Archive for January 2013

ARod’s Contract

January 31, 2013

It’s been interesting to see how fast the story regarding Alex Rodriguez’ and numerous other professional athletes’ involvement with Biogenesis, the South Florida purveyor of all compounds performance enhancing, has moved.  Numerous sports writers are already predicting that the allegations, if substantiated, will mean the end of A-Fraud’s career.

Another big topic of conversation is the Yankees’ reported hope that they will somehow get out of the $114 million contractual obligation they owe to Rodriguez over the next five seasons.  Frankly, I don’t see that happening.

The Yankees squeaked about Jason Giambi’s contract when his steroids use came to light, but backed down before going any further than the talking-about-it stage.  Since Rodriguez signed his ridiculous contract extension (more on that below) before the 2008 season, well more than a year before Rodriguez’s use of performance enhancing drugs (“PEDs”) came out during the 2009 season, it is extremely doubtful that the contract extension includes any language directly addressing the possible voiding of the contract for PED use.

$114 million is enough to motivate any potential litigant to call in the army of attorneys, but if the Yankees think they can extract a favorable settlement from Rodriguez (and his agent Scott Boras, who presumably gets a cut out of each year of the contract), they are kidding themselves.  It is extremely unlikely Rodriguez would even have to pay his own attorneys’ fees in any such litigation.

Instead, the players association will foot the bill for the best legal representation available, because that is the reason the players association exists in the first place.  When it comes to owners’ contract obligations to players, the players’ association will see to it that the players get paid, period.

I have no sympathy for the Yankees whatsoever.  I still don’t understand how Scott Boras is able to convince teams to sign contracts which not only provide for record-setting guaranteed payments, but which also let the players opt out after the first few seasons and seek even bigger contracts.

The whole reason that an Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia or a Prince Fielder gets a long-term, record-setting contract is the hope that the player will be so good the first half of the contract that it justifies great overpayment during the second half of the deal by which time the player has gotten old.  Agreeing to allow the player to opt out and renegotiate after the first few years of said record-setting contract go according to plan is insane.

Still, the Yankees’ profligacy is good for MLB as a whole.  The only reason the Yankees fail to buy the World Series title every other season by signing all the best free agents is the fact that they waste so much money on contracts like A-Fraud’s and Sabathia’s.  Even the Yankees’ bankroll is not unlimited, and locking tens of millions of dollars a year into underperforming contracts like these at least brings them down to the level of the next ten or so high-revenue teams.

There’s also talk about the Yankees hoping that Rodriguez’ hip injury will somehow morph into a career-ending injury, such that the insurance policies the Yankees have taken out on A-Fraud’s contract will cover all or most of his future salaries.  I don’t see that happening either.

First of all, insurance companies don’t make their money by blindly paying out on claims.  Also, even assuming the insurers could be forced to pay, usually through very expensive litigation (the lawyers always get paid), the Yankees’ insurance rates on other player contracts would go through the roof.  If the insurers can’t make their money on the front end, they’re damn sure going to try to get it on the back end.

The fact that so many sportswriters are predicting the end of ARod’s career may well create a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Realistically, the only discipline that can be imposed on Rodriguez under the collective bargaining agreement in force for major league players is a 50 game suspension, provided that the evidence of Rodriguez’s PEDs use is sufficient to support a finding that Commissioner Selig has “just cause” to suspend Rodriguez for PEDs use.  “Just cause” is certainly far less than “beyond a reasonable doubt”, the standard of proof for criminal cases, but we have already seen Ryan Braun escape punishment for PEDs use because MLB failed to follow its own testing standards.

However, baseball is nothing but a form of entertainment which relies entirely on the goodwill of its fans to sustain revenues.  Since the owners don’t really know exactly what the fans want or will tolerate, the sports press acts as a surrogate, both as a voice of the average fan and also as a generator of fan opinion.  If the sportswriters are predicting the end of Rodriguez’ career, don’t imagine for a second that the Yankees are listening intently.

Finally, I can’t help but notice that the current brouhaha is likely only such a big deal because A-Fraud isn’t performing on the field like he did a couple of years ago.  Rodriguez was linked to another human growth hormone purveyor in 2010, but everyone more or less took his denials of improper conduct for granted, despite his many previous known lies on the subject.

