Tagged: Alex Rodriguez

The Glove

Ozzie Smith was a wizard with the glove, he could do everything on the field defensively. The same could be said for Omar Vizquel. If it was possible defensively, one or both of these men could do it on a baseball diamond. The impossible dive, catch, or throw; they could do it all. Andrelton Simmons seems to have taken up their torch. Simmons is only in his sixth season, yet he is already drawing comparisons to these legendary players.

Omar Vizquel played for six teams during his 24 year career, all in the American League except a four year stint with the Giants. A magician with the glove, Vizquel ranks first in career games played at shortstop, fourth in career dWAR, appeared in three All Star games, and won 11 Gold Gloves. Beginning in 1993, Vizquel won the American League Gold Glove for shortstop every year until 2001. His defensive dominance continued late into his career, as he won his 11th and final Gold Glove as a 39 year old shortstop for the Giants in 2006.

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Ozzie Smith was fearless with a glove in his hand. (www.si.com)

Ozzie Smith played for the Padres and the Cardinals during his 19 year career. The Wizard ranks fourth in career games at shortstop, first in career dWAR, appeared in 15 All Star games, and won consecutive 13 Gold Gloves. He is the only player to win a National League Gold Glove at shortstop in the 1980s, winning every year from 1980 until 1992.

Vizquel and Smith were the premier defensive shortstops from 1989 to 1996; collectively winning eight of the 16 Gold Gloves awarded by Major League Baseball. Two men, two leagues, winning half of all Gold Gloves.

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Omar Vizquel could do it all with the glove.  (www.mlb.com/indians)

The absurd defensive capabilities of both Vizquel and Smith did not translate into hitting prowess. They each hit .300 or better only once in their careers. Vizquel and Smith were the traditional light hitting shortstop that rarely exists in baseball today. Every player is expected to help the team offensively, even defensive legends. The offensive ability of Andrelton Simmons could be what separates him from the two legends he resembles defensively.

Watching Simmons play shortstop is like watching an unscripted ballet. Every night he does something amazing. A throw that catches a sleeping runner. A dive to stop a ball getting to the outfield, thus stopping a runner from grabbing another bag. A catch that normally would fall in for a base hit. Every batter knows they have to hustle on any ball in the infield because Simmons can appear out of nowhere to field the ball and unleash his cannon arm to take another hit away. If Omar Vizquel was a magician and Ozzie Smith was the Wizard, let’s call Andrelton Simmons a sorcerer.

Simmons
Andrelton Simmons will leave you speechless with his glove every night, and could become the greatest shortstop ever. (AP/ Mark J. Terrill)

Simmons is only 27 years old, his peak years should be ahead of him. This season he is breaking out offensively, as he is on pace to set career highs in Plate Appearances, Home Runs, Batting Average, On-Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, On-Base Plus Slugging, Total Bases, Defensive Innings and Errors. (Defensive errors can be a sign of greater range or instincts, thus reaching more balls and creating more chances to make a play. The more chances the more opportunity for mistakes. More aggressive defense does have ceiling however.) He has already set career highs in Hits, Doubles, Walks, RBI, Stolen Bases, and Sacrifice Flies, and we have a few more weeks left in the season.

No one is under any illusion that Simmons is the next slugging shortstop, like Alex Rodriguez or Cal Ripken Jr. He is rather a once in a generation defensive player. If he continues to improve offensively, while retaining his defensive skills, he should enjoy a long career. He has the skills with the glove to become the greatest shortstop to ever field the position. Improving his ability with the bat could put Andrelton Simmons in the conversation for the greatest shortstop ever.

DJ

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The First Player Taken

The First Year Player Draft, better known today as the Major League Baseball Draft is upon us once again. Every team is searching for the next great player and every player believes they can become that player. Unlike the other major North American sports, especially basketball and football, the players drafted this week will not have an immediate impact on their new team. Instead the best players will spend several years in the minor leagues before they reach the Majors.

The path to the Majors has not always started with the draft. Before 1965, every team was able to sign any amateur player they wished. This allowed teams like the Yankees in the lead up to their run in the 1950’s to sign the best players through better scouting, and in some cases simply offering more money to a player than another team could offer. This not only stockpiled the Yankees farm system, but kept these players away from other teams.

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Rick Monday, the first player every selected in the MLB Draft. (www.asuwebdevilarchive.edu)

Major League Baseball created the First Year Player Draft in 1965 to create a more level playing field. Since then, the draft has gone through several changes through the years to its current configuration. However, the story behind these changes and tweaks are for another post on another day.

The draft is an inexact science which makes drafting well seem like winning the lottery. Ken Griffey Jr. was the first overall pick in the 1987 Draft and, to date, he is the only first overall pick to gain election to Cooperstown. Griffey should be joined shortly by Chipper Jones and potentially Alex Rodriguez; although I am not sure the voters are ready to welcome Rodriguez with open arms. It took 23 drafts before any team with the top pick was able to land a super star that was worthy of enshrinement in Cooperstown. If drafting was so easy, every team with the top overall selection would always turn out to be the next Bryce Harper, Adrian Gonzalez, or David Price instead of Steve Chilcott, Brien Taylor, or Matt Bush. Predicting the future is never easy.

