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

Leave a comment

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.

The White Sox wanted Astros’ top prospects for Jose Quintana

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 27:  Jose Quintana #62 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field on August 27, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.

It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:

We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.

While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.

Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.

Daniel Szew: “Landa was a leader, happy-go-lucky guy”

FORT MYERS, FL - MARCH 1:  Yorman Landa #81 of the Minnesota Twins poses for a photo during the Twins' photo day on March 1, 2016 at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Twins’ right-handed pitching prospect Yorman Landa passed away in a tragic car accident on Friday night, per a team statement. According to Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press, 22-year-old Landa was in the passenger seat of the vehicle when it struck a fallen tree.

Daniel Szew, Landa’s agent, spoke highly of the young pitcher, who was one of his first clients back in 2010. Szew acknowledged Landa for helping him expand his company, LA Sports Management, and referred to the late pitcher as a leader and his “little brother.”

Per Berardino:

He was very even-keeled,” Szew said. “That was his personality. He wasn’t wild. That’s why this is so tragic. He wasn’t a wild guy. He was a happy-go-lucky guy who took life as it came, and he was super happy — always happy.

If leadership was one facet of Landa’s personality, so was loyalty. The 22-year-old agreed to a minor league contract with the Twins on Tuesday after getting cut from the 40-man roster, fulfilling a promise to re-sign with the club despite fielding multiple offers from competing teams. The deal included an invite to spring training, and comments from his agent suggested that the right-hander was “super confident” he’d break through to the major leagues in 2017, notwithstanding a troublesome shoulder injury that hampered his progress in High-A Fort Myers during the 2016 season.

“He never wanted to leave,” Szew told Berardino. “It was the only organization he ever knew.”

Our condolences go out to Landa’s family and the Twins organization during this terrible time.