Now that Rodriguez is merely a slightly better than average player facing a long recovery from hip surgery, suddenly the Yankees, MLB and the World are more ready to lower the boom.  Well, that’s baseball and the good old U. S. of A.  We love a winner, but we also love to see our heroes fall.

Alex Rodriguez in Another Steroids Scandal

January 29, 2013

Those of you have been readers of my blog for some time know that I am not a big fan of Alex Rodriguez as a human being.  For example, about two and a half years ago, I wrote a particularly intemperate piece about him after his run-in with Oakland A’s pitcher Dallas Braden, a piece for which a number of Yankees fans criticized me at the time.

Once again, Rodriguez has been linked to use of performance enhancing drugs (“PEDs”), and the allegations and evidence in support thereof look pretty damning.  Here is a link to the Miami New Times article which details all the references to ARod and his cousin Yuri Sucart, who was directly involved in the former’s steroid use in the early 2000’s, in the notes of Tony Bosch, the head of Biogenesis, the Miami “anti-aging” clinic that allegedly supplied steroids, human growth hormone (“HGH”) and other banned PEDs to numerous professional athletes.

The alleged athlete clients include baseball players Manny Ramirez, Bartolo Colon, Melky Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal and tennis player Wayne Odesnik, all of whom have been suspended in recent years for PED use.  Washington Nationals’ ace Gio Gonzalez and Texas Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz have also been linked to Biogenesis.

In 2010 Rodriguez was also alleged to have made made visits in 2009 to Canadian sports doctor Anthony Galea who was then being investigated for providing HGH to professional athletes.  Galea subsequently pleaded guilty to bringing mislabeled drugs including HGH into the U.S. to treat professional athletes.  At the time, ARod of course denied that Galea had given him PEDs.

Both Rodriguez and Gio Gonzalez have issued statements denying any use of PEDs or any connection to Bosch or Biogenesis.  Gonzalez, as a player who has never tested positive for PEDs and against whom the evidence appears more unclear, deserves the benefit of the doubt for the time being.

ARod does not.  Rodriguez is a known liar when it comes to steroids use.  He lied about his prior use of steroids in 2007; and when the evidence forced him to admit his prior use, he lied about his prior lies (“At the time, I wasn’t even being honest with myself. How am I going to be truthful with Katie [Couric] or CBS?” — what nonsense!)

Let’s hope the authorities seriously investigate this matter and force Tony Bosch to spill the beans about exactly who his clients were and what he gave them.

When all is said and done, MLB’s testing program seems to be at least somewhat successful.  Of the seven baseball players named in connection with Biogenesis, four have tested positive for steroids and been suspended.  Earlier this month, MLB and the players’ association agreed to begin testing for HGH during the playing season and to monitor players’ testosterone levels for spikes, which may explain why some players who were using have not tested positive to date.

Some players are always going to cheat with PEDs and try to find ways to get around the new drug testing regime.  That’s the entire reason why the testing program exists in the first place.  So long as at least some of the players are getting caught and suffering serious consequences in the form of increasingly long unpaid suspensions, it should have a deterrent effect on other players considering whether or not to use PEDs in the first place.

As a final thought, even though I am no fan of Alex Rodriguez and I hope he’s punished if it is proven that he has continued to use PEDs in recent years, he still deserves election to the Hall of Fame eventually.  He has been simply too good a player to leave out of the Hall of Fame entirely.  That said, I would feel no sorrow if he were made to wait until his last year of eligibility to be elected.

Why Fix What Isn’t Broken

January 28, 2013

I saw an article on Sports Illustrated’s news wire today that says that major league baseball as of the 2013 season is banning the fake pick-off move to third and then turn to first, a move which I’ve never seen actually work and which I doubt few, if any fans, have ever seen actually work.  You know the move I’m taking about: with runners on first and third, the pitcher bluffs a throw to third and then turns to see if the runner on first has been tricked into leaning the wrong way off first base.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the pitcher even make a throw to first, let alone catch the runner leaning the wrong way.

This move will now be called a balk, which invites the question, why change a rule on a play that never catches anyone anyway?  The players’ association vetoed an attempt by the owners to change the rule a year ago, but under the collective bargaining agreement, the owners could wait a year and then change the rule unilaterally.  The owners felt strongly enough about it that they damn well changed the rule.

Next, the owners will be banning the fake pick-off move to second base and fining players who step out of the box to adjust their cups.  Yeesh!

