Will advanced testing change baseball?
There has been a pause, a reflection by some owners and baseball executives about committing to long-term deals until they know how the improved PED testing will affect players and the game in general.
MLB and the players agreed to year-round HGH blood testing and enhanced baseline testosterone testing that they feel will finally remove this feeling of invincibility some players have had about not getting caught.
The growing feeling is that players who were getting away with HGH use and testosterone use will now think twice. And that this will likely result in lower power numbers from smaller, thinner bodies.
Some are expecting dramatic changes.
“We’re all anxious to see what the result of the testing will be, but we’re anticipating that it will have a significant effect on the numbers, which will impact the game in general,” said an American League owner. “I think a few owners feel the way we do, that we’re going to see noticeable physical changes in players and their stamina in getting through a 162-game schedule.”
This plays into long-term deals, because players who are forced to stop using something may experience severe dropoffs.
The 2013 poster child for this is Toronto left fielder Melky Cabrera.
Cabrera was caught using testosterone last season at the worst time — in the midst of the Giants’ run to a World Series title. Cabrera undoubtedly lost millions because of the positive test and suspension, though he managed to get a two-year, $16 million deal from the Jays, who felt they received a good player at a bargain rate.
Presuming Cabrera is clean, we will see whether he comes close to the numbers he put up the last two seasons.
Cabrera saw a spike in his numbers with the Royals in 2011 — .305, 18 HRs, 87 RBIs, 20 steals, .809 OPS — and again in 2012, when he was leading the National League in batting at .346 (in 113 games) before being suspended.
Even when Cabrera was eligible to return from his 50-game suspension, the Giants did not activate him. They had had their fill of the steroid era with Barry Bonds and all that went with his pursuit of the home run records, and general manager Brian Sabean decided to make a statement that PED use wasn’t going to be tolerated.
In the end, it worked, as the Giants jelled as a team without Cabrera and won the World Series.
To be sure, there were some long-term deals this offseason. The Dodgers spent big on Zack Greinke (six years, $147 million), the Angels on Josh Hamilton (five years, $123 million), the Tigers on Anibal Sanchez (five years at $80 million), and the Braves on B.J. Upton (five years, $75.5 million).
But most deals were within the confines of three or four years. And except for Hamilton, who has had problems with addiction, those huge contracts were considered “safe” signings.
Hamilton is an elite player that most teams, including the Red Sox, stayed away from. The Sox had long discussions internally about him, and they could have used him more than anyone in the middle of their batting order. And they had $260 million saved from the Dodgers deal last summer to pay him.
Hamilton will be paid well by the Angels, but under normal circumstances, he probably would have received six or seven years, even at age 31.
“There’s no question teams were trying to stay away from long-term commitments,” said another AL owner. “The Yankees and Red Sox didn’t dive into the long-term market where they had been the prime movers over the years. That tells you something.”
Obviously, the Dodgers are removed from this equation. They have new ownership trying to make a splash, and they have thrown caution to the wind.
“If you’re an owner, it’s just very difficult to navigate through the landscape,” said a National League executive. “When the steroid testing was first put in place, owners were convinced the problem was taken care of. And while it was, to a large degree, there were still players using.
“I think this time, owners, players, and the Players Association really believe that, finally, players won’t think they can get away with it.
“But now they want to see what happens to performance. We’re all interested in that.”
Apropos of something
The excuses Carl Crawford seems to offer anyone who will listen leads one to believe that the Red Sox missed badly by signing him to a seven-year deal. No wonder they have become gun-shy about signing free agents to long-term deals.
While those in the Rays organization constantly talked about Crawford being a creature of habit — and that he enjoyed the lack of attention in Tampa Bay — the Red Sox apparently didn’t get that memo. They went full steam ahead, overpaying him by millions even with nobody else really in the hunt.
Crawford’s latest rant to CBS Sports.com’s Danny Knobler is that the Boston media contributed to his poor performance. What a cop-out. The media were very understanding of Crawford’s plight and could have buried him.
