Friday, January 31, 2014

Excerpt: "Offseason Catchup, AL West"

"Maybe the biggest thing to see here is the depth. The A's won the West last year with one reasonable MVP candidate -- Josh Donaldson -- and a whole lot of players who just managed to not hurt the team. Of the A's with significant playing time, just Brett Anderson, Chris Young and Nate Freiman contributed sub-replacement performance, and Young just barely. Eighteen players were worth at least one win, while just two -- Donaldson and Bartolo Colon -- were worth at least five. In that pile of stuff Beane brought in, you see more of the same, players who through defensive skill, baserunning, keeping the ball down, getting righties or lefties out, will contribute more than they'll take away."

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Excerpt: "Assets and Windows"

"Picture an alternate universe -- or the rule sets of any other league -- and give the Jays the ability to deal one or both of those picks. Does that put them in play for, say, David Price? The Jays have a rotation that, even with one of the two free agents, lacks a #1 and arguably lacks even a good #2. (None of the team's starting pitchers or the two free agents pitched at even a #2 level in both 2012 and 2013.) They dealt away the top of their farm system, save Aaron Sanchez, to acquire R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle. They've moved a lot of pieces to try and make this year and next year peak seasons, and having two picks in the top 11 of this year's draft does nothing for that goal. Would the #9 pick -- the chance to take Brad Zimmer or Kyle Freeland, perhaps -- along with Marcus Stroman and a lottery ticket like D.J. Davis be attractive to the Rays? A deal like that would enable the Jays to keep Sanchez, who might help them this year and will help them next year, while spending assets -- the picks -- that won't realize their value for three years or more."

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Excerpt: "Tanaka Signs"

"Not that the Yankees couldn't sign Matt Garza, too, but I just don't see where Tanaka can be expected to be that much better than Garza to warrant what will likely be a significant gap in the two players' contracts. Garza's stat lines aren't as impressive as Tanaka's, but Garza doesn't have to adjust to U.S. baseball -- he's hung mid-3.00 ERAs for years, even while pitching some of the time in the highly-competitive AL East. I can see arguments for either being better than the other, but I can't see arguments for Tanaka being so much better than Garza to justify $50 million in additional contract value. Perhaps I'm being too pessimistic about Tanaka; I see this signing, though, as irrational exuberance over the new thing, rather than a defensible baseball investment."

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Pariah and the Pitchman

Two Sundays ago, I sat in front of my television and watched the evisceration of a world-famous user of sports drugs.

Last Sunday, I sat in front of my television and was sold a beer brand by a world-famous user of sports drugs.

The dissonance breaks a mind. One night, we're destroying a person over the belief that the use of "performance enhancing" drugs is one of the great crimes in our society. We sign off on the idea that an employer can pay off criminals, use the legal system to extort people for information, position itself as a quasi-law enforcement entity, allude to bribes and even death threats by the target, all in the interest of sussing out the possible use of substances deemed anathema to our sports culture.

A few nights later, the person who has gained more from the use of steroids than any person who has ever lived stands smirking, zipping up a jacket, teasing an ad campaign for light beer produced by a company that is wholly integrated into our sports culture.

"It was what I had to do to compete."

That's a quote from Tom Farrey's fantastic ESPN piece on Arnold Schwarzenegger, written in 2008, which attempts to get at the juxtaposition of Schwarzenegger's success and our newfound religion on the use of steroids in sports. Schwarzenegger has talked about his steroid use at various times, acknowledging his consumption -- at a time when anabolic steroids were legal -- while minimizing their role in his success. It's an interesting line to walk; after all, Schwarzenegger got his start in muscle-building competitions, events in which size and definition are the goals, and the benefit of steroid use is as clear-cut as the oiled-up pecs and delts on display. The connection between a syringe and a Mr. Olympia title, or seven of them, is certainly easier to see than the connection between a lozenge and a double into the gap.

No baseball player, no football player, no cyclist, no one has built more on a base of sports-drug use than has Schwarzenegger. His bodybuilding titles begat Conan, which begat Terminator, which begat entreƩ into America's royal family, which begat leadership of the biggest state in the union. Alex Rodriguez may or may not have tacked some points onto his slugging percentage; Schwarzenegger helped set policy for one of the world's largest economies.

As Farrey writes, prior to 1990 there was nothing illegal about using steroids for athletic purposes. Of course, legality has rarely been the key factor in these conversations; the substances BALCO used on Barry Bonds were legal at the time, and certainly some percentage of baseball players, especially those in the minors, have been suspended for use that is legal in the nation in which that use occurred. Amphetamines were illegal as far back as 1961 and reclassified in 1971. You'll have to forgive me if I don't recall the extensive discussions about the lawbreaking use of greenies. No, legality isn't the line. The behavior by Schwarzenegger and Rodriguez -- using drugs to be better at sports -- is identical.

