Springtime Storylines: Will the McCourt divorce impact the Dodgers on the field?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of
the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Rockies.


The
big question: Will the McCourt divorce impact the Dodgers on the field?

Frank and Jamie have obviously been the big story coming out of DodgerLand all winter and will likely continue to be as each new court filing brings forth five or six new allegations of bad behavior and jaw-dropping extravagance.  The only people thankful for this state of affairs are nogoodnik bloggers like my buddy Josh and me, the divorce lawyers and Manny Ramirez, who for once isn’t the center of media attention.

While the circus coincided with a winter during which the Dodgers were surprisingly quiet on the hot stove front — Brad Ausmus! Jamey Carroll! — Frank McCourt is telling everyone who will listen that the divorce has had no impact on the Dodgers from a competitive perspective and that everything is hunky dory. I suppose we should take his word for it — 28 other teams didn’t sign John Lackey after all — but there are two ways in which L’affaire McCourt could harm the team this season: (1) as a distraction, with players being asked about it constantly; and (2) as a financial constraint, preventing the Dodgers from making mid-season moves which could keep them in contention.

Given how much experience the team has with MannyWood, the second of those is a far greater concern.  The Dodgers have a nice starting eight, but there is very little depth here. If, say, Matt Kemp misses any time or Manny Ramirez’s second half was a harbinger of his rapid decline, the team is going to have to make a move or three in order to keep up with Colorado. Based on everything we’ve seen from the front office these past few months, the Dodgers are not in the move-making business.  As a result, Dodgers fans had better hope and pray for good health.

Oh, and if Jamie McCourt somehow wins the custody battle this fall and claims a 50 percent ownership of the club, look for 2011 to be one of the uglier years in Dodger history. Because I don’t believe for a second that she or Frank has the money to buy the other one out and the sale of the team will become more or less inevitable. 

So
what
else is
going on?

  • McCourts or no McCourts, it’s not like Manny Ramirez has just rolled over and played dead.  The big question, obviously, is whether post-suspension Manny (.269 13 HR 43 RBI) is the new normal or if his swoon was merely a function of a high-strung performer reacting poorly due to the disruption of his chi and his hormone supply and all that. He’s 38, though, so some decline is inevitable. Given his defensive limitations Manny has to hit the ball hard to be worth his keep.
  • I mentioned Troy Tulowitzki as a possible MVP pick in the Rockies preview. However, if the Dodgers beat out the Rockies seats on the Matt Kemp bandwagon will be at a premium. He’s the most exciting young outfielder in baseball, possessing a mix of speed, power and centerfield defense that leaves one at a loss for comparisons to anyone who isn’t already a Hall of Famer. And he’s getting better, as his strikeout and walk rates have been decreasing and increasing, respectively. It’s all rather scary, frankly.
  • Though the Dodgers had the best pitching in all of baseball last year, the rotation is a concern. Randy Wolf is gone, Chad Billingsley faded terribly in the second half and, for as nice a pickup Vicente Padilla turned out to be, you’re not going to get rich betting on things such as “Padilla will continue to strike out a batter an inning and post an ERA of 3.20 for a full season.”  The key, obviously, is Clayton Kershaw, who broke out with a 2.79 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 171 innings last year.  If he carries on with that kind of production and stays healthy the Dodgers have their ace. If, like a lot of 23 year-old pitchers, he has a few more bumps in the road before becoming a perennial Cy Young candidate, it may be tough sledding for the staff.
  • The pen is a source of real strength. Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Ramon Troncoso and Hong Chih Kuo are all pretty fabulous. If the Dodgers do suffer injuries or falloff from key performers, they could leverage some of this strength in a deal or two.

So
how
are they gonna do?

Picking the Dodgers for second place is less a criticism of their talent — which is undeniable — than it is a simple discount for their risk. If something happens to the outfield, there is no 2009 Juan Pierre on this team that is going to save their bacon. Same goes for the rotation, which has question marks.  It would not surprise me terribly if the Dodgers won 95 games again, but it’s not something I feel comfortable wagering on either.  

Prediction: Second place in the NL West in what I expect will be a pretty close race with the Rockies all summer.