Brien Taylor
Brien Taylor never played higher than AA due to a shoulder injury that derailed his career. (Star-Ledger)

The Kansas City Athletics held the top overall selection for the 1965 Draft after finishing the 1964 season with a record of 57-105. Kansas City selected Center Fielder Rick Monday out of Arizona State. Monday was selected ahead of Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Nolan Ryan, and Tom Seaver. Although he is not enshrined in Cooperstown, Rick Monday did enjoy a solid career. He played 19 seasons with the Kansas City/Oakland Athletics, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Chicago Cubs. Offensively, Monday was a solid player, posting a career line of:

G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
1986
7162
6136
950
1619
248
64
241
775
98
924
1513
.264
.361
.443

Defensively Monday played primarily Center and Right Field, and sparingly in Left Field and at First Base. Again, Monday was a solid player in the field throughout his career, with a defensive career line of:

G Inn Ch PO A E DP Fld%
1742 14267.1 4177 3978 118 81 45 .981

However, Rick Monday did not have the Hall of Fame caliber career the Athletics were hopeful for when they drafted him. Fortunately, Kansas City did not strikeout with their first selection. Monday received two votes (0.5%) in his first year of eligibility for the Hall of Fame and then was removed from the ballot. Plenty of players have long careers, yet never receive any votes for enshrinement in Cooperstown. A single or double is always better than an out.

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Chipper Jones is one of the greatest switch hitters of all time, and he will soon join Ken Griffey Jr. in Cooperstown. (Curtis Compton/AJC.com)

The most memorable moment of Rick Monday’s career occurred on April 25, 1976. The play had nothing to do with baseball, yet is remembered as perhaps the greatest play in baseball history. Monday and the Cubs were playing the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Two fans jumped on the field in the middle of an at bat, ran into left Center Field and knelt down beside an American flag they had brought with them. The flag was doused in lighter fluid and the two people were attempting to set the flag on fire. Monday ran from his position in Center Field and snagged the flag away from the fans turned protestors and continued to run with the flag until he reached Dodger pitcher Doug Rau. Monday gave Rau the flag for safe keeping. The protesters, who turned out to be a father and his 11 year old son, were arrested, the father was charged with trespassing, placed on probation, and fined. The exact reason for the attempted flag burning remains unknown, though many theories exist. When Monday came to the plate for his next at bat he received a standing ovation from the Dodger crowd and the message board inside the stadium flashed, “Rick Monday…You Made A Great Play.” Many would argue the greatest in baseball history.

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Rick Monday’s dash prevented the American flag from being burned on the field at Dodger Stadium. (James Roark)

Rick Monday was the first baseball player ever drafted. Thousands of hopeful amateur players have followed in his footsteps. Every player who has followed Monday has sought to fulfill their potential on the diamond and reach to pinnacle of the sport. Only a select few have made it to the top, and only a select few of those select few have impacted the game in such a way that they are enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Kansas City Athletics did not swing and miss with Rick Monday. The ability to project a player’s development several years down the road is no easy task. Players fail to reach the Major Leagues due to injuries, lacking the ability to continue to develop like a team projected, personal issues, and a million other reasons. Surviving the minor leagues and reaching the top of the sport is no easy task.

Monday had a long and productive Major League career. He was not the best player to come out of the inaugural Major League Baseball Draft, but he also was not a disappointment. The most memorable moment of his career occurred on the baseball field, but had nothing to do with baseball. Whether it was due to his time with the Marines, his sense of national pride, or simply doing what was right, Monday left an indelible memory in his dash to prevent the burning of an American flag. When asked about his dash for the flag and it being what he is remembered for Monday responded, “If I am remembered only as a guy that stood in the way of two guys trying to desecrate an American flag at a Major League Baseball game, and protect the rights and freedoms that flag represents for all of us, that’s not a bad thing to be remembered for.” I could not agree more.

DJ

The Glorious Future

So much time and energy is spent talking about the mistakes teams make when drafting with the first overall pick in sports. The players who never turn into the superstars that many envisioned. The bulk of the time is spent in commiserating about such mistakes because it is rare for teams to use the top pick to select the best player in the draft when all is said and done. The Seattle Mariners with Ken Griffey Jr. and Atlanta Braves with Chipper Jones built a franchise around their top picks. The Houston Astros are doing the same with multiple top picks. The Washington Nationals had the first overall pick twice and have been successful both times with drafting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. No team will feel sorry for the Nationals’ success. However Washington is quickly approaching the difficult part of drafting well, paying to retain the talent.

Bryce Harper has found a spot few athletes find, people either love him or hate him. There are few people who feel ambivalent about him. Harper’s intensity on the field, chasing every ball hit to him in the outfield, crashing into walls, diving to make a catch, crushing home runs is the textbook definition of playing the game hard and, for many, the right way. That intensity seems to laugh at the notion of getting injured, Harper just wants to win and will do anything to help his team do it. What fan or team would not want a player who brings this sort of intensity to the game, along with elite skills? However, despite his great play on the field, plenty of people do not love Harper. He rubs people the wrong way. Harper brings his own flair to the game and the national media loves him. He has not been bashful in talking about the need for baseball to reenergize, nor is he afraid to tell reporters that their question is “a clown question bro.” The most recent incident was his ejection for arguing balls and strikes from the dugout. He then ran back on the field to celebrate a Nationals walk off victory. Simply coming back onto the field after his ejection was a violation of the rules, which got him a one game suspension and a fine. Yet Harper went even further by getting the umpire’s attention by yelling, “HEY, DUCK YOU!” (edited for the family audience). Every player, coach, announcer, umpire, and fan knows you cannot argue balls and strikes. Regardless whether the umpire was right or wrong, Harper knew arguing would get him ejected. Plenty of players and coaches are ejected for arguing, but once the argument is over, it is over. There is no reason to continue the argument. The umpire was not even paying attention to Harper when he ran back out on to the field, rather it was Harper who got the attention of the umpire to continue the argument. There is plenty to love and hate about Bryce Harper.

