Nolan Ryan: the bankruptcy is gutting the Rangers

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Day two of that fun Texas Rangers hearing down in Forth Worth and the highlight so far — thanks to some live tweeting by SBJ’s Daniel Kaplan — is Nolan Ryan on the witness stand.  Among the tidbits he dropped during his testimony, which concluded a few minutes ago:

  • The team is being forced to deplete its minor league
    system because of the bankruptcy;

  • The bankruptcy is preventing the Rangers from signing international players. Ryan says that because of this “there is a void in our system”;

  • The bankruptcy could prevent the team from buying a new
    video board, priced between $5 million and $12 million;

  • Because of the bankruptcy, other teams are starting to poach Rangers’ scouts;

  • A prolonged bankruptcy could cause the team to lose Josh Hamilton;

  • Bankruptcy aside, the team is running $5 million ahead of budget projections in revenue this year, presumably because they’ve been winning.

  • The team expects to sell playoff tickets this year, which will bring in between $11 million and $14 million.

That’s all interesting, but it’s worth noting that Nolan Ryan has every incentive — not just as the Rangers’ President, but also as
its prospective new owner — 
to get the team out of bankruptcy as soon as possible. That  means that a doomsday scenario for the Rangers-in-bankruptcy is in his own best interests in this particular hearing, because if it’s truly doomsday, Greenberg and Hicks’ position — auction the team yesterday before other bidders can improve their chances at landing the team — should win. That doesn’t mean that he’s not telling the truth, but I’m betting there were a lot of “coulds” and “mights” in Ryan’s testimony today.

The judge seemingly took Ryan’s testimony with a grain of salt. According to Kaplan, after Ryan was done, the judge observed that it was not the bankruptcy that was causing many of these problems for the Rangers, but the fact that they’ve been on a line of credit from Major League Baseball to cover expenses. Including, one assumes, scout salaries and signing bonuses for international players.  Which is not to say that the bankruptcy is a good thing — it’s not — but blaming it for all the team’s financial problems seems pretty questionable to me.

The vast majority of the Rangers’ business issues right now are Tom Hicks’ fault, not the fault of the process by which the court is attempting to ensure that the creditors Hicks stiffed for so long get something approaching fair value in return.  The suggestion that it’s the bankruptcy itself that is the real evil here seems wrong to me.

Marlins acquire starter Dan Straily from the Reds

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 3: Dan Straily #58 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the first inning of the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park on September 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
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The Miami Marlins have acquired starting pitcher Dan Straily from the Cincinnati Reds. In exchange, the Reds will receive right-handed pitching prospects Luis Castillo and Austin Brice and outfield prospect Isaiah White.

For the Marlins, they get a solid starter who logged 191.1 innings of 113 ERA+ ball last year. Straily has moved around a lot in his five big league seasons — the Marlins will be his fifth club in six years — but it was something of a breakout year for him in Cincinnati. The only troubling thing: he tied for the league lead in homers allowed. Of course, pitching half of his games in Great American Ballpark didn’t help that, and Miami will be a better place for him.

Castillo is 24. He split last season between high-A and Double-A — far more of it in A-ball — posting a 2.26 ERA over 24 starts. Austin Brice is also 24. He pitched 15 games in relief for the Marlins last year at the big league level with poor results. He seemed to blossom at Triple-A, however, after the Marlins shifted him to the pen. White was a third round pick in the 2015 draft. He played low-A ball as a minor leaguer last year, hitting .214/.306/.301.

A mixed bag of young talent for the Reds, but stockpiling kids and seeing what shakes out is what a team like the Reds should be doing at the moment. For the Marlins: a solid mid-to-back end starter who may just be coming into his own.

Have Hall of Fame Voters actually made the PED thing More complicated?

Sammy Sosa
Associated Press
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The story coming out of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting is that the BBWAA voters are finally easing their antipathy toward players with performance enhancing drug associations.

Jeff Bagwell — the subject of unconfirmed PED rumors — made the Hall! Pudge Rodriguez, who was named in Jose Canseco’s book and who had a . . . curious physical transformation around the time PED testing came online, made it on the first ballot! Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose PED use was well-documented, saw their vote totals advance above the 50% mark, making their future elections look more likely!

It’s an interesting development, and one I’m obviously pleased with, but I wonder if the BBWAA’s new approach to PED guys, while far more forgiving than it used to be, has actually become more complicated in practice.

I ask this because I look way, way down the ballot and I still see Sammy Sosa scraping by with around 8% of the vote. I ask this because I still see Gary Sheffield at 13%. I ask this because when Mark McGwire was on the Today’s Game ballot in December, no one really stumped for him at all. I ask this because, even though Bagwell and Mike Piazza got in eventually, they still had to go through a lot of hazing first and I suspect, if they hit the ballot for the first time again tomorrow, the same arguments and delay would occur with respect to their cases.

In light of that, what I suspect has happened has not been a wholesale surrender of the anti-PED voters. Rather, I think it has been a transformation. One in which a moral test — did he use PEDs or not? — has been discarded as a threshold question and a scientific/physiological test — would he have been great even without the PEDs? — has replaced it. In essence, voters are becoming “PED discounters” in the aggregate. Making calculations as to whether a guy was, in their mind, a creation of PEDs or not.

Such an approach explains these new voting patterns as well as those in recent years.

  • Ivan Rodriguez may have been called out by Canseco and may have noticeably shrunk over an offseason, but his calling card was his defense behind the plate and voters, I suspect, have told themselves that such a thing is not PED-aided.
  • Bonds and Clemens may have been PED users, but each of them was undeniably talented and, if you discount for the PED use, hey, they’re still all-time greats.
  • Sammy Sosa’s case rests disproportionately on homers and, as everyone knows, PEDs = instant dingers, so no, he’s not gonna cut it.

And so on.

As I said, I’m glad that the strict moral test — did he use or not? — is losing its hold on Hall voters. But I do not think the “did PEDs make him who he was test?” is a good approach either. Baseball writers are in no better a position to assess the physiological and performance enhancements caused by pharmaceuticals than they are to be judges of character and morality. Given the identities of players confirmed to be PED users, the old eye test implicit in these cases is famously faulty (Neifi Perez, anyone?). The idea that PEDs only affect home run totals — and not, say, the ability for a player to take the abuse of the catcher position for 21 seasons — is crude and ignorant.

I suppose it’s naive to expect voters to completely disregard PEDs in their assessment of players. It’s a bell that cannot be unrung. But while we may, thankfully, be moving away from a moral test with respect to drugs, it’s been displaced by a scientific test that is no more reasonable in practice.