A busy week in baseball (cont.)
Logan Morrison's demotion to Triple-A New Orleans is shocking in that he has 18 home runs and 60 RBIs for the Marlins this year and has generally been one of the more positive developments in a difficult season for Florida.
Marlins people told the popular and productive Morrison, upon demoting him Saturday, that they want to see him hit better than .249. And one Marlins management person said publicly he wanted to see Morrison "work on all aspects of being a major leaguer.'' That means the team is at odds with him over a few things, not all of them related to his batting average.
Marlins people declined to comment further on the sticky matter. But according to people with connections to the team, the real, unstated reason for the demotion is that that Marlins management, including manager Jack McKeon, believes Morrison needs to show more maturity. Sources suggest they believe Morrison is too outspoken -- though, the issue may be more about the Marlins' standards for outspokenness. True to form, the Marlins remain characteristically unspoken; they haven't said publicly what the issue is.
Demotions are usually tied to on-field performance, so by suggesting to him it's about the .249 batting average, the Marlins avoid any backtalk from the player's camp. But enough has come out for Morrison to get the hint that there is likely much more to this story.
Morrison was said to be devastated upon his demotion, but doing better now, and while the union was consulted, it appears he will not file a grievance. If one of the team's complaints is that he is uncooperative, it probably is not worth a fight with management that's unlikely to be won without evidence. Considering his talent and the lack of a major off-field issue, it seems unlikely he'd stay with the Zephyrs too long, anyway.
Much of the issue in fact, appears to be over charity. Morrison, 23, has been very active about his lung cancer charity after the tragic death of his father, Tom, a non-smoker, at 51 last December.
The team may see Morrison as not being as cooperative as they'd like. But if a lot of this stems from his enthusiasm over his charity, it's easy to see why the team doesn't want to talk about it. While the team has coddled the child-like and often-petulant superstar Hanley Ramirez ("When push comes to shove, it seems like Hanley wins 100 times out of 100,'' one Marlins observer noted), it would be hard to explain that their charitable young player is a problem to them.
Morrison is said by people close to him to have been very unhappy with what he perceived as a lack of support by the team for a charity bowling tournament of his that was eventually canceled. Then in the days after the cancellation, Morrison upset the team by declining to attend a meet-and-greet session with season ticket holders. Morrison was advised by team rep Wes Helms, who did attend, that it wasn't mandatory he show up. Helms apparently offered this opinion to Morrison in front of team officials, upsetting them.
The next day Morrison was demoted and Helms released. The timing following the Helms-Morrison conversation was first pointed out by Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post, and that appears to be no coincidence, as people familiar with the situation indicate team higher-ups were annoyed at Helms.
There were a couple other things, although none of it seems all that bad. Morrison had a disagreement with Ramirez that started when Ramirez caught some flak earlier this season for not signing Morrison's leg cast, which he was auctioning off for his charity. Morrison and Ramirez had it out behind closed doors, but the disagreement apparently leaked out to the press.
Morrison also spoke out publicly against the firing of hitting coach John Mallee earlier this year, which, according to sources, also annoyed team higher-ups. The team may have extra sensitivity about a firing reputation, as team owner Jeffrey Loria has canned Joe Girardi and Fredi Gonzalez, two managers who were later snapped up by the Yankees and Braves, respectively.
There has been speculation Morrison's outspokenness on Twitter also may have annoyed some team officials, and Morrison's avatar on his account @LoMoMarlins has had a "CENSORED'' plastered over his mouth since shortly after McKeon took over in June. The old-school McKeon, 80, made a joke earlier upon hearing about Morrison going home to play with Twitter, saying he thought Twitter was his dog's name. Moreover, McKeon and other club people don't seem to have embraced Morrison's great Twitter popularity (he has 64,000 followers, which dwarfs the Marlins' nightly attendance).
If the Marlins want Morrison to contain his outspokenness, they should tell him that rather than point to the .249 batting average.
In any case, it's a costly lesson for Morrison -- assuming that is indeed the team's lesson.
1. Pirates. Not only did they sign No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole, the UCLA righthander who's hit 102 mph on the radar gun and is a "slam dunk No. 1 starter'' in the words of one GM, but also they pulled the surprise of the draft by signing their second-round pick, five-tool outfielder Josh Bell. (Cole signed for $8 million and Bell got a $5 million bonus.)
The Rangers and Red Sox seemed to be seriously considering Bell but decided against it after he sent a letter to all the teams saying he was truly committed to the University of Texas. But the Pirates, who've sometimes erred on the conservative side in past drafts (Daniel Moskos, Tony Sanchez), made the winning play this time, landing Bell with the biggest bonus ever for a second rounder.
It's funny that team president Frank Coonelly was a slot meister when he worked for the commissioner's office and is now anything but.
The Pirates still need the talent infusion ("Jameson Taillon is a stud but the rest of their minor league talent is overrated,'' one opposing GM opined), but GM Neal Huntington, whose contract runs out after the year, probably secured a new contract of his own with the big day.
2. Mariners. They signed lefthander Danny Hultzen, the University of Virginia lefthander and No. 2 overall pick who they envision fitting between King Felix and Michael Pineda next year to form one of the better rotation tops in baseball. The Mariners have struggled offensively the last two years but are building one of the deeper stashes of top pitching talent in the game. Taijuan Walker and James Paxton are two more potential top-of-the-rotation guys in their system. There's still no word about GM Jack Zduriencik's future, but he clearly has helped himself here.
