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 Diamondbacks met with Johnny Cueto’s agent

AP Photo/David Goldman
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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Diamondbacks spoke with Bryce Dixon, the agent of free agent starter Johnny Cueto. However, Rosenthal notes that Cueto’s price tag is expected to exceed the Diamondbacks’ comfort level.

Cueto, 29, is one of a handful of highly touted starting pitchers in this offseason’s free agent class. He is joined by David Price and Zack Greinke, among others. Jordan Zimmermann inked a deal in the neighborhood of $110 million over five years with the Tigers on Sunday morning, which will serve as a barometer for Cueto.

Cueto finished the 2015 regular season, between the Reds and the Royals, with a 3.44 ERA and a 176/46 K/BB ratio over 212 innings. He made 13 shaky starts with the Royals, but outside of a shellacking in Game 3 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, pitched well in the post-season. Cueto pitched a complete game in Game 2 of the World Series against the Mets, helping put the Royals up two games to none at the time.

As a result of switching teams during the season, Cueto was not eligible to receive a $15.8 million qualifying offer. This means that Cueto, unlike Zimmermann for example, does not come attached with draft pick compensation.

Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski is reportedly trying to trade Hanley Ramirez

Hanley Ramirez
AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File

Nick Cafardo provides this interesting nugget in his Sunday notes column at the Boston Globe

Hanley Ramirez, 1B-DH, Red Sox — There’s now talk in the front office that Dave Dombrowski is trying to move Ramirez in a deal. The Mariners, Orioles, and Angels seem to be the targets, and all three make sense.

Cafardo notes that “there are huge hurdles to cross” before a trade could happen — like how much of Hanley’s remaining salary the Red Sox would have to eat and what positions the soon-to-be 32-year-old is able to play defensively at this point in his career.

Boston’s higher-ups have asked Ramirez to learn first base and drop 20 pounds this winter. Whatever team is looking to acquire him would probably have to be comfortable with him serving primarily as a designated hitter.

Hanley is owed $68.2 million over the next three seasons and he carries a $22 million vesting option for 2019. He batted just .249/.291/.426 in 105 games this past year.

Ben Zobrist is the “Mets’ No. 1 target”

Ben Zobrist
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

Ben Zobrist posted a cool .809 OPS (120 OPS+) in 126 games this summer between Oakland and Kansas City while appearing defensively at second base, third base, and both corner outfield positions.

His steady bat and defensive versatility make him a fit for just about every club in Major League Baseball, and the defending National League champions are among the teams in hot pursuit …

It’s a little odd to see the rebuilding Braves listed there given that Zobrist is 34 years old, but Rosenthal says the interest stems from a “desire for him to serve as [a] model for younger players” as the club prepares to open a new ballpark in 2017. Wasn’t that supposed to be Nick Markakis‘ job?

Zobrist and his agent Alan Nero are believed to be seeking a four-year deal.

Tigers agree to deal with starter Jordan Zimmermann

Jordan Zimmermann
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Hey, the hot stove is finally generating some real fire …

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports that the Tigers have agreed to terms on a contract with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. It’s a five-year deal worth around $110 million, per Jon Morosi of FOX Sports.

This should have a domino effect on a loaded starting pitching market. David Price, Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, and Jeff Samardzija are just a few of the names still out there.

Zimmermann, 29, posted a 3.66 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, and 164/39 K/BB ratio in 201 2/3 innings this past season for the Nationals. He had a 2.66 ERA in 2014 and threw a no-hitter on the final day of the regular season.

Zimmermann’s free agency is tied to draft pick compensation because he rejected a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from Washington, but the Tigers finished with one of the 10-worst win-loss records in 2015 so their first-round pick in 2016 is protected. Detroit will give up its second-round pick instead.