More International Comings and Goings

January 26, 2013

Nyjer Morgan, who most recently played with the Brewers, is going to Japan.  The Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars signed him to a deal worth roughly $1.66 million plus performance incentives.

Morgan looks like the kind of player who would do well in Japan’s NPB.  While he hit only .239 last year, he has a career MLB batting average of .280, a career .341 on-base percentage, he runs well, and he has provided above-average major league defense in center fielder.  He should also add power playing in NPB’s smaller ball parks.

What remains to be seen is how “Tony Plush” adapts to playing and living in Japan and how Japan adapts to him.  You don’t hear many complaints about Morgan when he is playing well, but when he’s struggling at the plate he tends to get into trouble.  He’s definitely a character and how that plays in Japan remains to be seen.

I also learned something about Morgan today that I never would have guessed, given the fact that he’s from the San Francisco Bay Area.  He is an accomplished hockey player, who at age 19 played briefly for the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, the highest level of amateur junior hockey.  He developed an interest in the game watching the 1988 Olympics.

In other international news, the Oakland A’s are interested in shortstop Aledmis Diaz, a purportedly 23 year old Cuban defector.  I say “purportedly” because MLB is reportedly investigating whether Diaz is actually only 21 or 22 years old and is claiming to be older because Cubans who are at least 23 and have three or more years of professional experience in Cuba are exempt from the capped bonus pools each team may spend on young Caribbean prospects.  If Diaz is claiming that he is older than he actually is, it would be a first among baseball prospects.

At any rate, Diaz reportedly hit .315 with 12 home runs in the 90 game Cuban Serie National in 2011-2012, his last season before defecting during a trip to Holland by the Cuban National Team.  Diaz began his career in the Serie National late during the 2007-2008 season, which means he would have been playing in Cuba’s top league before he turned 18 if he is, in fact, younger than he is currently claiming.

The Justin Upton Trade

January 25, 2013

The Justin Upton for Martin Prado and a bunch of prospects trade between the Atlanta Braves and the Arizona Diamondbacks looks to me like an unqualified win for the Braves.

Prado is an extremely useful player because of his ability to play a number of different positions.  However, he is four years older than Upton (Prado will be 29 in 2013, while Upton will be 25), and there’s just no way Prado has anywhere near Upton’s upside, even taking park factors into account.

Of course, the Diamondbacks also got RHP Randall Delgado, RHP Zeke Spruill, SS Nick Ahmed and 1B Brandon Drury, while the Braves received 3B Chris Johnson.

Delgado, who is originally from Panama, is definitely a legitimate prospect, but I’m not sure he’s a can’t miss.  He’ll be 23 next year and already has 127.2 innings pitched in the majors under his belt.  He hasn’t had major league command so far, but he definitely has major league stuff.  His career minor league record of 27-42 isn’t impressive, but his minor league pitching line of 582.1 IP, 527 hits and 221 walks allowed, and 620 strikeouts is.

Zeke Spruill and Nick Ahmed are both former 2nd round draft picks, but Ahmed looks like the better prospect.  Spruill in 20 starts at Class A+ Lynchburgh and 34 starts at AA Mississippi over the last two seasons struck out 214 batters in 336.1 innings pitched, which isn’t enough at these levels.  However, he’s young and appears to be a strike thrower and a ground ball pitcher (at least based on his HR totals), so he could develop into a major league pitcher, although probably not a particularly good one.

Ahmed at age 22 in 2012 hit .269 with a .337 OBP and a .728 OPS at Class A+ Lynchburg, after playing 59 games in a rookie league in 2011 with similar numbers.  I don’t think we’ll really know what kind of a prospect he is until he plays in AA ball in 2013.  However, he does have power potential (46 extra base hits last season), and he runs extremely well (40 stolen bases in 50 attempts).

Brandon Drury hit extremely well in rookie ball in 2011 (.347 batting average and .891 OPS) at age 18, but hit very little at Class A at age 19 in 2012 (.229 batting average and .603 OPS).  As a 1Bman, he’s going to have to hit and hit a lot to make the majors.