Stephen Strasburg
The Nationals paid Stephen Strasburg, which sets the table for Washington to pay Bryce Harper. (www.washingtonpost.com)

Clearly the Nationals and Washington fans love Bryce Harper. The franchise wants to keep him in Washington for as long as they can. Harper does not reach free agency until 2019. This gives the Nationals a little time to figure out how they will retain his services for what will be a mammoth contract. Harper’s current contract runs through 2017, and is for two years, $7.5 million; clearly a bargain for his skills. Entering the 2016 season Bryce Harper is 23 years old, yet this is his 5th season in the Majors. In his first four seasons, Harper has been impressive. Offensively his stats look like this:

G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
510
2143
1830
328
528
98
15
97
248
37
279
449
.289
.384
.517
.902

Defensively, Harper has a career .976 Fielding %, with 39 Assists, and 24 Errors in 1,039 chances. He is not a one trick pony, he is an all-around great player.

His skills on the diamond and the stats he has amassed during his young career have garnered Bryce Harper plenty of accolades. He is a three time All-Star (2012, 2013, 2015), the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year, the 2015 National League Hank Aaron Award winner, he won a Silver Slugger in 2015, and was voted the 2015 National League MVP. Not bad for the first four years of a career, regardless of age.

Bryce Harper Blood
Bryce Harper’s desire to win can lead to him injuring himself, but even then Harper will not let up his intensity on the field. (www.nydailynews.com)

The sky seems to be the limit for Bryce Harper on the diamond. His name is already being compared to some of the greatest players who have ever played the game: Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, among others. A player like Harper does not come around often, but the Washington Nationals now have the daunting task of outbidding the rest of Major League Baseball to retain his services. The Nationals put major money down on Stephen Strasburg with his seven year, $175 million contract, the highest ever for a pitcher who has undergone Tommy John surgery. Scott Boras, agent for both Strasburg and Harper, does not give discounts and will potentially use the Strasburg negotiations as a warm up for the Harper negotiations.

Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals have roughly six options as Harper approaches and reaches free agency in 2019. Two of these possible options can be tossed out without much discussion: the Nationals allowing allow Harper to simply walk away as a free agent or signing Harper to a two or three year contract. Allowing Harper to walk away without getting anything in return will not happen for obvious reasons, he is the most valuable commodity in baseball, the Front Office’s’ job is to get a return on its investment. Second, the Nationals will also not sign Harper to a short term deal, because they do not want to simply kick the can down the road a few years into Harper’s prime, ultimately costing themselves even more money. The third option is to trade Harper. This is unlikely but injuries, internal issues between Harper and the organization, and/or a decline in production could see Harper traded away for multiple players in return. The Nationals could also trade Harper if they realize they will not be able to re-sign him. If the latter happens, Washington can almost name its price for Harper.

Mike Trout Smile
Mike Trout is poised to become a free agent in his prime, that contract could make anyone smile. (www.usatoday.com)

The final three options are the most likely. Bryce Harper could sign a contract similar to Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, or Alex Rodriguez. The Angels signed Mike Trout to a six year, $144.5 million contract; averaging $24 million per season. Trout will be 28 years old when the contract ends, meaning he will hit free agency in his prime. This medium length contract gives Trout the assurance that he is not stuck with the Angels if they continue to not progress towards winning a World Series. It also gives Trout another opportunity to sign a huge contract as the value of contracts continue to grow, hard to blame a player for making as much money as they can during their playing career.

The second type of contract Harper could sign would be similar to Giancarlo Stanton’s contract with the Marlins. Stanton signed for 13 years and $325 million. However, Stanton has a player opt out clause after year six (2020) that could make him a free agent entering his age 31 season. This style of contract gives Stanton, or Harper, the security of a long term contract regardless of production or injury, yet also allows them to reenter the free agent market should they believe their skills are or soon will be under paid. This also keeps teams accountable to continue building a contender, one that is competing for a World Series. The Marlins are not known for building and maintaining a winning team, if Miami goes through yet another fire sale and only Stanton is left he has the ability get out of town instead of spending his best years on a team perpetually rebuilding.

Giancarlo Stanton
Giamcarlo Stanton gives the Marlins a foundation to build around, but he can leave Miami if  the team is not winning. (www.bleacherreport.com)

The final option for the Nationals is to sign Harper to a contract similar to the contract Alex Rodriguez signed with both the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees; specifically Rodriguez’s contract for 10 years, $252.87 million with the Yankees. The contract was for the peak of Rodriguez’s career and guaranteed him a long career regardless of injury, lack of production, or in Rodriguez’s case PED suspension. The Yankees were never going to tear the team down and rebuild, it is not how they do baseball in the Bronx, instead they went after big free agents. However nearly every other team does or will rebuild at some point, signing a long contract can tie a player to a team for the peak years of their careers will no options for getting away from a team going nowhere.

Currently the best contract for Bryce Harper to sign would be one similar to Giancarlo Stanton. It protects Harper should he injure himself, such as Alex Rodriguez and his hips, or his production flames out for some non-injury reason. The contract would also enable Harper to pressure the Nationals to build and maintain a World Series contending team. No player, especially one as fiery as Harper wants to spend their career continually coming into Spring Training knowing that their team has no chance to make the playoffs, much less win a World Series. Ensuring there is an opt out clause in the contract would mean hitting free agency in his prime, and netting Harper yet another monster contract; if he so chooses.  

