The inspiration of Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Michael Weiner is felt by anyone who works in his office. It is certainly not lost on David Prouty, who will assume part of Weiner’s duties for one of the most powerful unions in the country.
Weiner, who is living with an inoperable brain tumor, has handed his role of general counsel to Prouty, who has served as chief labor counsel on Weiner’s staff since 2008. Prouty, 54, a graduate of Bowdoin College and Harvard Law School, becomes just the fourth general counsel, after Marvin Miller, Donald Fehr, and Weiner.
“Mike has handled this whole situation with incredible grace and incredible humor, too,” Prouty said from his Manhattan office Friday. “That’s the way he’s handled everything. So in a way, we’ve all been inspired by him. More generally, Mike is always an inspiration to be around in terms of being a colleague and an executive director who cares about players and about the game.”
Prouty said his role will evolve over time, but he will oversee the business side of the union as well as being a major force in labor talks, recently helping to negotiate the new basic agreement. He is beginning to discuss tweaks to the new rules on the amateur draft and free agency, which have been areas of concern to the union in their first year of implementation.
And, of course, the elephant in the room is the never-ending saga of performance-enhancing drugs. Some of Prouty’s constituency continues to try to beat the testing and the system.
“We make a list of things we want to go back to the next time or things that need to be tweaked now,” said Prouty. “There’s nothing substantively to report, but coming out of the draft last year and what we’ve seen this offseason, there are things we’re talking to MLB about.”
Front and center is the free agent compensation issue (for players who have declined qualifying offers from their teams) and how it has affected players such as Michael Bourn and Kyle Lohse, two Scott Boras clients who have been unable to land jobs.
The teams with the 10 worst records don’t have to give up the first-round pick as compensation, but the rest are hesitant to do so. The Mets, sitting in the 11th position, would like to sign Bourn, but they don’t want to give up the No. 1 pick. They actually had the 10th-worst record, but because Pittsburgh didn’t sign its top pick last year, it got a top-10 compensation pick this year, pushing the Mets to 11th.
“We didn’t foresee this particular problem,” said Prouty. “In the Bourn situation, now that it’s presented to us, you can see there’s a little bit of a loophole, different interpretations you can make. We’re in the process of trying to work that out with MLB and through the Mets. I shouldn’t say more about it now because we’re still negotiating.”
Then there’s the PED issue.
While Prouty believes that even more beefed-up penalties would not necessarily act as a deterrent, he believes the testing for testosterone (including the longitudinal profile, in which a player’s baseline level is determined and then monitored) and the yearlong blood testing for human growth hormone will be more effective in detecting use.
“Most players we speak with want a strong drug program and don’t want anyone cheating in the games,” Prouty said. “We have a couple of duties: One, to represent the players accused and make sure they get a fair hearing, and secondly, to ensure players’ desire for fair competition and a strong program.”
When Prouty and Weiner visit spring training camps, they will emphasize the strength of the new program, the consequences, and that they will get caught.
“There are people out there giving players bad advice on how they might be able to beat the system by using low-level testosterone and masking it with other things and other gimmicks,” said Prouty. “The approach we’ve taken so far, I think, it’s the right one.
“Rather than boost the level of a penalty which we don’t think creates necessarily the right deterrent, what we’ve done is strengthen the testing program. We’ll tell the players the new testing can detect both testosterone on a more sophisticated level and they can detect microscopic levels in someone’s urine.”
In the cases of former Giants reliever Guillermo Mota and Phillies infielder Freddy Galvis, both of whom served 50-game suspensions for positive tests, Prouty said, “They weren’t careful in reading the label. One of them was athlete’s foot cream and the other was a cough syrup. The message to Latin players is ‘be careful what you buy when you’re home.’ ”
Other union issues concern travel and instant replay.
“Travel is always an issue,” he said. “There’s a tension, obviously, because owners want to schedule games when fans will most show up and generate the most revenue. It’s hard to fit in 162 games over 183 days.
“Players zealously guard their home offdays. There’s a lot of back and forth with MLB about those rules. We’re working on some changes with getaway games this year.”