The difference is us. We didn't care then, and now we do. That's the difference between shame and suspension and $25 million lost, and stardom and elected office and a commercial deal.

Two men did the same thing: used illicit substances in an effort to get ahead in their chosen field. One is a pariah, the other is a pitchman. I don't know which is wrong, but I am certain both cannot be right.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Excerpt: "Not-So-Free Agents"

"The free-agent rules were designed to close loopholes in the system that were being exploited by high-revenue teams. The draft rules were designed to close loopholes in the system that were being exploited by high-revenue teams. The combination screws the San Diego Padres. Ladies and gentlemen, the Bud Selig Era."

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Excerpt: "Two Dodger Deals"

"The Dodgers, since getting out from under the Chavez Clampetts, have done an amazing job at turning their franchise into a cash cow. They'll certainly enjoy -- and spend -- the money this new TV contract throws off, at least for a little while. As long-term plays go, however, they're more likely to be happy with their pitcher than with their television partner. When an elbow blows, you lose a year. When a bubble pops, you can lose much, much more."

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Excerpt: "Three Pitchers"

"Over the past three seasons, Santana has has a below-average BABIP allowed as well -- .261 total, no higher than .272 in any one season. That .261 mark is fourth among pitchers with at least 400 innings pitched during 2011-13 What you think of Ervin Santana as a free agent comes down to what you think of that number."

Monday, January 13, 2014

Excerpt: "Making a Fresh Start"

"The assumptions that underlie this entire conversation are erroneous. PEDs don't seem to E P in baseball. If these drugs don't change the game on the field, and we're not seeing a generation of ballplayers struck down by steroid use, why is it the only thing we ever talk about? Why are we banishing all-time greats to Elba? Why is MLB pouring time and money into witch hunts that do nothing to help the game? The story of the 2013 season wasn't the Boston Red Sox and it wasn't Mike Trout and it wasn't Matt Harvey. It was Biogenesis."

Friday, January 10, 2014

Excerpt: "Those Left Behind"

"Morris, like Bruce Sutter and Jim Rice and even Bert Blyleven before him, served as a battleground over what the voters are inducting: the player and his accomplishments, or what people at the time thought the player and his accomplishments were. I'm content that they arrived at the correct answer in the end, but the caliber of thought and discussion along the way left much to be desired."

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Excerpt: "The Honorees"

"For seven years, Frank Thomas was the best hitter I'd ever seen, batting .330/.452/.604 and walking about 200 more times than he struck out. He won consecutive AL MVP awards and finished in the top ten every year from 1991 through '97. He had a case for being the best player in baseball, which is an incredibly high standard given that he was a poor first baseman. He was just a beast in the batter's box, patient enough to work deep counts and take his walks, strong enough to destroy pitches when he decided to swing, coordinated enough to combine those talents and still not strike out much. We've seen a lot of amazing batters over the past 20 years, but it was Thomas who came first."

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Excerpt: "Offseason Catchup, AL Central"

"The other big move the Twins made was turning Joe Mauer into a first baseman. Last year's concussion sped up a conversation that was likely to happen anyway. Mauer loses value in the deal; outside of DH, there's no larger gap than moving from behind the plate to first base, and it's not like Mauer was a liability behind the plate. Mauer, however, had always been something of a part-time catcher. Since reaching the majors at the start of the 2004 season, Mauer has started 885 of the Twins' 1622 games at catcher -- 55%. Whether major injuries, minor injuries or an effort to avoid both, Mauer hadn't carried the workload of a full-time catcher since 2008. This is a change for the Twins, but it's not as radical a one as it seems. If this means Mauer plays in 155 games, if it means he keeps cranking out .400 OBP seasons, if it means he develops into a good defensive first baseman, they'll likely do all right in the exchange."

Monday, January 6, 2014

Excerpt: "Offseason Catchup, AL East"

"This ain't 2008. Not only did the Yankees sign a lesser group of players, relative to what they got five years ago, but they add those players to an older, diminished core. They also lost a great player, Cano, in the process, taking a chunk out of whatever gains they made by adding Ellsbury, McCann and Beltran. The Yankees couldn't really do much else -- they played the 2013 season with scars at too many positions and took hits in actual attendance and TV ratings for doing so. However, the team they have after all those moves still doesn't look like a top-tier favorite in the AL, and because of the age and injury concerns at first base, shortstop, third base and left field, still has more downside risk than upside."