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Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees have seen the good times and bad together. (www.newyork.cbslocal.com)

We can only speculate what the money will be for Harper and who will be paying him. The Strasburg contract signals to Harper that Washington is serious about winning and retaining homegrown talent. While the Nationals probably overpaid for Strasburg, primarily due to injury concerns, it shows the team is willing to pay for what it wants. The Nationals’ current front office is not the Yankees of George Steinbrenner or the Dodgers of a few years ago, they do not have an endless supply of money. Paying Harper will require the team to reallocate money from expiring contracts to pay Harper what will most likely be the largest contract in history both in terms of pay per season and overall. Harper signing a Giancarlo Stanton-like contract in 2019, or slightly before, will raise the bar for the second contract that he could sign if he opts out in his prime. It’s hard to conceive a situation where he doesn’t. If Harper were to sign a 10 year, $400 million contract in 2019 when he is 26 years old and then opt out after five or six seasons, he would return to the free agent market at 31 or 32 years old. This dramatically increases the importance of the first contract Harper signs because it will set the table for the second. There would be teams willing to give a 31 year old a long-term deal. Josh Hamilton, with all his personal struggles got five years, $114 million at 32 years old. Albert Pujols got 10 years, $240 million at 32 years old. Robinson Cano also got 10 years, $240 million at 31 years old. Harper should easily be able to sign a new contract for another 10 years and $400 million, if not more money. While Hamilton, Pujols, and Cano all signed with American League teams, thus enabling them to DH later in their careers, Harper could choose to remain in the National League and not use the DH like Barry Bonds, minus the PEDs. The competitor in Harper would most likely want to see if he could beat the legends of the game like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams using the same rules they played under; not padding his stats as a DH late in his career.

Assuming Harper wants to stay in Washington, how would the Nationals afford to pay Harper the largest contract in baseball history? The money would come from three current Nationals players who will reach free agency before Harper: Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy, and Gio Gonzalez. Jayson Werth’s seven year, $126 million contract with the Nationals ends after 2017. Werth will be paid $21 million per year in the final three seasons of the deal. He will be a free agent entering his age 39 season, doubtful Werth will see another large contract. Daniel Murphy will reach free agency at the end of the 2018 season. There is usually not a ton of demand for a 34 year old second basemen, especially one making $17.5 million in the final year of his contract. The Nationals should be able to develop a respectable outfielder and second basemen between now and 2019. Gio Gonzalez will enter free agency after the 2018 season, when he is 32 years old. Gonzalez could be the price Washington has to pay to re-sign Harper. He is an excellent pitcher, but a player like Harper is a rarity and a team ought to do everything it can to retain such a special player. $12 million a year will be a discount for a pitcher like Gonzalez, who can get more as a free agent assuming he is healthy.

Bryce Harper Catch
Bryce Harper will run through a wall if it means helping his team win. (www.si.com)

The Nationals can lay the foundation for a deal with Harper by simply shifting the $21 million from Werth, $17.5 million from Murphy, and $12 million from Gonzalez to pay Harper. Letting two aging players go in Werth and Murphy would free up $38.5 million a season. The increasing salaries could make the $38.5 million a season within a reasonable jump in pay for an elite player. The Scott Boras factor could require a little more money, thus forcing the Nationals to choose between Harper and Gio Gonzalez, which should not be difficult. $50.5 million per season should be plenty for Washington to retain Bryce Harper, if Harper wants to remain with the Nationals.

$40 million per season ought to entice Harper, and any other baseball player, to remain in Washington. The Nationals would give up three players for one, which would be the smart move for the franchise. The Nationals will also be paying Harper somewhere between $5 and $10 million in his final season before free agency. Washington should be able to develop at least one of the three pieces it will lose to sign Harper. A young outfielder or a young starting pitcher or second baseman should develop in their farm system. The homegrown player should cost no more than $3 million per season, and even this is at the extreme. This would leave between $14 and $19 million for the Nationals to go out and sign a free agent starting pitcher and position player, both of which are possible.

The money will follow Harper wherever he chooses to continue his career once he reaches free agency. Despite all the things so many people hate about Harper, the Nationals love him and want to keep him in Washington at least through the peak of his career. Few players are compared to Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., and a slew of other Hall of Fame players at any point in their careers. Harper is 23 years old and is entering his fifth season in the Majors. He is truly a special player, one that the Nationals should do everything within their power to re-sign as he approaches free agency.

DJ

Jenrry Mejia’s Exit

Three strikes and you are out is baseball 101. Apparently, Jenrry Mejia only understands this when he is on the mound. Mejia is the first player permanently banned due to failed PED testing. He has now failed three different PED tests since April 2015. Three failed tests in ten months is a quick way to find yourself out of baseball. Everyone makes mistakes, but Mejia seems to be unable to understand his mistakes and correct them.

Jenrry Mejia floated between the minor leagues and the Mets between 2010 and 2013. He appeared in 43 Major league games between 2010 and 2013. In 2014, he finally established himself as a legitimate closer, finishing 49 games with 28 saves for the Mets. Mejia had 98 SO and 41 BB in 93.2 innings in 2014. The Mets looked to have found their closer of the future. Then the 2015 season arrived and just as quickly as Mejia’s star rose in 2014, it fell.