One thing there was to like about Crawford was that at least he blamed himself and his injuries for his undoing. Now he’s blaming outside things that had no bearing on his performance whatsoever.
So now, we wonder, how will he hold up in Los Angeles?
It is a different animal than Boston, but there are similarities. For one, expectations are very high for the Dodgers. And Crawford is already complaining about more elbow pain.
Also, Los Angeles is a larger media market than Boston. There are reporters in LA, too, Carl, who will be expecting top performance for $20 million a year.
“Seems like he’s frustrated with what he’s going through,” said a National League general manager. “If the Red Sox blew it on Crawford, then Crawford blew it on the Red Sox.
“Let’s face it, he chased the money. That’s why he signed there. The Red Sox paid way more than anyone else would.”
That is a great point. For all of his complaining, Crawford admittedly didn’t do a lot of research on Boston.
At the time of the signing, he mentioned how he enjoyed coming to Boston as a visiting player and that he had his favorite restaurants and haunts in town.
But did he ever think about what it would be like playing here every day? You mean, he didn’t ask anyone about that?
Maybe he did and he simply ignored it. After all, who could walk away from a seven-year, $142 million contract?
The happy ending for the Red Sox is that they cut their losses awfully quick and saddled the Dodgers with this burden. Now Crawford has to produce in Los Angeles. And if he doesn’t, let’s see whom he blames next.
Apropos of nothing
1. Since we last wrote about the Yankees, they have come undone. Mariano Rivera will retire after the season. Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira are injured, and the Yankees won’t have both back until late May. GM Brian Cashman broke an ankle skydiving. Is the sky falling? Well, it all depends on what Cashman can do for a temporary fix. The options are anything and everything — from Scott Rolen (with Kevin Youkilis moving to first), to Padres third baseman Chase Headley (whom they have inquired about), to Oakland first baseman Daric Barton, to Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano, etc. The problem with major solutions such as Headley and Soriano is, what happens when the starters come back? This certainly helps the Red Sox early in the season.
2. Anyone worried about Joel Hanrahan’s poor spring so far?
3. One reason I like spring training in Florida rather than Arizona: Brewers GM Doug Melvin was stung by an Arizona bark scorpion when he tried to crush it in a Kleenex and spent three hours at a Scottsdale emergency room. The stinger pierced the middle finger of his left hand, and he experienced swelling and numbness up his arm. As it turns out, the bark scorpion is the most venomous scorpion in North America.
4. Have to admit, no matter what happens with Team Italy, it has been fun to watch in the World Baseball Classic. Manager Marco Mazzieri is a pretty cool guy.
5. It has been interesting to follow David Ortiz when he discusses his Achilles’ tendon injury. One day he says he could be ready by Opening Day. The next, he doesn’t know. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
6. Nick and Colin Barnicle (Prospect Productions) have produced another fascinating 30-minute documentary for ESPN called “Holy Grail: The T206 Honus Wagner.” It’s a look at the famous baseball card, worth upward of $3 million, and how it may have been doctored.
7. Just sayin’: The Red Sox should honor Sam Mele, 91, a Quincy resident who spent 38 years of his career with the team as a player and scout; he was once one of Boston’s top talent evaluators. Mele also was the 1965 AL Manager of the Year, leading the Twins to a pennant. He watches every Red Sox game even though his eyesight is failing.
Updates on 9
1. Aaron Hicks, CF, Twins — For as much excitement as Jackie Bradley Jr. is creating in Red Sox camp, Hicks seems to be ready to take the Twins’ center-field job. He hit five homers over a three-game span last week (one off Cliff Lee) and was batting .407 after Thursday’s games. Hicks, the Twins’ first-round pick in 2008, is 23, and — like John Farrell with Bradley — Twins manager Ron Gardenhire finds it hard to contain his excitement. “He’s doing great. He’s getting good hits,” Gardenhire said. “I just like him up there. He’s a prototype [leadoff hitter], a switch hitter, not afraid to take pitches, not afraid to take walks. Whether he can handle the leadoff role, I haven’t decided that. First he’s got to make this baseball team — and he’s working his way right towards it.”
