Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings

5 Comments

As was the case last week and many weeks before, the Yankees rule the roost.  If you have an argument against it, make it in the comments. Then have yourself committed to a mental ward for an acute case of the crazy:

1. Yankees: I gave half a thought to going with the crazy and knocking them down a peg for moaning about not getting Cliff Lee, but no need to punish the players simply because some anonymous whack job in the front office lacks perspective. They obviously didn’t need Lee anyway. They’re cruising and they’ll just get Lee this winter. For now it all looks like cream cheese.

2. Braves: If there was any doubt about who is ruling the roost in the NL East right now, the Braves’ successful road trip through Philly and New York — two of three from the Phils and the Mets — put that to rest.

3. Rays: Nice rebound week (and change) for the Rays, taking three of four from the Twins, sweeping the Red Sox and taking care of the Indians.

4. White Sox: Ain’t nobody hotter than Ozzie Guillen’s White Sox. Coming back from 9.5 down just over a month ago to take over the division is the feat of the year so far.

5. Padres: A weird road trip — all the way from San Diego to Washington for three games and then clear back to Colorado — discombobulated the Padres a bit.  Seeing them in those slug fests in D.C. was . . . odd.

6. Tigers: Trying hard to get the number of the black and white truck that just ran them off the road.

7. Red Sox: Still banged up and now there’s some back and forth in the press between Youkilis and Ellsbury. Nice time for a few days off to clear heads and heal bodies.

8. Rockies: Colorado, in contrast, doesn’t wand the music to stop for four days, because they’re on a roll, serving notice to the Padres that the West won’t be theirs for long. In fact, number eight feels a little low for them.

9. Dodgers: They’re not turning heads like the Rockies are, but they’re just as close to the Padres. Not quite as talented a team, however, so they have to make a deal to hang in there, I think. Unless of course you think Vicente Padilla is going to spin seven shutout innings multiple times over the second half.

10. Rangers: Bad first start notwithstanding, getting Cliff Lee
puts them in the driver’s seat in the West. Heck, they may have been
there anyway, recent stumbles notwithstanding, because the Angels are
stumbling just as much.

11. Mets:  It’s not my anti-Mets bias that has me believing that they’re not the biggest threat to the Braves in the NL East. It’s plain old objectivity.  Mike Pelfrey has struggled recently. R.A. Dickey could have a great second half, but I don’t know how much I’d bet on that. The bullpen looks tired. If Beltran comes back strong or if they make a big trade I think they can hang, but short of that there are reasons for concern.  

12. Twins: Like Aaron said this morning: Free fall. The starters are getting creamed, both Mauer and Morneau are hurt/sick/struggling/whatever. They’re farther back in the Central now than they have been all year and things are looking bleak. Is the break enough for them, or do they need to make a deal?

13. Phillies: Three straight walkoff wins for the Phillies through Saturday, and a couple of pitching gems to close out the weekend. The offense and the non-Halladay portion of the rotation is still a concern, however. How they come out of the break will determine whether last week’s Jayson Werth trade rumors were merely a function of panic or the emergence of a dominant theme.

14. Reds: The Phillies’ series was a pain, but thankfully the Cardinals have been stumbling too.  The Reds need help in the bullpen, though, and quickly if they are to keep setting the tone, because St. Louis isn’t going to be down like this for long.

15. Cardinals, Giants: Identical records and only a two-run difference in run differential. The Giants enter the break on an upnote and the Cardinals on more of downnote, but I like the Cardinals’ chances better simply because they have fewer good teams to contend with and a ton of games left against some really, really bad ones.

17. Angels: An ugly and uninspiring series against the White Sox and the Rangers getting Cliff Lee makes for a pretty dispiriting week in Anaheim. But hey, All-Star Game is in town.

18. Blue Jays: It’s just astonishing to me how big a difference there has been between Adam Lind and Aaron Hill in 2009 and Adam Lind and Aaron Hill in 2010. Oh, and if you’re going to have a silly little Home Run Derby anyway, what’s the point of leaving Jose Bautista out of it? I mean, he only leads the majors in home runs and stuff.

19. Marlins: Jeff Loria would like to thank LeBron James for taking the focus off the Marlins for the rest of the season and likely for the next several years.