Jenrry Mejia.jpg
Jenrry Mejia could have been the Mets closer of the future, but now it is all gone. (Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

On April 11, MLB announced Mejia had tested positive for stanozolol and was suspended for 80 games. Stanozolol is a synthetic steroid, made famous by Canadian Sprinter Ben Johnson who tested positive for stanozolol at the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics and subsequently stripped of his Gold Medal. Mejia served his 80 games and returned to the Mets on July 12. He pitched in seven games before MLB announced on July 28 that Mejia had again failed a PED test. Mejia was now suspended for 162 games having tested positive for two different drugs, stanozolol and boldenone. Boldenone is a veterinarian steroid, not meant for human use, that builds muscle and endurance when used in humans. It is bad enough to be suspended twice for failed PED tests, but Mejia failed the test twice for stanozolol. When you fail a test the first time, whether the failed test was due to a mistake or an attempt to use PEDs, it would make sense to alter what is going into your body to prevent another failed test for the same substance. Instead, Mejia doubled down on the same drug and added another drug for good measure. Coming so soon after his rise, the Mets and the rest of professional baseball must wonder if Mejia’s performance was real or if it was chemically enhanced.

Mejia managed to make it through the rest of 2015 without failing another PED test. He would serve the remaining 99 games of his suspension in 2016 and then rejoin the Mets for what, the fans in Queens are hoping, will be another trip to the World Series. Instead, on February 12, MLB announced Mejia had failed a PED test again, the third time, for boldenone. While he finally stopped using stanozolol, Mejia failed a second test for boldenone. This third failed test means Mejia is now permanently banned from MLB.

Jenrry Mejia Prayer.jpg
Jenrry Mejia’s only hope now may only come from above. (www.remezcla.com)

There are many reasons a player would want to be mentioned in the same sentence as Pete Rose, but joining Rose as the only other living member of the permanently ineligible list is not among them. Mejia’s stupidity has cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars, potentially millions. His banishment from baseball reaches beyond MLB. Mejia cannot simply sign with a team in a league in Japan, Korea, or elsewhere as international leagues usually respect MLB suspensions and refuse to sign those players. Mejia finds himself on the outside of baseball looking in. He could potentially sign with a team during Winter Ball, but the paychecks and length of the season are much smaller. There is some good news for Mejia. He can apply for reinstatement after one year. If granted, Mejia would have to sit out an additional season, meaning he would miss two complete seasons before he could return to the diamond. Mejia is only 26, so it is feasible for him to return to the mound. Although time is somewhat on his side, I am not sure how forgiving MLB will be with someone who has failed three tests within 10 months.

In some ways, MLB may use Jenrry Mejia to set an example. Mejia may not be a superstar like Andrew McCutchen or Bryce Harper, but he is far from a player who barely made it to the majors. Mejia was looking at a long and successful career with the Mets. They believed in him enough to resign him even after two failed tests. The reality is the number of chances a player gets depends on their skill and Mejia’s skills on the mound made him a risk worth taking. Now the failed PED tests change everything. A player failing a test when they are barely hanging on in the low minor leagues can kiss their career goodbye. A superstar,like Ryan Braun, can continue his career without worrying about job security. It will be a tarnished career though and shows that MLB’s drug testing is accomplishing its intended goal. It will never catch every drug cheat, but catching Mejia three times shows it is not giving players a free pass.

Any time news comes that a player has failed a drug test, there is usually a quote from the athlete saying something like, “I do not know how this substance got into my body. I never knowingly took this substance.” People then roll their eyes or believe in the statement, but the player remains forever marked as a drug cheat. Personally, players who fail drug tests make me sad, sometimes angry. It’s hard to believe a banned substance accidentally entered their body. I’m sad when I believe they made a mistake and angry when the player appears arrogant with their bluster exploding after their failed test. Players like Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez are the public face of those players who no longer get the benefit of the doubt, and it is all due to their own egos and how they handled the media fallout from their failed tests.

ryan-braun-steroids-miami-clinic
After multiple failed tests, Ryan Braun seems surprised no one believes he did not cheat. (Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports)

Jenrry Mejia failed three different tests with two different drugs. While it may sound a bit odd, I would be more willing to believe any plea he might offer of innocence if he had failed the tests for a different drug each time. The counter-argument there is that he may have been changing drugs in an attempt to avoid detection, plausible and likely true. However, it would have been equally likely that he stopped using the source of the drug to avoid another failed test, but as bad luck would have it, he was negligent again of knowing exactly he was taking. I readily admit that failing three different tests on accident is extremely unlikely, though still possible. Mejia, however, seems to have believed that he could beat the test. He failed spectacularly three different times. You fail the first test, whether you are dirty or clear you will reexamine and adjust what is going into your body. Instead, Mejia continued as he was doing and added another layer of drugs. Not surprisingly, he failed another test. Again, you would think he would change what was going into his body. Instead, he only stopped using the stanozolol while continuing to use boldenone. Coming as a surprise to no one, Mejia failed his third test. Why would you continue to take the same drug you failed a test for before when you know the next failed test could end your career?

Jenrry Mejia was stupid, either willingly or through neglect. Either he is the worst drug cheat in baseball or he is extremely unlucky. Regardless, he has failed three separate PED tests. Ultimately, it does not matter how Mejia has found himself banned from baseball, he now finds himself on the outside looking in. The argument about whether gambling or PEDs are the bigger threat to the game is moot; both sides have a legitimate case but are both being equally addressed. While Mejia hopefully collects himself and cleans up, baseball is left to savor a bittersweet victory. The MLB Drug Policy is working. It is not catching every player using PEDs, but it is catching some. Once they are caught they are serving their punishments, which in the case of many are career altering and in the case of Jenrry Mejia the punishment can be career ending.

DJ

Life is Full of Options

Every time a major free agent signs with a new team the fans celebrate and begin dreaming about the future possibilities of the team. If you read the newspapers or internet after every blockbuster free agency signing, it would be difficult to believe anything other than that team is now destined to at least reach the World Series, if not win it all. This is especially true when starting pitchers sign major deals. While the debate over what the future holds for the player and their new team should ignite the passions of the fans and media, this offseason feels as though there is an additional layer to the hype and excitement.

