J.C. Romero, Congress, and passing the steroid buck

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I’ve been accused of being an apologist for players taking steroids. There’s an element of truth to that, I suppose, at least if you equate “not thinking that players who take PEDs are Satan” with being an apologist.  I simply think there are worse offenses in the baseball world, even if some folks disagree.

A big reason for my view of this is that not every player — and I’d argue not any player — who tests positive for PED is some cartoonish evil cheater with black intentions in their heart. Some are a little more brazen than others. Some, however, are just kind of screwed by circumstance.

Case in point: The Phillies’ J.C. Romero. As you’ll recall, he was suspended for 50 games to kick off the season as the result of testing positive for a steroid he took via an over the counter supplement last fall.  You’ll also recall that Romero has sued the supplement maker, claiming that it failed to identify the substances in the product that led to his positive test. That suit is still pending, but Major League Baseball — pursuant to a policy it implemented as the result of extreme Congressional heat — wasn’t all that interested in the details.

What gets lost in all of this is that neither Congress — the prime mover behind baseball’s current PED policy — and Major League Baseball — the enforcer — has clean hands in any of this.  Why? For one thing, Congress itself — with the help of President Clinton — was what allowed the current wild west supplement industry to blossom in the first place when it enacted the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, which basically punted all oversight of the supplement industry to . . . the supplement industry itself.  We should not have been shocked, therefore, when all manner of revolutionary products with all manner of questionable yet unnamed ingredients starting showing up at the GNC.

For its part, Major League Baseball famously lagged in telling the union that the supplement Romero was taking would lead to positive tests, even though it knew so ahead of time, and even though it had pledged to keep the union informed of the latest state of PEDs. Romero, in turn, relied on the union for his information.  Of course the union could have and should have told Romero that he needed to call the Major League Baseball hotline, where he could have gotten the updated information, but they failed to do that.

Upshot: there was a metric crap-ton of stuff that happened which led to Romero getting what amounted to a $1.5 million suspension, almost all of which was more the fault of those who would go after PED users than Romero himself.

Against that backdrop, today we learn that Congress is going to wade back into the fray and think about re-regulating the supplement world. That wading is led by Arlen Specter, who was spurred on, he says, by the Romero case. “We’re looking at whether there’s adequate protection for consumers from getting these supplements which have steroids or steroid-like substances,” Specter said.  Union head Don Fehr added that “players, like everyone else, have no idea what they’re taking.”  Specter is probably right to want to take another look at the supplement industry and review that 1994 deregulation. Fehr is right that players who take over the counter supplements may very well not know what they’e taking, partially due to MLB and the union not giving them good or timely information.

In light of this, it is an inescapable conclusion that the PED and supplement world is not comprised of a landscape in which there are cheaters and non-cheaters, evil and good. It’s a complicated environment, and that’s even before you get into the issue of certain things being legal in one country and not legal in another.

To the extent we as fans have decided otherwise and have adopted the rhetoric of good and evil in the great steroid debate, it’s because those congressional hearings and all that fell out of it set such a tone.  Now even Congress is reconsidering the matter.  Maybe we all should too.

Diamondbacks hire Dave Magadan as hitting coach

Dave Magadan Rangers
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Steve Gilbert of MLB.com reports that the Diamondbacks’ new hitting coach is Dave Magadan, who “parted ways” with the Rangers last month after three years filling the same role in Texas.

Magadan also previously was the Red Sox’s hitting coach and his teams have generally done pretty well, including the Rangers scoring the third-most runs in the league this year.

He’ll have plenty of talent to work with in Arizona, as the Diamondbacks scored the second-most runs in the league led by Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and David Peralta. Turner Ward, who had been Arizona’s hitting coach, chose to leave the team two weeks ago.

A’s reacquire Jed Lowrie in trade with Astros

Jed Lowrie

Jed Lowrie, who was traded from the Astros to the A’s in 2013 and then re-signed with the Astros as a free agent last offseason, has now been traded back to the A’s.

Lowrie got a three-year, $23 million deal from the Astros with the idea that he’d play shortstop in the first season and then move to another position whenever stud prospect Carlos Correa arrived. Instead he got hurt right away, Correa became an immediate star, and the Astros weren’t so keen on paying him $15 million over the next two seasons.

He could resume playing shortstop for the A’s, who watched rookie Marcus Semien make an absurd number of errors there this year. Lowrie hit .271 with a .738 OPS in two seasons in Oakland, which is similar to his career totals and makes him a solidly above-average offensive shortstop. There’s a decent chance the A’s will have a Lowrie-Lawrie double-play duo in 2016.

In return the Astros get minor leaguer Brendan McCurry, a 24-year-old right-hander who split 2015 between high Single-A and Double-A with a 1.86 ERA and 82/17 K/BB ratio in 63 relief innings. He was a 22nd-round draft pick in 2014 and doesn’t have exceptional raw stuff, but McCurry’s numbers are incredible so far.

White Sox sign catcher Alex Avila to a one-year deal

Detroit Tigers' Alex Avila, right, is congratulated by third base coach Dave Clark after his solo home run in the third inning in the second game of a baseball doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

There have been a lot of articles published in the past few days about how to navigate awkward Thanksgiving conversations with your relatives. Heck, we even wrote one.

But there’s always room for more! Such as “How to talk to your father at Thanksgiving dinner about the fact that he let you walk away from the only team you’ve ever known to sign with a division rival.” Which is what Alex Avila will likely be talking about with his father, Tigers GM Al Avila:

The older Avila can’t even say he did it because he’s opposed to nepotism. After all, he just hired his other son — who has had his law degree for just over a year — as the Tigers assistant legal counsel for baseball operations. Though I’m sure that wasn’t nepotism. He probably just aced the interview and impressed everyone more than the other candidates did.

OK, those are jokes. In all seriousness, this is a good move for Alex and Al and, probably, the White Sox. With the emergence of James McCann, there really is not space for Alex Avila in Detroit in anything other than a backup capacity. In Chicago, he’ll get more playing time. At least if he can (a) stay healthy; and (b) not hit .191/.339/.287 again like he did in 2015.

Pirates sign outfielder/first baseman Jake Goebbert

Jake Goebbert

The best thing about minor Thanksgiving week transactions is that they are almost certainly done by GMs frantically looking for some work to do rather than go pick up their in-laws at the airport. I mean, sure, the player in question could very easily be an important player who fills a key role in the organization, but it’s not like it couldn’t have waited until Monday, right? This is the GM equivalent of you pretending you have to run into the office on Wednesday afternoon and, in reality, driving around in your car, listening to Neil Young and promising that NEXT YEAR you’re just doing a small Thanksgiving dinner with no family and, maybe, might even go on a little trip, just you and the wife.

Or is that just me? OK, maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, that’s how I’m choosing to view the Pirates activity today. First they traded for Allen Webster and now they’re signing minor league free agent first baseman/outfielder Jake Goebbert, according to Adam Berry of MLB.com.

Goebbert, 28, hit .294 with an .844 OPS and 10 homers for Triple-A El Paso last season. He has 115 plate appearances in the bigs, all for San Diego in 2014. Overall he has a line of .282/.386/.465 with 30 homers in 997 Triple-A plate appearances in the Astros, Athletics and Padres organizations.

Not a bad depth move, especially given that the Pirates are looking to trade Pedro Alvarez and otherwise re-jigger their first base situation.