As for instant replay, Prouty said, “Players would agree to more of it, but their big concern is that it doesn’t lead to more delays during games. I don’t think anyone is happy with the current system, where umpires trot off the field to review the call.
“What we’re talking to MLB and umpires about is finding a way to have more replay so more of the calls are right, but do it in a more expeditious way so as not to delay the game.”
Apropos of something
The “R word” (retirement) is nowhere in his vocabulary.
Derek Lowe, who turns 40 June 1, wants to keep pitching, and he’s willing to wait for the right opportunity.
“I have no other choice,” said Lowe from his home in Fort Myers, Fla. “It’s been a frustrating process because I am who I am: I throw 87-, 88-, 89-mile-per-hour sinkers. I’ve thrown that my entire career.
“I’ve never been hurt and I’ve always given everything I have. I can’t deny I’m 39 years old and I don’t run away from that, but what’s it matter? Is it better to be 28 and battling injuries or 39 and throwing the baseball the way you’ve always thrown it and know that I’ll be out there every time I’m given the ball?”
Lowe understands teams wanting to go with younger pitchers, but if they’re not comfortable with that, he seems to provide the alternative.
“I’ve made my money, so it’s not about money for me,” Lowe said. “What you’d be paying a kid and what you’d be paying me isn’t that much. I love to pitch and I want to keep pitching because I know I can still do it.
“I would love to be a starter, of course, but I understand the reality of having to work out of the bullpen.”
Lowe recently turned down a minor league contract and invitation to Rockies camp, feeling he wouldn’t get the opportunity he is seeking.
“When you come in under a minor league deal, you’re not going to get the innings,” Lowe said. “You’re in the game in the seventh or eighth inning against guys who aren’t going to make the team.”
But the opportunities have been few and far between.
“I take full responsibility for the two bad months I had last season,” said Lowe. “I can’t run away from that. I was able to go back home, work those things out, and got back with the Yankees. I’ve had an entire offseason now to do my normal workouts with Chris [Correnti]. I’ll just keep working and throwing and be ready if something happens.”
Last season, Lowe was 8-10 with a 5.52 ERA over 21 starts with the Indians and 1-1 with a 3.04 ERA in 17 appearances for the Yankees.
Apropos of nothing
1. John Lackey told the Globe’s Peter Abraham that he felt he was misled about the severity of his elbow issues by the Red Sox medical staff. The team disputes that. According to a major league source, Theo Epstein encouraged Lackey to have surgery in 2011 because he felt Lackey’s subpar performance was directly related to his elbow issues. Lackey kept pitching and finally had the surgery done last year, after his worst season.
2. Will Orioles ownership regret not allowing Dan Duquette to spend some money on a big hitter and a front-line starting pitcher after a 93-win season? Wasn’t this the time to do just that, and take advantage of the upswing? The Orioles certainly remain a top contender in the AL East, and they do have Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman coming fast in the minors, but they could have used one or two more top players to really put themselves in a position of strength.
3. Tough break for the Cardinals’ Chris Carpenter, having to miss the entire 2013 season and facing the likelihood that his career may be coming to an end. The Manchester, N.H., native is a class act and was one of the best postseason pitchers you’ll ever see.
4. A lot of players go to Oakland and have good years. Former Red Sox infielder Jed Lowrie will now get that chance as the A’s starting third baseman, trying to prove he can stay healthy for more than 97 games (his career high).
5. The Red Sox need another outfielder for depth beyond Ryan Sweeney and Daniel Nava.
6. Harold Reynolds made a good point on MLB Network when he said baseball might want to eliminate all of the personal trainers players have outside of the team. That way, the PED situation might be considerably lessened.
7. The Blue Jays and Tigers are good teams that may have left themselves a little bit short at the end of the game. Bruce Rondon may wind up being a terrific closer for the Tigers, but who knows? Casey Janssen had a strong 2012 for Toronto with a 0.864 WHIP and 22 saves, but as a lunch-pail reliever, can he handle what may be the most important position in baseball: closer on a team with some of the best talent in baseball? The Angels found out two seasons ago that without a strong finisher, the strength of the talent may not be enough.
8. While season-ticket renewals lag 10 percent behind last year, the Red Sox are enjoying a boost of 8 percent in spring training ticket sales. Chief operating officer Sam Kennedy feels all the games at JetBlue Park will be sold out.
