The Week That Was in Baseball: February 17-23, 2014
What the Biogenesis Users Are Saying • Betting Tips for 2014
Pete Rose's Take on Gambling vs. Steroids • Tops Among the Top 100 Prospects
Return of the Biogenesis 13 (Less One)
Spring camps opened to one and all this past week with position players following pitchers and catchers to Arizona and Florida. Among the arrivals were many of the players who spent the latter parts of the 2013 season sitting at home, suspended for their role in the Biogenesis affair. For many of those, this was their first time facing the media music since their banishment, and this is what they had to say:
Ryan Braun, after his BS-tainted decrees of defiance the last two springs, continued to express remorse after having previously spoken on his 65-game penalty. “I made a mistake. I deserved to be suspended. I took full responsibility for my actions and as I’ve said many, many times, all I can do is look forward and continue to move forward…I’ve answered all of these questions at multiple press conferences. I appreciate the interest. I completely understand and respect that (the media) have a job to do, but for me it’s counterproductive to continue to look back.”
Everth Cabrera: “Those two months I was thinking about my situation and the stuff that happened to me. Now I have to go to work every single day. I have to come back from zero.”
Jhonny Peralta: “I’m trying to put it in the past. I’m trying to look forward and forget about it…I know I can play baseball naturally. I have to show people that I can do it and that I can help.”
Antonio Bastardo: “I made a mistake, and I paid the price.” He also said this about Dan Meyer, who last year angrily tweeted that Bastardo stole his job because of the PEDs: “You’re not competing with other pitchers. You’re competing with hitters.”
Francisco Cervelli: “Last year was a disaster, and we just take the positives out of everything for being a better person and a better player.”
Jesus Montero: “I made a big, bad mistake last year. I don’t know what I was thinking. I’m here right now, this new year, to be better and to help my teammates and to help the team to win.” (Sidebar: That Montero took steroids is not what’s ticking off the Seattle Mariners; it’s the fact that he arrived at camp 40 pounds overweight.)
Nelson Cruz, who this past weekend signed a one-year, $8 million deal with Baltimore (almost half of what he was offered to stay in Texas, by the way), has not spoken to the media at upload time. He did release a statement following the start of his suspension last year in which he admitted making an “error in judgment” for using Biogenesis to overcome an “improperly diagnosed gastrointestinal infection.”
The other Biogenesis subjects—Jordany Valdespin, Cesar Puello, Sergio Escalona, Fernando Martinez, Fautino de los Santos and Jordan Norberto—are all minor leaguers or worse (as in, unsigned) and may or may not be at spring training. They have not spoken out on their suspensions.
And finally, we have Alex Rodriguez. Don’t expect to hear from him until next spring, when his season-long suspension will have expired.
Stealing Atlantis’ Money
The Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno became the first sportsbook a few weeks back to list odds on wins for each major league team in the upcoming season. If you like our Facebook page, you got the list of each team.
According to Atlantis, the team pegged to the highest win total is the Los Angeles Dodgers, at 92.5. Detroit’s next at 91.5, then Washington and St. Louis at 90.5 each. Atlantis also gives equal odds for Oakland and Texas (86.5) in the AL West, and gives Tampa Bay (88.5) the highest win total of the five AL East teams.
We’re hardly the ultimate soothsayers when it comes to predicting the season (though we try at the end of every March), but we spotted four numbers that you can bet a kitchen remodel if not the full house on among the Atlantis selections:
New York Yankees (83.5). Let’s face it: The Yankees had a bad 2013 and, yes, Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera are gone. But after firing up the acquisition machine this past winter and bringing in Brian McCann, Masahiro Tanaka, Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury—and with Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira looking healthier—it’s hard to believe they’ll do worse as Atlantis is suggesting. Go with the over.
Minnesota Twins (65.5). We don’t expect the Twins to return to their glory days of the late 1980s (or more recent winning times under Ron Gardenhire before things went south the last few years), but we honestly think they’ve got more than 65 wins in them. The Twins have some promising young cadets, the rotation has a more veteran look to it and Joe Mauer can relax and play a full season at first base. (And who knows when super-prospect Byron Buxton makes his major league debut in Minnesota.) Go with the over.
Philadelphia Phillies (78). That win total could be within the Phillies’ reach if their broken-down veterans (Chase Utley, Ryan Howard) stay healthy. But they won’t. Bringing in A.J. Burnett and Marlon Byrd are nice touches, but it’s not enough to rescue the Phillies from their long-term descent into quicksand. Go with the under.
Houston Astros (57.5). Yes, the Astros can finish at 58-104 and still reward those picking the over. Perhaps it won’t be easy in a toughened AL West, yet with quality youngsters having gone through the baptism by fire and an influx of decent veteran talent (Scott Feldman, Dexter Fowler) added to the mix, the Astros will show more competence than in 2013. Go with the over.