20. Athletics: Any A’s fans looking for something to cheer them up in this pretty down season should read yesterday’s editorial from Andy Dolich in the Chronicle: “When fans of the Green and Gold are celebrating their fifth world
championship, it will be in Oakland.” Hey, delusion can be cheering!

21. Royals: Optimism is at an all-time high in Kansas City right now. Well, maybe not “all-time” but at least a recent high. I’m not believing that talk about the Royals being playoff contenders — leave that to the Yostafarians out there — but it’s certainly nice for the Royals to not be a laughing stock for once.

22. Nationals: Frankly, having the season descend into crud like it has is the best possible thing for the Nats, inasmuch as it allows them to simply shut down Strasburg when he reaches his innings limit and will give them the flexibility to make some moves. I mean, yeah, I like Adam Dunn a lot, but if he can be flipped for some useful parts, it will be a good for the long term outlook to trade him.

23. Cubs: Owner Tom Ricketts said on Friday that “no one could have predicted the difficulty we’ve had” this far this
season.  Oh really? OK, I was wrong about Zambrano bouncing back and was overly concerned about Ted Lilly, but they looked like a fourth place team to me back on April 1st and at the All-Star break they’re in fourth place.

24. Brewers:  I know the Brewers draw well, but I hadn’t really thought of it in these terms before: “The Milwaukee Brewers play in baseball’s smallest market, but they have
sold more tickets this year than the New York Mets.”

25. Astros: Better play of late, but firing hitting coach Sean Berry and replacing him with Jeff Bagwell is a joke move. Like it’s Sean Berry’s fault the Astros suck. Like Jeff Bagwell will be able to do anything to turn things around. The reason Houston is terrible is because of Drayton McLane and Ed Wade, not because of the coaches. Unless Berry keyed Wade’s car or something, this move is all about making a scapegoat out of someone and is borne of the cynical belief that the identity of the hitting coach will get fans excited about a terrible team.

26. Mariners: Maybe the biggest failure in Seattle this year was the expectations game. So much activity in the offseason — and a lot of “Lee and King Felix a the top of the rotation!” hype — fooled a lot of people into believing that this team would do more than it was truly capable of. Objectively speaking, though, the Lee trade-and-flip worked out for them nicely and they’re a better team today than they were last week because of it. If they hadn’t brought Griffey back and if Jack Z. had said “hey, we’re rebuilding” a few times over the winter, people probably wouldn’t have been so down on the M’s in the first half.

27. Indians: Matt LaPorta and Carlos Santana have been great so far and give the Indians hope for the future. Sadly, however, departed superstars and hope for the future is not the sort of thing that’s going to make Cleveland fans feel good right now. Cliff Lee trade? LeBron James insanity? When does Browns camp start?

28. Diamondbacks: Headline “Dan Haren looking for strong second half for season.” Unspoken context: “for whom?”
 
29. Orioles: Of all the disappointments in Baltimore this year, perhaps the most surprising and the most depressing has been Matt Wieters’ .245/.315/.357 line in the first half. Remember back in the day when he inspired this kind of thing?

30. Pirates: There are a lot of sad comments that could be made about the Pirates, but maybe the saddest comes in the Post-Gazette’s first-half wrap up story in which it lists the season’s “high point” as the second game of the season when they had a big crowd for a game in which a boatload of tickets were discounted to $1.

People are getting hysterical over Dee Gordon’s positive test

FILE - This April 3, 1972 file photo shows Marvin Miller, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, talking to reporters in New York. Miller, the union leader who created free agency for baseball players and revolutionized professional sports with multimillion dollar contracts, died Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012 in New York. He was 95. (AP Photo/File)
Associated Press
9 Comments

A dude testing positive for PEDs and getting suspended for 80 games should, actually, be taken as a sign that the system, however imperfect, still largely works. But the world of baseball can’t stop to acknowledge that. No, this is apparently a crisis. A crisis so dire that decades of labor developments apparently need to be scuttled.

That’s the message I’m getting from some folks in baseball media, anyway. Take this for example:

There’s a LOT going on there. For one thing, a casual dismissal of just how massively significant the concept of the guaranteed contract is in baseball. Marvin Miller is always cited as the man who brought the players free agency, but free agency would not have been valuable at all if teams could just void contracts. Just look at how the NFL and its phony salary numbers work. Miller and the MLBPA worked insanely hard to put that system in place and it’s insanely valuable to union membership. It’s not hyperbole to say that any movement on the part of the union to compromise the notion of guaranteed contracts would represent a complete and total repudiation of decades of its own work, and suggesting that it do so because we still get 5-7 PED suspensions a year is preposterous.

