Wednesday, November 28, 2012

That's the Steroid Era Knocking on the Hall Door

            By Ross Newhan

            Baseball's steroid era has never come knocking on the Hall of Fame's door to the comprehensive extent found on the ballot currently being digested by about 650 eligible voting members of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America.
            Among the players who are on the ballot for the first time are Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza..
            On the isolated basis of statistics and accomplishments, all would seem to have either an excellent or reasonably solid chance of garnering the 75% required for election.
            However, all have either been proven to have used varying forms of performance enhancing substances, admitted to having used a performance enhancing substance at various times for varying durations or been strongly suspected of having used an enhancing substance.
            If you were to poll my BBWAA colleagues you would get a mixed bag of reactions and philosophies regarding players who fall into one or more of the above categories.
           Never, perhaps, would those colleagues be split to a more argumentative extent regarding two players of a more renown stature than Bonds, the home run king who also holds the record for Most Valuable Player awards, and Clemens, who won 354 games and holds the record for Cy Young awards.
         Both would be automatic selections if it wasn't for the PED issue, but that issue is an enormous cloud impossible to ignore in the case of Bonds and Clemens, as well as in the case of Sosa and Piazza, although none of the four ever tested positive for a PED once baseball began testing in 2005.
        The steroid era stained baseball statistically and, in turn, historically, and while it is impossible to say--without verifiable proof--who cheated and who didn't, the accusations by Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco, among others, that the cheating was widespread is now easier to believe than dismiss (a cheating that continues to a still staining, if lesser, extent).
       And where does that leave my philosophy regarding the Hall of Fame?
      I respect the opinion of colleagues who contend that we are only guessing as to how level or non-level the playing field was during the height of the steroid era and, therefore, any player who has earned the Hall of Fame statistically, historically and never tested postive will receive their vote.
     In contrast, I am more cynical and personally involved.
    My son, David, played parts of eight years in the major leagues and almost six in all. He did not use PEDs, and I believe him on that, having seen him lose roster spots and salary to players who were proven to have used PEDs (or later admitted to it) while their union did nothing to protect the non-cheaters.
    I recognize that the Hall is not comprised entirely of saints, but my criteria-- born in full disclosure by that personal attachment and my long experience--is that where there is reasonable belief of PED use I will/would withhold my vote unless, in subsequent years, by some means, I could be convinced otherwise.
    I also disagree with the view of some colleagues that voting members are not the morality police.
   If they are not, who is?
   I mean, where was the union and commissioner for many of the years in question? And doesn't the Hall's instructions, sent with each ballot, expect the voter to be exactly that, a morality judge?
    Those instructions ask voters to evaulate "the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."      
    The first year chances of Bonds, Clemens, Piazza and Sosa?
    I believe Bonds, Clemens and Piazza will ultimately get 75% and would not be surprised if Piazza does it in his first year of eligibility.
   The former Dodger catcher, arguably the all-time best hitter at his position, has never been linked to a positive drug test but has acknowledged briefly using the steroid precursor androstenedione early in his career before it was banned by baseball.
    If precedent is a gauge, two potential Hall candidates with steroid links, Rafael Palmeiro (who failed a drug test) and new Dodger hitting coach Mark McGwire (who ultimately acknowledged using steroids for nearly a decade after first refusing to testify before Congress)  will never be elected. Palmeiro, who hit 569 home runs and collected 3,020 hits, received only 11% of the vote in his first year on the ballot last December, while McGwire, who slugged 583 homers, has never gotten more than 23.7% of the vote in six years on the ballot.
   The results of the 2012 election will be announced in January. Nate Silver has yet to be heard from.    

   No one had a more profound impact on the industry and more deserved to be voted into the Hall than the longtime union leader who died Tuesday at 95.
   A succession of veterans committees--more than one comprised for the most part of Hall of Fame players who owed so much to Miller and the last being a 12 member post-integration committee in 2010 that included two owners (Jerry Reinsdrorf and David Glass) and a longtime executive (Andy MacPhail), although the vote was not announced (I, too, was a member of the committee) and I am not implying that those three industry executives voted against him.
  Miller created one of the strongest unions in the country, opened the game to free agency and saw the average salary increase from $7,000 when he became leader of the fledgling union to the current $3.4 million. No one is more responsible for the game's economic structure, and I suspect that at some point he will be voted into the Hall.
  However, it is a shame matching the posthumous induction of Ron Santo that it did not happen while he was alive.


   The ongoing introduction of synthetic enhancers has prompted talks between the commissioner's office and union on the subject of tightening testing, according to multiple sources who insist there is no indication that an agreement or any change is close.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Kuroda Contract Helps Illustrate High Price That Will Be Paid For Some Pitching Turkeys


