The 2000s in a nutshell

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I think I’ve read two dozen decade-in-baseball retrospectives in the past week, but they all seem to come back to this nugget, articulated today in the Star-Ledger’s version:

The 2000s were dominated by steroids and everything we learned about
them: how widespread they were, who juiced, who was responsible and how
it impacted the game. Year after year, what happened on the field was
overshadowed by the latest steroid-related development . . .

. . . Yet while we became more cynical about the game, we were no less
captivated by it. The 2000s were marked by record attendance and
all-time high revenues. It was the first decade since the 1960s in
which there was no work stoppage.

And you can’t just dismiss that as a business thing or a function of new ballparks. The revenue and attendance was driven, undoubtedly, by fan interest and demand. People are buying tickets to those ballparks and watching those regional cable network broadcasts.

The fact that the game has seen such an uptick in interest and revenue despite the PED stuff just strengthens my belief that steroids, while a problem that absolutely had to be addressed, are/were nowhere near as large a problem for the game as they are typically made out to be and that perspective about it all is starting to ooze back into people’s thinking.

We’ll start to see tangible evidence of this going forward. Maybe with things like Mark McGwire’s Hall of Fame vote totals, which I think will see a modest increase this year that will continue over time, as he wears a batting coach’s uniform every day and writers realize that he’s not a Martian. Maybe with a bit less shock and outrage as another name or three from the famous steroid list is released this spring, as it inevitably will.

Maybe the turn of a decade is an arbitrary point in time, but it does feel like we’ve reached a turning point of some kind, doesn’t it?

The Nationals sign Kevin Jepsen

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Chris Cotillo of SB Nation reports the Nationals have agreed to terms with free agent reliever Kevin Jepsen.

Think of this as the latest in what will likely be a series of no-risk bullpen additions. The Nats, basically, collecting as many almost free arms they can find in an effort to fix their bullpen woes without having to give up anything valuable at the trade deadline. Just like the K-Rod signing earlier this week or the Edwin Jackson signing two weeks ago.

Jepsen pitched for Tampa Bay and Minnesota last year, posting a 5.68 ERA with the Rays and a 6.16 ERA with the Twins, appearing in 58 games in all. He went unsigned this past offseason.

Eh, it might work. It probably won’t, but it might.

Rival Executives Expect Justin Verlander To Hit The Trading Block

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About a month ago, a report circulated that if the Detroit Tigers weren’t above .500 by the end of June, they were going to chuck the season, look to trade off veterans and rebuild. It’s now June 29 and the Tigers are 34-42 and sit six games out of first place.

As such, we should not be too terribly surprised to see a report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo that multiple baseball executives expect Tigers ace Justin Verlander to hit the trade market sometime in the next two weeks. Passan notes that the Tigers haven’t formally offered him and that he’s just passing along speculation from rivals, but it’s pretty astute speculation.

The question is what the Tigers can get for Verlander. On the one hand, yes, Verlander is Verlander and has been one of the top starters in baseball for a decade. While he had struggled for a bit, last year featured a return to Cy Young form. He still has a blazing fastball and there is no reason to think he could not anchor the staff of a playoff caliber team.

On the other hand, as Passan notes, his 2017 has been . . . not so good. He looks amazing at times and very hittable at other times. Overall his walk rate is way up and his strikeout rate is down. There doesn’t appear to be anything physically wrong with him — various ailments contributed to his 2014-15 swoon — so it’s possible he’s just had a rough couple of months. Like I said, Verlander is Verlander, and it may not be a bad gamble to expect him to run off a string of dominant starts like he has so many times in the past.

The problem, though, is that anyone acquiring Verlander is not just gambling on a handful of starts down the stretch. They’re gambling on the $56 million he’s owed between 2018 and 2019 and the $22 million extra he’ll be guaranteed for 2020 if he finishes in the top five in Cy Young voting in 2019. Those would be his age 35, 36 and 37 seasons. There are certainly worse gambles in baseball, but it’s a gamble all the same.

If the Tigers don’t find any gamblers out there on the market, they’re going to have to make a gamble of their own: let Verlander go and get relatively little in return if another club picks up that $56 million commitment or eat it themselves and get prospects back in return to help kickstart a rebuild. Personally I’d go with the latter option, but I don’t work for the Illitch family.