Then look at the word “option” there. Abraham wouldn’t have contracts be automatically voided. He’d only have them be voided at the option of an owner. This would give teams tremendous power to get out of bad deals and would give them no risk with respect to PED guys who happen to be on team friendly deals. If contracts were automatically void, underpaid players like Madison Bumgarner would have MASSIVE incentives to use PEDs. If they were merely voidable at the whim of the owner, the owners would have incentives with respect to drug testing other than making the game a clean one.

Finally, note how Abraham puts this all on the MLBPA. He’s not alone in this, as Buster Olney has been tweeting and writing all morning about what the union should and should not be doing to solve this problem. Obviously the union has a huge role as its players are the ones taking drugs, but to suggest that the union be the police force here and that it’s wholly incumbent upon it to solve this problem is silly.

For one thing, as I noted earlier today, a union’s purpose is to protect its members, not police them. To demand that they police them, to the point of undercutting some of their most important protections due to a disciplinary matter, is to turn the concept of a union on its head.

For another thing, as we learned throughout the height of the PED Era, ownership is not totally innocent when it comes to the permeation of PEDs in the game. The people who run baseball play a huge role in shaping the incentive structure of the game which causes some players to cheat. They are thus just as invested in and in just as good a position to help solve the problem at hand as the players are. They cannot, as these reporters would have them, sit back and demand that the MLBPA disembowel itself in order to eliminate PEDs from the game. It has to be a joint effort. Indeed, the drug rules in baseball have the word “JOINT” in the very title. It ain’t a Cheech and Chong reference, I can tell you that.

All of this reveals a certain hysteria that has always permeated the PED discussion in baseball coming to the fore once again. While they once ruled the game, PEDs are a relatively small problem now, comparatively speaking (note: neither Abraham nor Olney bother to establish that they’re actually a big problem or that things are getting worse; they merely assert it and assume it). A problem which, like drugs and cheating in every other walk of life, cannot be wholly eliminated and should not be ignored, but which can be and generally is effectively managed.

Yet here we are with two of the more influential voices in the game — and many others I’ve seen already today but didn’t bother to link here — pushing the panic button and demanding the ridiculous with no basis whatsoever. What is it about this subject, in this sport only, of course, that makes people lose their frickin’ minds?

Marlins’ Dee Gordon says he unknowingly took PEDs

Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon looks into his dugout after reaching third on a double by teammate Marcell Ozuna during the third inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Jupiter, Fla. The Cardinals won 4-3. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
18 Comments

MIAMI (AP) Reigning NL batting champion Dee Gordon of the Miami Marlins says he unknowingly took the performance-enhancing drugs that led to his 80-game suspension, but he’ll accept the penalty.

The announcement of the suspension by Major League Baseball came shortly after the Marlins’ victory at Los Angeles on Thursday night. MLB said Gordon tested positive for exogenous testosterone and clostebol.

“Though I did not do so knowingly, I have been informed that test results showed I ingested something that contained prohibited substances,” Gordon said in a statement released Friday by the players union. “The hardest part about this is feeling that I have let down my teammates, the organization, and the fans. I have been careful to avoid products that could contain something banned by MLB and the 20-plus tests that I have taken and passed throughout my career prove this.

“I made a mistake and I accept the consequences.”

The 28-year-old Gordon led the majors in hits and stolen bases last year. He batted .333, became an All-Star for the second time and won a Gold Glove at second base.

The big season helped him earn a $50 million, five-year contract he signed in January.

He and Marlins manager Don Mattingly were together with the Dodgers for four years, but Gordon didn’t become a regular in Los Angeles until 2014. Gordon was traded to Miami in a seven-player deal in December 2014, and Mattingly became the Marlins’ manager this season.

“Dee is always a guy we felt could play, but at that point he was 145 pounds soaking wet,” Mattingly said during spring training. “Now he has turned into a man. He has put some physical strength on him, and he’s a different player.”

Following the suspension announcement, Mattingly said the Marlins will continue to support Gordon.