2. Jose Iglesias, SS, Red Sox — If he continues to hit in spring training, would the Red Sox be open to dealing Stephen Drew? The Cardinals pursued Drew this offseason but lost out to the Red Sox. With Rafael Furcal injured, St. Louis is looking for help. Could Iglesias also be in the mix? Because Drew was signed as a free agent, he can’t be traded until June 15 without his approval.
3. Jim Hickey, pitching coach, Tampa Bay — The Rays aren’t known for paying much to their players or coaches. With Hickey’s deal up after this season, would he leave as a free agent? Hickey is one of the most respected pitching coaches in the game, but has certainly not been paid up to his credentials. The Rangers’ Mike Maddux, for instance, earns an $800,000 salary. As Hickey’s reputation grows, so should his paycheck, but if he loves coaching in Tampa Bay, he may have to sacrifice salary for comfort.
4. Nolan Ryan, CEO, Rangers — Interesting events transpiring in Texas that could lead to Ryan leaving the organization. Ryan had the title of “president” taken from him and given to Jon Daniels, who was made “president of baseball operations.” That would indicate that Daniels doesn’t have to go through Ryan to make baseball decisions. There has always been that old-school-vs.-new-school thing between Ryan and Daniels, and it appears that “new school” has won. But Ryan is an icon, and if he should leave over this, it would be a major deal in Texas, where most people would side with him. Daniels has done a great job with personnel, though he has been criticized for not obtaining a major pitcher or hitter after losing Josh Hamilton. Daniels has stated publicly that nothing has changed in the daily operation, but clearly roles have been defined and it doesn’t bode well for Ryan. There is always a Houston rumor associated with Ryan, but that seems to make even less sense, given the direction of Astros management toward statistic-driven decisions.
5. Khris Davis, OF, Brewers — He has hit tape-measure homers in camp — four of them. But he’s a left fielder, and that position is manned by Ryan Braun. The Brewers need a first baseman (it appears old friend Alex Gonzalez will play there until Corey Hart is ready), but when the organization tried to convert Davis in instructional league two years ago, it didn’t work. It appears that Davis is a DH, which means he’s in the wrong league.
6. Kyle Lohse, RHP, free agent — There have been 800 or so reasons why teams say they are not interested in Lohse, who won 16 games last season for the Cardinals. Not sure I’m buying any of them. Someone will be very happy to sign him to a one-year, $10 million contract. It should be a National League team. It should be the Brewers.
7. Ted Lilly, LHP, Dodgers — Growing interest in the lefty, who missed most of last season after May, as he makes his way back from shoulder surgery. There seems to be more interest in the 37-year-old Lilly than in Aaron Harang or Chris Capuano, two extra Dodgers starters who also could be dealt. The Dodgers are holding on to all of them until they are assured that Chad Billingsley is 100 percent ready after undergoing treatments to his elbow this offseason that enabled him to bypass Tommy John surgery.
8. Yasiel Puig, OF, Dodgers — The Cuban defector stands 6 feet 3 inches and 245 pounds, and is built like a linebacker. And he has been very impressive in camp. The feeling is if Carl Crawford can’t start the year, the 22-year-old Puig could sneak into left field. The Dodgers also have Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston Jr., but manager Don Mattingly has been impressed with Puig, even though he refers to him as “raw.”
9. John Mayberry, OF, Phillies — A National League scout suggested that Mayberry might be a good fit for the Yankees at first base, with a switch to the outfield after Mark Teixeira returns. Mayberry is a former first baseman converted to the outfield, though he was used there last season when Ryan Howard was on the shelf. Interesting thought.
From the Bill Chuck files: “Nobody has produced more outs the last two seasons than Ian Kinsler with 993, to go with his .256 batting average. Starlin Castro had 987, but he hit .295.” Also, “John Mayberry was the only Phil with over 100 strikeouts last season. The Orioles had seven 100-whiffers, the most in baseball history.” . . . Happy birthday, Aaron Bates (29) and Mike Timlin (47).