USA Today's panel: the game needs to stay ahead of the drug curve

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USA Today runs their fifth and final part of their panel-of-experts series this morning.  Today they cover a few of my favorite subjects:

World Baseball Classic: The experts think they should change the scheduling of the WBC or pull the major leaguers out of the tournament altogether. Injuries are a big factor here, but I found Dusty Baker’s comments on this most compelling. He had several guys out last year, and his starting catcher — Ramon Hernandez — didn’t get to work with all of the team’s pitchers until just before the regular season started.  It seems to me that getting your catcher on the same page as the staff is one of the more important things that has to happen in camp, and the WBC makes that really hard.  Personally I’m not fan of the WBC — I think the major league season features the best international talent already — but there are some serious drawbacks to it even if you like it.

The World Series: Scott Boras talks about partial neutral-site scheduling and the creation of a Super Bowl destination experience/weekend extravaganza. I hate this idea with the intensity of a thousand burning suns. When something acquires the name “Classic,” as in “Fall Classic,” it seems to me that the last thing you want to do is to mess with it. Ask the people at Coke.  But even if you’re going to change it, Boras’ idea of modeling it on the Super Bowl is particularly horrifying, what with the Super Bowl being a turgid, overly-commercialized soul-sucking experience and everything.  My rule still stands: if baseball wants to be successful it should watch whatever it is the NFL is doing and then do the exact opposite.

Fan safety: The panel thinks that they should extend the safety netting to the edge of dugouts at every ballpark, or even use Plexiglas. I’m all for this (the nets, not the glass).  I’ve stated my reasons about this in the past.

PEDs:  The panel thinks that baseball needs to look beyond steroids and HGH and ahead to medical advances such as stem cell breakthroughs and figure out ahead of time how the game will handle this.  Scott Boras is particularly on-point here, noting that at some point they’re going to figure out a way to grow back someone’s rotator cuff using stem cells. What if a healthy player uses such therapies and it allows him to throw the ball 120 mph?  The example itself may be silly, but the idea that the game needs a framework in place to deal with whatever advances come down the pike before players start exploiting them in the sly is a good one.

Oh, and Boras also offered the closest thing you’ll ever see to a mea culpa:

“The steroid thing fell on the players. It should have fallen on people who are responsible for the
administration of the game — myself included, to be honest with you. It was one of the worst things that ever happened to the game.”

Not the strongest acceptance of responsibility you’ll ever hear, but it’s more than the owners and administration have ever offered.

Sadly, however, Boras’ admission of complicity in the steroids scandal will put his Hall of Fame case at risk . . .

The Marlins have made a “monster offer” for Kenley Jansen

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 18:  Kenley Jansen #74 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch against the Chicago Cubs in the eighth inning of game three of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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OXON HILL, MD — The morning after Aroldis Chapman signed for a record $86 million, the Miami Marlins are reported to have made similarly lucrative offer to the other top free agent closer, Kenley Jansen.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo says that the Marlins have made “a monster offer” of five years and more than $80 million to Jansen. This despite the fact that the club is coming off of a 79-win season and, tragically, lost their top pitcher Jose Fernandez in a fatal boating accident, which will substantially harm their competitive prospects. While it seems like a stretch to say that the Yankees will compete for a playoff spot, thereby making such an historically large investment in a closer a bit suspect, the Marlins doing so is even more questionable.

Meanwhile, the Nationals are said to be interested in Jansen as well, though Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post says the Nats are “uncomfortable” with the financial commitment signing him would require.

Jansen most recently pitched for the Dodgers and there have been no reports that they’re totally out on him, but there has been nothing to suggest that they are pushing hard for him either.

Jansen, 29, finished this past season with 47 saves, a 1.83 ERA, and a 104/11 K/BB ratio in 68.2 innings. That’s not quite Aroldis Chapman good, but he seems poised to collect something close to Aroldis Chapman money.

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the exception because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed, I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.