“I feel like Dee’s one of my kids, to be honest with you, because I’ve known him so long,” Mattingly said.

Shortly before the penalty was announced, Gordon hit an RBI single in the seventh inning and scored after forcing a balk as the Marlins rallied for a 5-3 win and a four-game sweep over Los Angeles.

Gordon became the seventh player to be suspended this year under the MLB drug plan. Last week, Toronto slugger Chris Colabello was penalized 80 games after testing positive for a PED.

Miami President David Samson said the Marlins “completely support the drug prevention program in every way.”

“Dee Gordon is a very important part of our team, and we all love him and support him,” Samson said. “That said, I don’t like or condone what he did.

“He will be back 80 games from now, and he will be welcomed back to this organization,” he added. “But in the interim period, we expect him, and we are positive that he will do everything that’s necessary to make it up to his fans, to his teammates and to this organization.”

The speedy Gordon is the son of former All-Star pitcher Tom Gordon.

The MLBPA continues to shoot itself in the foot regarding PEDs

Tony Clark
25 Comments

Most players are adamantly anti-PEDs now. Unlike their complicit or passive predecessors, today’s players don’t, for the most part, accept PEDs as just part of the game. They’re competitors and they see PED use as their competition cheating. They consider these guys to be taking money and service time away from other players. They are legitimately angry about it. And they should be.

But the manner in which they have expressed that anger — publicly, emotionally or by being quoted at length by baseball’s top writer calling for draconian punishments — is neither the best way to address their concerns about PED use in the game nor is it in their best interests in a larger sense. Indeed, it undermines their interests and sets them up to be taken advantage of by the owners both with respect to PEDs and other matters which affect their lives and their livelihoods.

PED rules and every other rule which affect the circumstances of baseball players are the subject of collective bargaining. It’s union stuff, negotiated with ownership. And it’s a zero sum game. You make a concession, you get something in return. If you give up something for nothing, you get nothing. It’s like any other sort of negotiation. If you cease to treat it as one, you lose your leverage to get what you want. You get no points whatsoever for your personal virtue, your public position and what people not party to the negotiation think of you. Players loudly and publicly proclaiming their desire for the harshest possible PED penalties are like a man in midlife crisis walking into a Porsche dealership wearing a shirt that says “I will not leave here without a red 718 Boxter.”

Ownership knows that the players will agree to anything and will even put the anything on the table themselves. And they’ll take maximal advantage of the players. For example, maybe the players are in favor of a contract-voiding provision in the narrow case of PED use. Maybe they see it as something confined solely to drug situations. The owners could jump at that knowing full well that, for the first time, the union has caved some on the critical concept of guaranteed contracts in baseball and will use that as a basis to make further inroads later. Maybe the players want to suspend players pending their drug test appeal. The owners will nod and privately acknowledge that players will, in the right cases, negotiate away their due process protections. Once a party caves on something, even if it’s a broad concept, it’s extraordinarily difficult for them to later present a credible defense to that concept or to claim that it is sacrosanct.

At the same time, maybe there are things the players can actually GAIN if they’re more guarded in their approach. Many acknowledge that PED use is, at least in part, a function of players trying to keep their bodies together over the long grind of the baseball season. Meanwhile, players would love more off-days and changes to the schedule. Why not link these issues and, in exchange for some harsher penalties, force the owners to give them some schedule relief? Why not get something they want and need in exchange for giving something up? It’s an ideal situation for a party to a negotiation and it’s a situation lost if one spends months before the negotiation making it clear that they’ll freely give away something that would otherwise have to be paid for.

None of which is to say that the players cannot or should not try to get exactly what they want, up to and including, I dunno, an instant death penalty for PED users if they feel it’s necessary. It’s to say that, to get that, they have to be unified. They have to agree on a strategy to get what they want and execute it the same way every other strategy is executed in these situations. There is no negotiating strategy that has ever been helped by loudly signaling to your adversary what it is you’re trying to accomplish. Being guarded about what it is you value and how you value it in the context of a negotiation does not mean that you don’t value it. Demanding that the owners compensate you for an increased PED sanction does not mean that you’re pro-PEDs.