The fans buying tickets, jerseys, hats, television packages, etc. are the driving force for the business of baseball. If fans were not willing to spend $10 for the cheap seats or hundreds of dollars for premium seats, not to mention food, clothing, and media, the players and owners would not see the financial benefits they do. Every free agent dreams of cashing in on their years of hard work for a contract like the one David Price has with the Red Sox. Price signed for seven years, $217 million contract. He does not have to worry about working another day in his life. The same is true for Jason Heyward with the Cubs (eight years, $184 million), Johnny Cueto with the Giants (six years, $130 million), and Justin Upton with the Tigers (six years, $132.75 million). Their talent on the diamond has more than secured each of their financial future.

Justin Upton
Justin Upton looks to turn the Tigers around quickly. (www.rollingstone.com)

Financial security also exists for those players not in the upper echelon of free agents. Non-ace starting pitchers can often dictate whether a team contends for a World Series, or even for the playoffs, as much as an ace like Felix Hernandez can. Excellent pitchers like Scott Kazmir can dictate how a team plays throughout the season. This reality has resulted in Scott Kazmir signing with the Dodgers (three years, $48 million). Fans in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit, and the north side of Chicago should all rejoice in the talent their teams’ have signed during this offseason.

Before those dreams of World Series championships and parades permanently ingrain themselves into their minds, it would be best to temper those dreams. This offseason has shown that both the teams and the players want to win and win now. Owners are using deferred money to soften the burden of paying large contracts. Consider Chris Davis’ contract with the Orioles. He signed a seven-year, $161 million contract, with $42 million of the contract deferred. The Orioles will continue paying Davis until 2037. The financial deferment will enable the Orioles to spend money elsewhere in the hopes of winning more games and hopefully a World Series.

Scott Kazmir
Scott Kazmir proves the opt-out clause is not reserved strictly for top free agents. (Colin E. Braley/ AP)

Ownership is not alone in this win now mentality. Players understand they only have a small window to win at least one World Series during their career and they prefer not to waste valuable years playing for teams that have no chance of making the playoffs, much less winning a World Series. The no trade clause has long been the means by which players protected themselves against a trade to a terrible team. However, what if the team they are playing is that terrible team?

Not every player will want to opt out of their contract. Even some elite players may decide it is best to remain with a team despite not consistently contending for the playoffs. If Todd Helton had an opt-out clause in the nine year, $141.5 million contract that he signed in 2001, few would have blamed him if he had left the Rockies before the end of the contract. During Helton’s 17-year career, Colorado had five winning season, made the playoffs twice, getting swept by the Red Sox in the 2007 World Series and losing to the Phillies in the 2009 NLDS. Helton remained an elite player throughout his career, but he rarely played for a team that had a hope of making the playoffs. While Helton is a Rockies legend, having spent his entire career playing in Colorado, he could have moved on from the Rockies later in his career if he felt a better situation for winning was available. Given the option to leave the Rockies does not mean Helton would have left, but it could have pushed management to field a more competitive team in the short term instead of waiting for the team to rebuild through homegrown talent.

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Would Todd Helton’s career be remembered differently if he could have opted out of Colorado? (www.beforeitwasnews.com)

Opt-out clauses seems to have gained enormous steam this offseason. Players will nearly always accept the large contracts from teams for their services, as they should. There does come a point for every player, when their financial future is secure, that enables them to prioritize winning and extending their careers. The opt-out clause empowers players to have more control regarding their career arc. They are no longer stuck with a team if the team’s plan for winning does not materialize. Players also gain time as they do not have to spend prime playing years waiting to become a free agent and lose interest from contending teams.

We may not see Johnny Cueto, Jason Heyward, Scott Kazmir, David Price, or Justin Upton fulfill the full length of their new contracts from free agency. Each player has an opt-out clause, enabling them to return to free agency in pursuit of a larger payday or joining another team they see as a better fit. All the big free agent signings of this offseason could be back on the market following the 2018 season.

Player

Team Years Contract Amount (Millions) Opt Out After Pre Opt-Out Seasons

Pre Opt-Out Salary (Millions)

Scott Kazmir Dodgers

3

$48 2016 1

$12.60

Johnny Cueto Giants

6

$130 2017 2

$37.60

Justin Upton Tigers

6

$132.75 2017 2

$44.25

David Price Red Sox

7

$217 2018 3

$90

Jason Heyward Cubs

8

$184 2018 3

$65.50

Jason Heyward Cubs

8

$184 2019 4

$88

The excitement from these free agent signings may only last a few seasons. The opt-out clause in these contracts could act as a player friendly way to rent their services to a new team, much like teams trading away soon-to-be free agents to contenders. Players are in a win-win situation with these contracts, as they can now maximize their potential to earn money, play for winning teams, and have longer careers. The focus has long been on the downside for the team when they sign players like Albert Pujols or Robinson Cano to long and expensive contracts. The final years of these contracts result in players receiving higher annual salaries than their abilities would garner them if they were up for a new contract. Such long contracts also handcuff most teams in their efforts to field a contending team. The Texas Rangers would have remained irrelevant had they not traded Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees. The Rodriguez contract (10 years, $252 million) was too large for the team to handle financially. Beyond the financial aspects, the rise in opt-out clauses means players have the opportunity to leave a team if they believe a better contract and situation exists for them elsewhere.