Is Pete Right?
A few weeks ago, Pete Rose was asked what was a worse crime within baseball: Gambling or steroid use. He seemed to opt for the latter. “I had nothing to do with altering statistics of baseball, and these guys, that take PEDs—wouldn’t it be nice if you could ask Babe Ruth the same question, or Roger Maris the same question or Hank Aaron, who won’t talk about it,” Rose said on ESPN Radio. I’d like to hear what their response will be because those are the guys who lost their records because of supposedly steroids.”
In answering the question, Rose is confusing numbers with outcomes. Eight members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox had no interest in the numbers; as Swede Risberg told a what-me-guilty Buck Weaver in the film version of the book Eight Men Out: “Shut up, Bucky, nobody cares about your stats.” Those eight players nearly destroyed the game when they successfully conspired to throw the World Series.
Rose, as manager of the Cincinnati Reds in the late 1980s, was banished from the game for life after betting on his team to win on an almost daily basis, something he initially denied but later admitted to. While Rose didn’t purposely push his team to lose, his gambling instincts put the interests of his short-term finances ahead of the Reds’ ultimate outcomes, potentially using lineups and pitchers in a way that did not serve the team’s long-term prospects. So in that sense, betting for or against your team is no different; it affects the outcome.
PED users also dictate outcomes by their performance, but that’s based on the age-old quest to better yourself through whatever means. Illegal spitballers have done this. So have players with emery boards hidden in their pockets. So have coaches using binoculars in the bullpen. Some might even argue that LASIK or Tommy John surgery is a form of performance enhancement. (Some players have been known to get Tommy John surgery while perfectly healthy.) Steroids should be separated from this vacuum only because they can endanger those who take them over the long haul, as has been documented. But to participate in a baseball game you’ve bet on is game fixing, no matter how you slice it. Pete Rose is wrong on this one.
Gone Batty in Cuba
There are numerous “no-no’s” within baseball (and no, we’re not talking no-hitters), but tops among them is this: If you’re going to engage yourself in a brawl, leave the bat behind. Juan Marichal famously broke this cardinal sin in 1965; Atlanta’s Pascual Perez came close to breaking it during an ugly fight between his Braves and the San Diego Padres in 1984.
In a nationally televised game in Cuba this past week, Mantanzas’ Demis Valdes broke the rule. When a beanball war escalated into a melee on the field, Valdes—who wasn’t playing in the game—decided to take center stage of the fight with a bat and took a wicked swing at Villa Clara pitcher Freddy Alvarez. All too fortunately, Valdes missed—because had he made solid contact, he could have killed Alvarez. On his backswing, however, Valdes did connect with the face of Alvarez’s teammate Ramon Lunar, who was taken to a hospital overnight for observation.
Cuban baseball officials did not take the news lightly. Valdes was suspended for one year, while Alvarez was benched for the rest of the season for instigating the brawl.
The Best of the Next
We’ll take it that Baseball America knows what it’s talking about when it names the game’s top 100 prospects since it bones up quite extensively on the subject. Topping this year’s list, released this past week, was Minnesota outfielder Byron Buxton, who’s been given the Willie Mays comparison and, although he has yet to play anything higher than Class A, could be a Twin sooner than later given the team’s lack of intimidation on that part of the roster. It also should be noted that many players on the list have already made it to “The Show”—including Boston infielder Xander Bogaerts, Seattle pitcher Taijuan Walker and St. Louis infielder Kolten Wang, while it also includes first-year Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka, ready to ply his trade for the New York Yankees.
As far as team representation is concerned, Baseball America lists more prospects for the Boston Red Sox (eight) than any other team; Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cubs are second with seven each. Five teams—Washington, Milwaukee, Tampa Bay, Oakland and Los Angeles of Anaheim—only have one player represented, with Brewers pitcher Jimmy Nelson barely making the cut at no. 96.
It took nearly three years, but the two men who beat up San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow at Dodger Stadium in 2011 finally received their just due for their actions. Louis Sanchez was sentenced to eight years for doing the bulk of the assault, while Marvin Norwood got four years; the sentences include three years of time served, meaning Norwood could be out in less than a year.
If all this time awaiting his fate had given Sanchez remorse, he didn’t show it. Instead, he smirked in court while a relative of Stow—who is permanently disabled from the brain damage suffered in the attack—was allowed to formally speak before sentencing. The presiding judge wasn’t happy and rebuked Sanchez for his demeanor.
If eight and four years seem lenient, don’t worry; the two may serve an additional ten years each for violating Federal weapons law.
Raising the Bar to In$anity?
General managers cowered their heads in emotional pain late last year when the Giants resigned Tim Lincecum for two years at $17.5 million per season, despite numbers that at times reached bottom-of-the-barrel status over the previous few years. So now you got to wonder how they feel about what the Cincinnati Reds did this past week when they endowed pitcher Homer Bailey with a six-year deal at $100 million, averaging out to nearly $17 million.