I look at Justin Verlander‘s public comments and the comments of other players who are angry at PED users and I understand where that anger comes from. But I also know that, if Marvin Miller or Don Fehr were running the union today, those comments would be made in communications with union leadership and fellow players for the purposes of developing a strategy, not in public for the purposes of venting anger. They would form the basis of a consensus with which a unified MLBPA could approach ownership in a way best calculated to accomplish the players’ goals. As I put it rather crudely on Twitter this morning, if players in Miller and Fehr’s day spoke publicly in a way that undermined the MLBPA’s negotiation leverage, they’d end up in body bags.

This morning I wonder what Tony Clark is doing to address the legitimate anger of players like Justin Verlander. Does he have their confidence that he can accomplish what they want to accomplish with respect to harsher PED penalties? Are their public comments actually frustration by players at what they perceive to be a union which doesn’t value their concerns? Or, alternatively, are the players simply not as invested in the sort of unanimity of voice that all unions require to be successful? And if so, why not? Is it because they’re complacent or has MLBPA leadership simply not done as good a job explaining to them the real consequences of a failure of solidarity?

Dee Gordon‘s suspension is not, in and of itself, a big deal. But it could have some big repercussions. The MLBPA and its membership had best be on the same page, publicly and privately, if they want to ride out the repercussions and shape their future in a way that best serves their interests. As opposed to the interests of ownership which, in the context of the CBA, is their adversary, even if their interests often coincide.

Dee Gordon’s suspension is likely to lead to a call for harsher PED penalties

Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon celebrates after hitting a double against the Detroit Tigers in the ninth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Miami. Derek Dietrich scored on the double. The Tigers won 8-7. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Associated Press
38 Comments

Objectively speaking there is no difference between Dee Gordon’s suspension for PEDs and anyone else’s. Abraham Almonte, for example. Or Cameron Maybin. Or David Rollins. All were guys who got their 80 games, served their time, came back and whose cases didn’t raise too much of a fuss. But Gordon’s suspension will almost certainly be talked about longer and more loudly and will likely lead to calls for harsher penalties and changes to the PED suspension rules.

Part of it is simply fame. He’s a pretty big name as far as these things go. The biggest since the Biogenesis guys a couple of years ago. He won the batting title last year. He’s the son of a famous major leaguer. There is a direct correlation between the volume and intensity of the narratives applied to one’s story and the fame of the subject of the story. For that reason alone Gordon’s story will last longer and loom larger.

Another reason — a bigger reason, I think — is timing. Gordon was seen by many to have had a breakout season in 2015 and, when it was over, he was rewarded for it with a nice five-year $50 million deal. The narrative will arise by, oh, 9AM today, that the suspension was “worth it” for Gordon and that he cashed in because of it, rendering his suspension a mere slap on the wrist. This is especially true given that his deal is severely backloaded. He’ll lose less than $2 million in salary in 2016 while collecting the other $48 million-plus. Totally worth it!

I understand why people will say that, but such a stance has some serious flaws. Among them:

  • It assumes that we or anyone else knows when Gordon began to take PEDs;
  • It assumes that we or anyone else knows how, in fact, Gordon’s performance was actually enhanced;
  • It forgets that lots and lots of people were talking about how Gordon’s “breakout season” was actually 2014, not 2015, rendering that whole “he juiced and then got his money” argument fairly problematic.

Those points will likely be ignored as arguments in favor of harsher penalties grow louder. Ken Rosenthal reminds us this morning that some have called for some form of contract voiding or clawing back of more money than just the salary earned while on suspension. Those calls too will likely grow louder. There will also be calls for changes in the appeal process. Like this one, which came moments after Gordon’s suspension was announced:

When you have an actual union member angrily call for the repeal of a collectively-bargained protection in punishment situations, you’re sort of through the looking glass. Or past a tipping point. Or something. You’re certainly in a world where the usual dynamics between employer and employee are not operative and, as a result, changes are inevitable. As we noted recently, players today are perhaps more adamantly anti-PED than the owners and the league are. They’re competitors reacting to cheating by their competition. The fuel for stronger penalties is likely to come more from them than anyone.

The union and the league will be negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement this year. Performance enhancing drugs and their penalties will be a part of that. Expect harsher penalties and possibly different sorts of rules altogether. Expect Dee Gordon to be the poster child for these changes, even if his case is no different in form than that of Abraham Almonte, Cameron Maybin, or David Rollins. Expect emotion, rather than logic, to lead the coming debate.