With the retirement of Chipper Jones and the loss of Martin Prado, the Braves needed a 3Bman, and they got one in Chris Johnson.  Johnson hits well enough for a 3rd sacker, but he can’t handle the hot corner defensively (.931 career fielding percentage at the position).  I’d suggest that the Braves try to convince Chipper Jones come back for one more year as a platoon player, but Johnson is one of those rare players who hits better against the platoon (at least so far in his major league career — .775 against right-handers and .667 against lefties as a right-handed batter).

D’Backs’ GM Kevin Towers was quoted as saying Justin Upton needs a change of scenery, which I think is code for the fact that too much was expected of Upton too soon in Arizona.  I think that playing with his brother B. J. in a very African American city as he comes into his prime years will be a very, very good situation for Justin and the Braves.

The Braves should have a tremendous outfield with the Uptons and Jason Heyward the next few seasons.  Of course, there’s also the very real possibility that they could strike out 500 times a season between them.  However, 500 strike outs doesn’t hurt so much if it also comes with 90+ home runs a year.

It’s no secret that African Americans have largely lost interest in baseball over the last 25 years.  It will be interesting to see if the Braves’ new all-black and potentially all-superstar outfield creates a new generation of black baseball fans in a city with a large African American middle class.  Even if it doesn’t, the current Braves’ fan base is probably going to be very happy with the results they get from their new outfield.

Elijah Dukes Arrested on Warrant for Eating Bag of Marijuana

January 23, 2013

Remember Elijah Dukes?  He was once a highly regarded prospect for the Tampa Bay Rays and the Washington Nationals who apparently washed out of professional baseball in 2010 because of his problems off the field and, perhaps, his conduct in the locker room.

The Rays drafted Dukes in the 3rd round of the 2002 Draft.  In 2007 at age 23, he got 220 plate appearances for the Rays, and while he hit only .190, he also slugged ten home runs.

2007 was also eventful for Dukes off the playing field.  In May, his wife sought a restraining order against him for threatening her life and their children.  In June, it was reported that Dukes had impregnated a 17 year old foster child of one of his relatives and threw a bottle of Gatorade at the girl when she informed him of the pregnancy.  Luckily for Dukes, the sex was consensual and the age of consent in Florida is below 18 years of age.

The Rays decided that Dukes needed a change of scenery and traded him to Nats for a Glenn Gibson, a minor league pitcher who never pitched higher than the A+ level.  The Nats hired a former police officer as a “Special Assistant: Player Concerns” whose job was to tail Dukes and keep him out of trouble.

In 2008, at age 24, Dukes rewarded the Nats with a season in which he hit .264 with a terrific .864 OPS in 81 games.  At that point he looked like a future star.

However, Dukes hit only .250 with a .729 OPS in 2009.  Still, he was only 25 years old, and his future looked bright.

While Dukes had apparently stayed out of trouble off the field after being acquired by the Nationals, the team didn’t consider him a positive influence in the clubhouse.  On March 17, 2010, in the middle of Spring Training, the Nationals gave Dukes his unconditional release.

While Nats’ General Manager Mike Rizzo said that the decision was performance-based (Dukes was 3 for 20 at the plate that Spring), Rizzo was also quoted as saying, “The clubhouse will be more united.  We’ll have a better feel around the ballclub. We’ll gain just by that alone.”  Rizzo also said the Nats would be a “more cohesive group” without Dukes.

Strangely, no other major league franchise would give Dukes another chance, in spite of his age and obvious ability as a hitter.  He reportedly reached a deal to play in the Mexican League, but then backed out after not showing up for the reporting date.

In early July 2010, he signed with the Newark Bears of the Independent A Atlantic League.  In 116 plate appearances over 28 games, Dukes hit .366 with a 1.007 OPS, but no major league organization was willing to give him another chance.

Dukes was arrested in November 2010 for failing to pay child support, and in March 2011, he was arrested again for assaulting a pregnant ex-girlfriend.  That was the end of any future baseball career for Dukes.

In February 2012, Dukes was arrested for drug possession and destruction of evidence when he tried to eat a bag of marijuana after the cops pulled him over.  He apparently failed to appear in court, because he was arrested yesterday on that warrant and also for driving on a suspended license.

In similar news, another of my all-time favorite clubhouse cancers, Milton Bradley, is facing the possibility of 13 years in prison for multiple alleged assaults against his estranged wife.  In one incident in November 2012, he is accused of pushing his wife up against a wall and choking her after she allegedly requested that he stop smoking marijuana in front of their children.  You can’t make this stuff up.