Okay, so the perhaps the Giants are rewarding Lincecum for past performance which includes two Cy Young awards. But Bailey has no such pedigree to build on; yes, he has thrown two no-hitters, but otherwise he’s 47-45 with a 4.34 earned run average over seven seasons. Perhaps the Reds are believing the best is yet to come from the 27-year-old right-hander and are rewarding him for the upside. But again, this opens the door for every common pitcher to point at Bailey’s deal (and Lincecum’s for that matter) and demand a nine-figure pact the next time he brings his agent into the front office door. But then again, given the accelerated rise in salaries and revenue of late, maybe GMs will accept this as the New Normal.
I Smell a Rat
So in the fifth round of last year’s amateur draft, the Philadelphia Phillies draft Oregon State pitcher Ben Wetzler—who decides to return to OSU after failing to come to an agreement with the team. So the Phillies don’t get mad, they get even; they let the NCAA know that Wetzler was using an agent, illegal in the NCAA’s eyes since he’s returning to school.
First, this points out a flaw in NCAA rules that leads to a dilemma for the player, who might want to come back for another year at school if he can’t get the deal he wants from the drafting team; once he starts using an agent, any further college eligibility is, in theory, eliminated. Which then puts him at the mercy of the drafting team.
But for the Phillies to pull this stunt and rat out Wetzler does no favor for anyone—most of all the Phillies, who risk being shunned by future prospects and schools for their actions. It certainly didn’t help Wetzler, who is suspended for Oregon State’s first 11 games of the college baseball season by the NCAA. It doesn’t help OSU, who would like to have Wetzler playing. And it ultimately doesn’t help the NCAA, which is already under enough fire for its hypocrisy of allowing schools to profit immensely from student athletes who make nothing while on campus.
The Phillies released a statement on Saturday that didn’t really state anything except that they “participated in the NCAA investigation and a ruling has been issued.” They declined further comment, saying it would be “inappropriate” to do so.
Brazen Bronze Snatchers
Thieves took off with three plaques surrounding a sculpture of the late Cory Lidle outside of a sports complex in Lidle’s home town of West Covina, California, some 25 miles east of Los Angeles. Adding insult to injury, the thieves attempted to take the half-ton sculpture itself—and when it appeared they couldn’t, they vandalized it.
Police believe the thieves were after the metal used in the monument; the cooper used in the sculpture is said to be valued at $7,000. The town’s mayor said that the sculpture is likely beyond repair.
Lidle, a pitcher with ten years of major league experience, was killed in 2006 when he accidentally flew his small plane into a hi-rise apartment building in New York City.
Baseball Yawn Under
MLB may be excited about the idea of starting the regular season in Australia, but members of the Los Angeles Dodgers—who along with the Arizona Diamondbacks will do battle in Sydney on March 22-23—aren’t thrilled. Dodger pitcher Zack Greinke, to ESPN: “I would say there is absolutely zero excitement for it…I can’t think of one reason to be excited for it.”
Not only has Alex Rodriguez been suspended from the New York Yankees this year, but so has his jersey. Yahoo Sports reported that while the Yankee team store at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa has uniforms for Yankee players past and present, there’s no sign of an A-Rod 13.
The Miami Marlins have dropped their policy of prohibiting their players from wearing any kind of facial hair, an edict that had been in place since Jeffrey Loria took over as owner of the team in 2002. But…if you’re playing for the Marlins and looking to chuck the razor, not so fast; the hair needs to remain “neat and trim.” So no, you can’t go Brian Wilson or Jonny Gomes in a Marlins uniform.
Wounded of the Week
It was a strange week on the major league Ouch Couch. For starters, there was Minnesota infielder Pedro Florimon, who will miss the next few weeks of spring training after undergoing an emergency appendectomy. (Question: When is an appendectomy not an emergency?)
Elsewhere, Max Fried isn’t burned out—if he was, he would have the perfect name for it—but the San Diego Padres’ top draft pick of a few years back has been shut down for a few weeks with soreness in his pitching arm.
Another Padre, third baseman Chase Headley, will also miss at least a few weeks with a strained right calf. After a breakout 2012 campaign, Headley came back to Earth in 2013 with knee ailments that required offseason surgery.
There’s a few problems as well in Texas camp. Pitcher Matt Harrison, sidelined for almost all of last season with back issues, had a recurrence this past week and has been sent back to Arlington for observation. And catcher Geovany Soto underwent foot surgery, though he is expected to be ready for Opening Day.
Finally, we’re happy to report that legendary pitcher Sandy Koufax, 78, is okay after taking a knock to the head from a ball hit by the Dodgers’ Andre Either at camp in Arizona. The incident spooked many people who witnessed it and were glad to see Koufax walk off (albeit dazed) under his own power.
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