a chore; they're hitting .256 as a team (21st in baseball) with 143 runs (19th). And seeing as how they got to the World Series only two years ago, it's not like they can be viewed as being young neophytes. "They're not a bunch of 23-year-old kids,'' one scout who recently watched them noted.
There's little indication to this point the intense workaholic O'Dowd, who has as great as grasp on what's happening around the league as anyone, is in jeopardy. But another Rockies storyline could be a July tradeoff barring a turnaround, highlighted by third baseman Atkins, reliever Huston Street and others.
While both Melvin and Hurdle are well-regarded personally, neither is seen as a standout tactician. Competing executives say Melvin's strategic shortcomings were obvious back while he was managing in Seattle, and he and Diamondbacks GM Josh Byrnes had a few disagreements over lineups ("nothing out of the ordinary,'' said one D-backs official).
The D-backs' choice of the studious, respectful A.J. Hinch, a Stanford man, to rise from personnel director is certainly an outside-the-box call and a major surprise around the game. But inside the D-backs offices, it was said to be unanimous.
Hurdle's strategic shortcomings were seen as being made up for by an unusual wit and personality that fit their young team. But lately, it hasn't inspired the troops. Hurdle also is said to have an excellent relationship with O'Dowd. But it remains to be seen whether that's enough to spare him now.
Wedge appears imbedded in Cleveland
The Indians, now down to 11-21 after a four-game losing streak, are about the most disappointing team, to date. But several competing executives quizzed about Indians manager Eric Wedge's status said they believe Wedge likely would survive. His relationship with GM Mark Shapiro was cited as a prime reason by several of them.
"He's always been very close to Mark. I'd be shocked [if Wedge was fired],'' one competing GM said.
This is the Indians' second straight horrendous start. Both times, a dismal bullpen has been one of the culprits (the staff's 5.86 ERA is second-worse to the Yankees, who play in the bandbox known as new Yankee Stadium). But whether Wedge should take the hit for that is highly debatable.
Last year, the Indians made a stark turnaround after trading three longtime veterans, including star pitcher CC Sabathia, and while that tradeoff can only be considered a success, especially since they received future stars Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana, they may miss the clubhouse presence of Casey Blake.
Other executives see the Indians' executive team as less likely to stubbornly stick with a losing hand and continue to suggest they can see staff ace Cliff Lee being among those to go in trade this time.
Around the Majors
While Dodgers owner Frank McCourt was said to be furious at Manny Ramirez, according to The Los Angeles Times, others characterized McCourt was "disappointed'' or "very disappointed,'' in interviews with SI.com. If McCourt was ever mad, it could have been because Ramirez was so embarrassed he took three days to apologize. Dodgers people are surely going through a variety of emotions, but with the vast majority of their fans forgiving Ramirez, the Dodgers will surely welcome Manny back in 46 games.
In the meantime, the Dodgers aren't nearly themselves without Manny (they went 1-3 at home versus the rival Giants after starting with 13 wins there), and his absence could give the rest of the West an opportunity -- that is, if anyone else out there has what it takes. One scout who recently watched three other three teams (Giants, Rockies and Padres) said he didn't think any of them looked ready to challenge L.A. That scout did say, "Barry Zito surprised the heck out of me. His breaking ball was a lot better than it's been, and he had a pretty good changeup.''
Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval remains an interesting curiosity. One scout said, "He's the real deal with the bat, but I don't know where he's going to play.''
I may have underrated the Blue Jays in a recent column assessing the hot teams' chances. "They can flat-out hit.'' one scout said. Although, I probably shouldn't need a scout to help me out there (they're first in runs with 199 and OPS at .830).
My list of 15 feel-good stories on Friday didn't include Albert Pujols (which was pointed out by about 500 e-mailers -- OK, maybe 25). My bad. But what was even worse was leaving off Nats third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who now has a 28-game hitting streak. So with back-of-their-rotation starters Shairon Martis and Jordan Zimmerann, plus the No. 1 draft choice, the Nats have some things to cheer about.
San Diego State phenom Stephen Strasburg's 17-strikeout, no-hitter against Air Force was well-timed, coming in his home finale. It also came in front of Nats GM Mike Rizzo and his entire staff. One scout in attendance said Strasburg didn't throw a pitch under 98 mph in the final inning. He is expected to shoot for $50 million after the Nats surely pick him first, and while no one's had a bad thing to say about him (supposedly, he could have gone to Harvard), the history of allegedly extraordinary high school and even college pitching prospects is fairly spotty, including David Clyde, Matt Harrington, Brien Taylor (who got hurt), Todd Van Poppel and many other alleged can't-miss prospects who missed.