While Bradley got far more chances than Dukes got, and certainly far more than Bradley deserved in spite of his enormous batting talent, this blog is certainly the poorer for the end of Bradley’s professional baseball career in 2011.  He always gave me plenty to write about each time a team that should have known better acquired him.

The Arbitration Process

January 21, 2013

Here’s a terrific short blurb about the salary arbitration process in baseball from mlbtraderumors.com.  It talks about how baseball’s salary arbitrators tend to value back-of-the-baseball-card stats like wins, ERA, batting average, RBI’s, saves and holds, rather than more recently developed metrics such as Wins Above Replacement which more accurately value a player’s total contribution toward winning major league baseball games.  As a result, arbitrators may value a player’s contributions higher or lower than his own team does.

This is not terribly surprising.  Many institutional factors in the arbitration process contribute to this over- or under-valuing.  The main reason is that arbitration is a legalistic process which relies very, very heavily on precedent — i.e., what other players with similar levels of experience and performance have been paid prior to the salary arbitration case to be decided.

The Major League Baseball Players’ Association negotiated the right to binding salary arbitration for players with two years of major league service time in the early 1970’s (most likely starting after the 1973 season, according to Marvin Miller’s book A Whole Different Ball Game — his book is a little unclear on this point).  At that time, none of the new-fangled statistics existed, teams thought that .300 hitters who didn’t have power or walk much were a lot more valuable than we now know they are, and RBIs were seen as the be-all and end-all of offensive production.

As such, the old-line stats became the basis for all salary arbitration awards and got locked in for the future through precedent.  Further, I suspect that most of baseball’s salary arbitrators are older and very experienced, making them both loath to deviate from precedent and suspicious of the new, more accurate statistical analysis.

Very quickly after the players negotiated the right to binding salary arbitration, which prevented tight-wad teams like Charlie Finley’s Oakland A’s and Calvin Griffith’s Minnesota Twins from wildly underpaying their stars, owners discovered that binding salary arbitration guaranteed huge raises for most players eligible for arbitration even if their cases were litigated and lost by the players.  As a result, one of the big bones of contention between owners and players  has been the owners’ desire for give-backs on, if not complete elimination of, salary arbitration.

In the early 1980’s, the Players Association agreed to raise the service time requirement for arbitration eligibility from two years of service to three years of service. Despite much hard bargaining subsequently, the players have only been able to negotiate a reduction to include the 17% of players with the most major league service between two and three seasons.

Today, it appears that the owners have finally come to terms with binding salary arbitration, both because it has now been around for almost 40 years and also because in the last ten years, teams have begun to non-tender large numbers of arbitration-eligible players who would otherwise be virtually guaranteed substantial raises through the arbitration process.

At the time that the Players’ Association won the right to free agency through grievance arbitration in 1976, A’s owner Charlie Finley was the only owner with the foresight to see that if arbitrator Peter Seitz’s decision was actually carried out (all players could become free agents after roughly two years of major league service), there would be a huge glut of players on the open market every off-season, which would push down salaries for all but the best few players at each position.

While the other owners didn’t see this because they were too locked in to their collective mind set of controlling players totally for their entire careers, Players’ Association director Marvin Miller did.  He agreed to a six-year service requirement for free agency, because he saw that this would mean relatively few free agents each off-season and those players who reached free agency at all would generally be star players.  As a result, free agent contract amounts would go through the roof based on simple supply and demand principles.  Once that happened, players with less experience but sufficiently high past performance could boot-strap on the huge free agent contracts through binding salary arbitration.  Modern player salaries are the consequence of this system and the Players’ Association’s foresight.

Now that all of the teams are non-tendering significant numbers of arbitration-eligible players, it has created a glut of middle relievers and utility players on the open market, which has held salaries down for these players.  If a solid but unspectacular middle reliever stands to get a huge raise through salary arbitration, his team can non-tender him and find a similar player on the open market for substantially less money.

The upshot is that binding salary arbitration has matured to point where players will never, ever agree to its elimination and owners at least live with its consequences given their ability to non-tender players they consider undeserving of huge raises.  At this point, all I can see is minor tweeks to this system — for example, raising salary arbitration eligibility back to three full years of major league service in exchange for eliminating any deterrents to signing free agents (i.e., signing teams would no longer lose a draft pick when signing a top free agent).