Updates on 9
1. Javier Vazquez, RHP, free agent — The Nationals and others continue to monitor Vazquez, who is recovering from minor knee surgery. Washington’s interest may be piqued by revelations of Gio Gonzalez’s links to the Miami anti-aging clinic and PEDs. The Nationals believe Ross Detwiler could emerge as a successful lefty after going 10-8 with a 3.40 ERA last year in 33 games (27 starts). But Vazquez would give them depth.
2. Grady Sizemore, OF, free agent — There was thought that a team would sign Sizemore and then wait until he recovers from his latest knee surgery (which was performed in September), but so far, they are staying away from this very talented (but damaged) player. “It’s hard to take the risk, even if it’s minimal,” said one executive whose team needs outfield help. “At this point, I think you wait until he feels he’s ready and then you look. If someone beats you to it, so be it.”
3. Bud Norris, RHP, Astros — One of the last remaining assets on the Astros, Norris should become one of the most sought-after pitchers before the season or at the trading deadline. The Astros haven’t said they’d deal him, but neither did they shop Lowrie before the A’s swept in. The Astros probably could get a good haul for Norris. The Cardinals and Orioles are two to watch in this derby.
4. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Red Sox — He is intriguing to a lot of scouts, but no team has offered the Red Sox enough to make a deal happen, and it doesn’t appear that Salty will go anywhere. “You have to understand,” said a longtime scout who now advises an NL East team, “he was in the big leagues early, and catching takes a while. He’s heading into his prime now. He needs better plate discipline and is susceptible to the pitch high and away, but you can’t deny his power, and he calls a decent game.”
5. Brett Lawrie, 3B, Blue Jays — Third base coach Luis Rivera is excited about the left side of the Toronto infield with Lawrie at third and Jose Reyes at shortstop. “Lawrie has some of the best range for a third baseman in all of baseball,” Rivera said. “Both left and right. And with Reyes, we’re going to be able to do some things defensively that are really exciting.” The Jays might be able to cheat Reyes more toward second because of Lawrie’s range, which would take some heat off Emilio Bonifacio at second.
6. Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros — He doesn’t have great defensive skills, but his .290 average and 33 steals are desirable. Altuve is only 22, and the Astros don’t have what they consider someone who could replace him — but it appears Houston is in listen mode on just about anyone.
7. Kelly Shoppach, C, Mariners — He played well defensively for Boston last season and hit much better than expected, but some Red Sox personnel didn’t care for his clubhouse politics. The Mariners needed a solid defensive backup, with Jesus Montero as their primary catcher. It’ll be interesting to see how Eric Wedge manages Shoppach’s complaining.
8. Chone Figgins, utility, Marlins — Miami is the Last Chance Saloon for Figgins, who was a bust in Seattle and released with one year left on his contract. With the pressure off, one AL talent evaluator feels, Figgins could be better. “He just seemed to lose it so fast and furious,” said the source. “It isn’t the first time we’ve seen players go to Seattle and bust. Adrian Beltre wasn’t exactly great there. [Figgins’s] bat speed really slowed up, but he can still do some things. In that Miami environment, with no expectations, not a bad gamble.”
9. Yunel Escobar, SS, Rays — One scout who looks at under-the-radar moves closely thinks one of the best ones was Tampa obtaining Escobar, who was traded twice this winter (once in the blockbuster Jays-Marlins deal and then by the Marlins to the Rays). “The Rays haven’t had a legitimate shortstop for a while, and he can play the position,” said the scout. “The Rays have done a good job turning guys who have had issues into productive, happy players. And this could be one of them.”
From the Bill Chuck files: “Jon Lester’s fastball has barely decreased, from 93.5 m.p.h. in 2009 to 92 in 2012. But what should be of real concern is that in 2009, batters hit .266 off Lester’s fastball and in 2012, they hit .303.” Also, “Last season, the Rays had the highest batting average with the bases loaded, .376, followed by the Red Sox at .343. Incredibly, the Astros hit .130 (15 for 115).” . . . Happy birthday, Lenny Webster (48).Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.