Joe Morgan is asking Hall of Fame voters to keep PED users out

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Hall of Famer Joe Morgan has never equivocated on his belief that users of performance enhancing drugs should not be allowed into the Hall of Fame. Whenever he has been interviewed on the subject he has been steadfast in his stance that PED users are not worthy of induction.

This week he has taken a further step: he has sent a letter to all of the Hall of Fame voters, asking them to keep PED users out.

In his letter — the entirety of which you can read over at Joe Posnanski’s blog — Morgan says “if steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.” By “we,” he’s clearly referring to Hall of Fame members. While he does not name any player he would like to see voters keep out, he spends a lot of time talking about how PEDs are bad for baseball, PED users cheated the game and how he and many other Hall of Famers do not want to see them elected. He invokes “youngsters” and refers to the Hall of Fame as “special” and speaks to the “sanctity” of election. It’s the moral argument against PED use we’ve been hearing for a good 15 years or so.

It’s also hopelessly naive and comes far too late in the game to be a useful plea.

As we’ve noted many, many times, there are already PED users in the Hall of Fame. Amphetamine users to be sure, but even if you want to give them a pass, there are steroid and/or HGH users too. In case you forgot about that, allow me to remind you about the time Hall of Fame voter Thomas Boswell appeared in Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary update “The Tenth Inning” and explicitly said that he personally witnessed a current Hall of Famer drink a PED-laden shake:

“There was another player now in the Hall of Fame who literally stood with me and mixed something and I said “What’s that?” and he said “it’s a Jose Canseco milkshake”. And that year that Hall of Famer hit more home runs than ever hit any other year. So it wasn’t just Canseco, and so one of the reasons that I thought that it was an important subject was that it was spreading. It was already spreading by 1988.”

Boswell tends to keep pretty silent about that come Hall of Fame voting time in December, but he has never backed off the claim either.

Less reliable, but still never refuted, were the stories of Patty Blyleven, former wife of Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, who said that she knows of a Hall of Famer who took PEDs as well, and who continues to nonetheless publicly rail against PED use. There are likewise other Hall of Famers of whom baseball writers are strongly convinced — or know for a fact — took PEDs but about whom they’ve never reported because no one would go on the record about it or corroborate it in a way that satisfies prevailing journalistic standards. Go ask a BBWAA member about why it took Jeff Bagwell so long to get into the Hall of Fame. Or simply go back and read what they said about him a few years ago.

Going beyond those cases are the cases of a host of players — players who have been on the ballot for years —  about which we’ll never, ever know. Do we know for sure that any of the guys currently on the ballot who played before drug testing never took PEDs? Of course not. In light of that all Morgan can ask is for voters to keep players of an entire era out. Which is a completely unreasonable and unfair request.

In the absence of guidance from the Hall of Fame or Major League Baseball, BBWAA voters were somewhat inconsistent with alleged PED users for a time, but they’re beginning to coalesce around a set of rough standards:

  • If you tested positive for PEDs or were disciplined for PEDs after the testing program was fully online like Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro did, you’re not getting in. Figure Alex Rodriguez will fall in this group one day too;
  • If you were strongly and convincingly associated with PEDs in the pre-testing era like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the road you have to go down is going to be pretty bumpy, but you may, possibly, get in one day if you were an overwhelmingly great player;
  • If you were seen as one-dimensional like Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa and either admitted to PED use or were suspected of it, welp, sorry. We’ll leave why Sosa is suspected of it to another post.

All of this is will likely change slightly over time. Bonds and Clemens have recently gotten over the 50% voting threshold and could gain some steam with the voters. Alex Rodriguez was good enough and his post-career image rehabilitation has been such that he may get more support than most post-testing PED guys one day. Maybe McGwire and Sosa will get new looks down the road by some iteration of the Veteran’s Committee. After that, there aren’t a lot of guys who are seriously in the Hall of Fame discussion with credible PED claims against them.

Which is to say that history is sorting itself out, for better or for worse. Sorting itself out in a way that renders Morgan’s views on the matter — whether you consider them well-founded or otherwise — too little, too late and, given what we know and do not know about PED users, rather useless.