3. Diamondbacks. They locked up No. 7 overall pick Archie Bradley on a very reasonable $5 million, two-sport deal that allows him to try to be the University of Oklahoma quarterback, too. (it was $2.5 million less than Bubba Starling, who chose baseball over playing football at Nebraska, got from the Royals). The Diamondbacks had already secured No. 3 overall pick Trevor Bauer, another UCLA righthander, who's already dealing in Double-A and could be called up for the stretch run.
4. Scott Boras. Boras' total haul was his biggest ever, with two-sport star Starling getting $7.5 million from the Royals, Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon getting a $7.2 million major-league deal from the Nationals and several other multimillion-dollar signings in addition to Cole's big deal of the day. The $5 million bonus for Bell is a big one, and so were $3 million apiece for outfielder Brian Goodwin and catcher Austin Hedges with the Nationals and Padres, respectively.
Padres people describe Hedges as a terrific defender (and he is), but he hasn't yet shown big offensive ability; he still got $3 million. Plus, University of Kentucky pitcher Alex Meyer got $2 million from the Nationals and Stanford pitcher Chris Reed got $1.589 million from the Dodgers.
The multitalented Starling gave up a Nebraska quarterback offer, but he is a Kansan, after all, and he won't be hit nearly as much playing baseball. Rendon didn't suffer much for dropping down to No. 6 on draft day, either.
4. Brodie Van Wagenen, agent CAA. He didn't quite get the $13 million asking price for Hultzen, but he got arguably the biggest number out there. Hultzen's five-year, $8.5 million guaranteed major league deal was the biggest number, but is actually valued at $7.7 million by MLB in terms of present-day value because the bonus is $6.35 million and the rest guaranteed over the five-year term. That means the Cole deal is worth slightly more, especially if he gets to the big leagues soon and adds major league salaries to his $8 million bonus.
But Hultzen's deal, which includes the perks of being on the 40-man roster, was still excellent and can be worth up to $10.6 million if he's in the majors soon. Van Wagenen burnished an increasingly glowing rep here.
5. Legacy Sports. UConn outfielder George Springer signed for $2.525 million with the Astros, New Mexico high school catcher Blake Swihart for $2.5 million with the Red Sox, lefthander Georgia Tech lefthander Jed Bradley for $2 million with the Brewers, lefty pitcher Taylor Anderson for $1.4 million with the Rockies and talented high school pitcher Taylor Guerrieri for $1.6 million with the Rays, among other big deals. It could be a monster year for Boras' up-the-street neighbors Greg Genske, Brian Peters and Scott Parker, as CC Sabathia is expected to use his opt-out to greatly increase the $92 million he has remaining on his $161 million, four-year Yankees contract.
6. Nationals. Rendon is considered a superb hitter and defender, and the Nationals also secured Goodwin, Meyer and lefty Matt Purke, who received a reported $4.14 million despite having had a shoulder issue. Washington has shown a great willingness to spend on amateur talent, which is the best way for it to go.
7. Red Sox. While they passed on a chance at Bell (according to Bell's high school coach, they appeared among the most interested teams), they did reel in mega talent, including hard-throwing UConn pitcher Matt Barnes, talented New Mexico high school catcher Swihart and several more. Plus, you can't argue with success. Boston has drafted Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia , Jonathan Papelbon, Clay Buchholz and Daniel Bard with first-round picks or supplemental selections in recent years. That is the real reason for Boston's success, not money.
8. Padres. They were already ahead of the game by locking up Cory Spangenberg, an on-base machine, with a $1.86 million bonus. Spangenberg hit .384 in low-A and has already been promoted to High-A. San Diego also added high school pitchers Joe Ross (for $2.75 million) and Michael Kelly ($718,000) plus defensive whiz Hedges.
The Cubs are willing to pay the bulk of Alfonso Soriano's money (he has $50 million plus remaining) if someone would take him in trade. Soriano, who has cleared waivers, looks like he needs to go to the American League -- if not immediately, then by next year -- because he's basically just a DH and there isn't too much demand for one right now. One team that could possibly use a hitter and has a bit of money is the Indians but a deal seems like a stretch.
The Twins look like they are in the mood for a possible shakeup in their disappointing, injury-filled season. Jason Kubel, who makes $5.25 million with a $350,000 buyout, according to Cot's Baseball contracts, hadn't been placed on waivers as of a couple days ago, but other teams are waiting and hoping. He'd be of interest. The Twins seem like they'd like to lock up Michael Cuddyer, who is a free agent at year's end.
The Red Sox are encouraged by some better stuff being shown by John Lackey. The issue of their No. 3 starter seems to be their biggest concern heading toward the playoffs.
Jorge Posada, who turned 40 today, won't be released by the Yankees, but his playoff spot may depend on how he performs through the rest of the year. Top prospect Jesus Montero is expected to be promoted Sept. 1, when rosters expand, but because of some flexibility due to injuries, Montero would still be eligible for the playoff roster.
It will be interesting to see if the hiccup in approval for Jim Crane to become Astros owner spares their current regime of GM Ed Wade and manager Brad Mills.
Mills at least led the team to a surprisingly nice finish last year. But the team's 38-84 record this season is one of the four worst over the past four decades, as pointed out by Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com.
Part of the issue, of course, has been current owner Drayton McLane's insistence on sticking to slot money for draftees. When the team traded its two stars, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, there was nothing to supplement the roster.
The owners meetings start today in Cooperstown, and some owners are bracing or a tongue lashing from commissioner Bud Selig for going over slot. A hard slotting system is Selig's pet issue during these CBA negotiations -- though most observers don't believe the union will agree to what they would see as a "capping'' of salaries, even for incoming players.
Congrats to Jim Thome on his 600th home run. Though there will be debate, he is assured of being a Hall of Famer.