The contract signed by Giancarlo Stanton last offseason quietly signaled the shift away from gigantic contracts to shorter contracts that are more player friendly. The Marlins, aside from needing to regain some credibility with baseball fans in south Florida, solidified Stanton as the foundation they would use to build a contender. Stanton’s contract blended the old and new approaches to signing big free agent talent. Miami wanted to prevent Stanton from ever reaching free agency and signed him to a 13 year, $325 million contract. This means Stanton should be playing in South Florida until he is 37, maybe 38 if the Marlins exercise a team option for the 2028 season. The years and the money are comparable to the contracts for Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano, and Alex Rodriguez. These 10+ year contracts lock down a player well beyond their productive seasons.  While this contract may not seem like a move away from those other massive contracts, the inclusion of an opt-out clause was striking. However, Stanton received an opt-out clause following year six, the 2020 season. At the age of 30, Stanton could still command an enormous contract on the free agent market. The opt-out also prevents Stanton from playing the vast majority of his career for the Marlins, if ownership is not willing or able to put a winning product on the field. The Giancarlo Stanton contract gave the Marlins, and their fans, the stability of having their player signed long term yet it gave the player the ability to hold the team accountable.

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Giancarlo Stanton’s contract ushered in a new era of mega contracts but with an opt-out clause. (www.grantland.com)

The ability to opt out of a contract may transform the way free agency operates. Players now have the ability to hold their team accountable. Opting out means a team cannot place all of its faith in building a winning team in a single player, or simply building for the future. Baseball is a team sport and players expect and demand that management works to build a winning team. This new approach to signing players to contracts allows successful teams to sign premium players for the long-term, while giving players the ability to leave a team for a better situation or payday if they desire. No player wants to make less than they are worth or languish with a team going nowhere for their entire career. Fans must understand until a player decides not to opt out of the contract the new free agent has in reality signed for only a few years. Opt-out clauses create two contracts out of one. The player holds all the cards in deciding if the second contract comes into effect. Fans can dream, but their dreams need to focus more on short-term results instead of building a dynasty with their newly signed free agent.

DJ

2016 New Year’s Resolution for the AL East

Being home to one of the better known and somewhat hostile rivalries in baseball, if not all major sports leagues, the AL East has some of the heaviest spending teams in MLB. This usually means that a blockbuster trade will occur every offseason from one of these teams. Since 2000, the Yankees and Red Sox have had one of the top 10 largest payrolls in MLB. Let’s be honest, it’s probably easier to count the number of seasons when the Yankees didn’t have the largest payroll in the league than when they did. However, championships can’t simply be bought. You can probably argue that a big payroll is a contributing factor towards winning a championship but that’s a discussion for another day.

The Moves

To say the Boston Red Sox had pitching headaches last season is like saying that President Obama gets annoyed by Congressional standoffs. Clay Buchholz doesn’t quite have the stuff to be the ace in the rotation but he’s definitely a viable 2-3 man when he can stay healthy. So in classic AL East fashion, the Red Sox smashed the piggy bank to pick up David Price, as solid an ace as you can find. There might be mixed reactions about the third year opt-out clause but it seems like a good incentive to get the best out of Price in the next few years.

MLB: ALDS-Texas Rangers at Toronto Blue Jays
David Price is the biggest signing in the AL East this offseason, will he have a major impact at Fenway in 2016? (Fred Thornhill-Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports)

This move really overshadows the acquisition of some bullpen help in Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith to support Koji Uehara. David Ortiz’s impending retirement leaves questions about how they’re going to hit next season but this might be one of the better off-season pitching overhauls. Maybe we’ll see some of Boston’s speedsters go for more stolen bases knowing that their pitching staff will keep the pressure on the other side.

The Yankees are the best known team in MLB for throwing down money to get hot free agents or make monumental trades. Since acquiring the services of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, big money moves started slowing down since it didn’t seem like the money was making the Yankees any more competitive than they had been.

With that said, the acquisitions of Starlin Castro and Aroldis Chapman are fairly conservative moves by a team that stumbled into the playoffs and handily defeated by a dominant Dallas Keuchel leading the surging Houston Astros. Castro actually addresses a problem issue for the Yankees in their struggles to make contact and generate runs. Didi Gregorius is a fine defensive SS but the Yankees have been accustomed to a productive hitter at SS for so long that they just weren’t built for this. Maybe, similar to A-Rod moving to 3B when joining, Castro will make a transition and play 2B. The Yankees should try to keep Gregorius on the field though.

Starlin Castro.jpg
Starlin Castro should help produce the hits and score the runs the Yankees need. (www.articles.chicagotribune.com)

Aroldis Chapman may seem like damaged goods but the Yankees run a pretty tight ship. So we’ll see if Chapman is deserving of a the benefit of the doubt/second chance because if he can’t keep his personal life under control as a Yankee then there’s no place that will be able to do it. This pick up seems more like taking advantage of an opportunity than addressing a problem. Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances already made up one of the toughest bullpens to get through. Bringing in Chapman means that the Yankees now have all of the closers that racked up more than 100 Ks in the 2015 season into one bullpen. At the very least, the Yankees have trade fodder to address other issues next season if they need to do some gut-check work during the trade windows.

The Advice

Toronto Blue Jays

BL – The Blue Jays have heavy hitting and practically lapped the rest of the league in run differential for the season. There’s a lot of infield position play by coalition and David Price’s departure from the rotation leaves a hole for a genuine elite ace. Something Toronto needs to be a serious playoff contender. Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison are young and either may develop into a solid ace but it’s too early to tell. Troy Tulowitzki probably isn’t the answer at shortstop but maybe Toronto’s trainers can find a way to keep from needing so many days off.