           By Ross Newhan

           I don't know if Hiroki Kuroda celebrates Thanksgiving, but he received an early gift from the New York Yankees, who resigned the 38 year old right hander to a one year, $15 million--that's FIFTEEN MILLION--contract. A turkey of a deal by the Yankees? Well, not entirely. Kuroda was 16-11 last season with a 3.32 earned-run average and 1.165 WHIP, for sabermetric followers. Call it a very decent year, and I am not knocking Kuroda. The point here is that his new contract is illustrative of the high price of pitching at a time when the free agent market is very limited, and both the Angels and Dodgers are trapped in a situation in which they desperately need pitching.
          To put it bluntly, what do the Dodgers really have behind Clayton Kershaw, and can the Angels count on Garrett Richards and Jerome Williams to fill two of the three holes behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson?
          Both teams, among others, are pursuing Zack Greinke, far and away the premier free agent on the market.
         Greinke was a combined 15-5 with the Milwaukee Brewers and Angels last season, and has averaged 207 innings over the last five years, going 70-43. However, he made $13.5 million last year, is rumored to be seeking a five year contract at least and, while in his prime at 29 starting 2013, it is hard to forget that he once walked away from the game over mental issues while with the Kansas City Royals. In that regard, perhaps, he is the personification of what Mark Walter, the controlling partner of the Dodgers, meant late last season when he expressed disdain for long term contracts for pitchers by saying, "pitchers break."
        Anibal Sanchez, who is probably No. 2 on the free agent list talent wise, will also be 29 at the start of next season but has broken down with injuries so often that he is clearly a risk despite his similar desire for a multi year contract of at least $10 million a year. Sanchez was 9-13 with a 3.86 earned run average with Miami and Detroit last year.
       Kyle Lohse, who was 14-8 in 2011 and a career best 16-3 with St. Louis last season, is certain to draw attention, but can Lohse repeat at 34 and where does he go from there in demanding a multiyear contract built on the $12.1 million he earned in 2012?
      Pitching is the name of the game, of course, as the San Francisco Giants proved again while winning the World Series for the second time in the last three years.
     It's just that the name of the game has never been so expensive, and quite a few back of the rotation pitchers on the free agent list are going to be paid as if they are better than that,
    Kuroda, who is a No. 2 if you stretch it and more like a No. 3, has already demonstrated the inflationary nature of a market that has been heating up as the holidays approached, and for $15 million Kuroda, the former Dodger who probably left money on the table by not testing the market, is very happy to celebrate Thanksgiving in Osaka.   

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Trout's Compensation? Maybe the Next 15 MVPs

     By Ross Newhan

      I don't care whether you are a traditionalist or a sabermetric seamhead, the contest between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera for the American League's Most Valuable Player Award was a virtual tossup, and it is not a crime, Angel fans and Trout supporters, that Cabrera won. I'm not going to go on and on about this, nor do I dispute that Trout's overall statistics, when including base stealing and his sensational defensive play (which can now be measured metrically), seem superior to those of the Detroit third baseman.

     But consider:

     --Cabrera was the first player in 45 years to win the Triple Crown, leadng the American League in batting average, home runs and runs batted in.

     --From April 28, when Trout played his first game with the Angels, Cabrera had a better batting average and slugging percentage, and their on-base percentage was basically even.

    --Cabrera also had a better stretch and September than Trout, particularly power wise, helping lift the Tigers over the collapsing Chicago White Sox to a Central Division title while the Angels failed to reach the playoffs despite one more September win than the successful Tigers.

    This is the way I look at it: In his first year, attempting to add the MVP to his Rookie of the Year Award, Trout ran into a historial roadblock in the form of a Triple Crown and a player who basically had a comparable season with the bat in his hands.

    I know that may freak out the computer devotees--the WAR and OPS touters, those who would contend that it is simply wrong to eliminate Trout's defense and stolen base accomplishments as he rewrote the rookie record book--but this was strictly a pick-em contest, and, at 21, Trout's compensation could be that he'll win the next 15 MVP Awards, or at least the majority, he is easily that good.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Selig Should Stop Marlins/Blue Jays Trade


         By Ross Newhan

         If Bud Selig was ever going to follow the lead of the late Bowie Kuhn and act in baseball's best interest to stop a one sided trade that spit in the face of Miami fans and taxpayers this was it.

        However, Selig has failed to respond to the 12 player trade between the Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays that sent almost all of the remaining cream of Miami's roster to Canada--and that's a shame, to put it mildly.

       Less than a year after opening their $600 million, technicolor ballpark--about two thirds of which is the obligation of local taxpayers--and going on a rare spending spree to justify all of the lobbying and the expenditure on the ballpark, owner Jeff Loria traded about $160 million in contracts to the Blue Jays (obviously having seen Baltimore and Tampa Bay prove that the AL East does not belong strictly to the Yankees and Red Sox).

      Of course, the Marlins were a disappointing 63-79 with all of their in put of talent, but there were so many injuries and internal issues under since fired manager Ozzie Guillen that perhaps the roster that started the season deserved another chance under new manager Mike Redmond.

      Now,  Redmond figures to field a lineup that might have problems with the Class A team he managed last year. In fact, some of his Class A players may be part of the lineup.

      Having already made in-season trades that sent Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers, Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to the Tigers and Edward Mujica to the Cardinals, Loria began the offseason by trading disappointing closer Heath Bell to Arizona (a legitimate move) and now has traded shortstop Jose Reyes, pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, infielder-outfielder Emilio Bonifacio and catcher John Buck to the Blue Jays for seven players who aren't going to produce a run on Miami's season ticket windows. Three of the seven were ranked by Baseball America among Toronto's top 10 prospects, but prospects are just that until they are something more or something less.

     Reyes and Buehrle, the Marlins' premier free agent signings of last winter at $164, had both demonstrated good faith and long term intentions by not demanding no trade clauses, but good faith has always had a twisted meaning under Loria and predecessor Wayne Huizenga, who is remembered for breaking up his 1997 World Series winner.

    Consider, in the context of good faith, what Larry Beinfest, Miami's head of baseball operations, said at the time of Guillen's firing: "Our hope is that a new manager, along with roster improvements, will restore a winning culture."

    Roster improvements?

    Tweeted Giancarlo Stanton, one of the few remaining forces in the Miami lineup: "Alright, I'm pissed off!!! Plan & Simple."

    At a time when money is pouring into baseball through television, internet, merchandising and global expansion, the Marlins have deceived their fans while the Blue Jays have taken advantage of an opportunity. Besides local television contracts that are exploding at an unprecedented rate, the 30 clubs will each receive about $24 million from the new national contracts starting in 2014.

    Selig has opened new avenues--on and off the field---but he should and/or should have closed this one to the Marlins, whose taxpaying fans deserved better.