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Marcus Stroman could be the ace the Blue Jays need to complement their offense. (www.forums.prosportsdaily.com)

DJ – Toronto was a machine in 2015, but, run hard enough, all machines eventually break down. The Blue Jays did not make it to the World Series, but should be a contender again in 2016. Starting pitching needs to be the focus this offseason. Toronto did get 28 or more starts out of four starters in 2015, however Drew Hutchison struggled. He only pitched 148 innings with a 5.47 ERA. Mark Buehrle was his usual workhorse making 32 starts and pitching 198.2 innings, however he is now a free agent contemplating retirement.  David Price only made 11 starts for the Blue Jays, but he was dominant in those starts.  R.A. Dickey and Marco Estrada are the foundation for this rotation and the return of Marcus Stroman from injury gives them three solid pitchers. Hutchison could be in the mix for the fifth starter, but this still leaves the Blue Jays short of an ace. Toronto would be smart to look at signing a pitcher like Yovani Gallardo or Justin Masterson. An ace like David Price is tough to come by, but a Dickey, Estrada, and potentially Stroman could be the de facto ace for the Blue Jays.

Baltimore Orioles

BL – At the start of the 2015 season, I really thought the Orioles would win the AL East. I can’t explain the early or late season losing streaks. Perhaps Baltimore entered the season a little too cocky and expected things to simply fall into place. Inconsistency at catcher between Caleb Joseph and Matt Wieters could not have been easy for the rotation to deal with. If the Orioles can steady that position up and get some team psychologists to keep the team on an even keel, next season could be a great one for Baltimore.

Matt-Wieters_Throwing-Out-Runner
Matt Weiters needs to return to his All Star and Gold Glove ways to help the Orioles compete in the AL East. (Photo by: Todd Olszewski)

DJ – The Orioles starting pitching ate up plenty of innings in 2015. Ubaldo Jimenez, Wei-Yin Chen, and Chris Tillman all made at least 31 starts and pitched at least 173 innings. However with a combined 4.12 ERA the trio were 34-29.  Jimenez led the team with 12 wins with Chen and Tillman contributing 11 wins each. If Baltimore is going to compete for the AL East in 2016, their starters need to find ways to win more games. Any easy way to win more games is for the starters to pitch deeper into games. Jimenez, Chen, and Tillman averaged less than 6 innings per start. The Orioles need the majority of their rotation to pitch at least 6 innings per start in order preserve the bullpen and save those arms for close games and late in the season.

Tampa Bay Rays

BL – They’re not the Miami Marlins, but the Tampa Bay Rays haven’t been really great to their fan base over the years by consistently trading away some great pitching and fielding talent. I’m continually surprised that Evan Longoria is still there. It’s not in quite as dramatic a fashion as the Marlins’ fire sales after every World Series win but the Rays are consistently bleeding themselves into talent anemia. Chris Archer can anchor a rotation and a bullpen boasting a scrappy closer like Brad Boxberger means there’s development potential here. Manager Kevin Cash needs to pick a direction for the batting lineup then adjust the rest of the team accordingly.

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Kevin Kiermaier’s Gold Glove defense is just as vital as his bat for the Rays to be successful. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/ Getty Images)

DJ – Tampa Bay needs a leadoff hitter. The Rays had 22 different players bat leadoff in 2015. Combined these players hit .258. Only Brandon Guyer played at least 50 games batting leadoff, and he hit .274 with a .379 OBP. The logical choice for the Rays would be to move Guyer or Kevin Kiermaier there permanently. Guyer hit .265 overall in 2015 with a .359 OBP, 10 SB, and only 61 SO in 332 AB. Kiermaier hit .263, with a .298 OBP, 18 SB, and 95 SO in 505 AB. The stability at the top of the lineup could trickle down the order. Tampa Bay has to manufacture runs to support the pitching staff. Evan Longoria and Logan Forsythe provide the power. If Guyer and/or Kiermaier can get on ahead of them, the offense could combine with the pitching staff to balance the Rays overall team approach.

BL & DJ

Where’s The Captain?

Baseball season is in full swing and for the first time since I really started paying attention to baseball the game is without a familiar face. I am the resident New York Yankees fan here, and I believe we are without the greatest player of my lifetime.  I am talking about Number 2, Derek Jeter, Number 2. It should be a sad time, baseball without the core four or the fantastic five or whatever they call them all, but I am excited about the future.

I have been a fan of the Yankees since I could walk. I knew the greats and knew where they played and what the uniform looked like. I have met Don Mattingly and gotten his autograph. Unfortunately, this was the late 80’s and early 90’s and the Yankees were about as good as the Marlins have been for the last 10 years. It was not until I moved to enemy territory that the organization brought up a promising young shortstop from Kalamazoo, Michigan. I started following more intently, the Yankees started winning, and Jeter started wooing us all. It was good, but all good things yada yada yada. It is 2015 now and we are moving forward.

The Captain has left the Bronx. (www.usatoday.com)

The Captain has left the Bronx. (www.usatoday.com)

Derek has left the Stadium and we are stuck with Arod for another couple of year but we still have talent and potential. Our most tenured homegrown talent is Brett Gardner and we have patched together the rest of the team, as is Yankee fashion. Our new shortstop is Sir Didi Gregorius, a knighted player who played well for half a season for those jerks in Arizona (still sore over the 2001 World Series). He has big spikes to fill and still must earn his pinstripes but he has the potential for greatness, as does every other player out there. This is why they play 162 and hope the baseball gods smile and keep them healthy so they may become as iconic and loved as The (hopefully not last ever Mr. Cashman) Captain, Number 2, Derek Jeter.

B