mystery man

I went to the Rule 5 Draft and it was OK

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The Rule 5 Draft is one of the bigger agenda items at the Winter Meetings. Big in the sense that it’s in the biggest room they have here, everyone goes to it and, unlike so many of the other official events, it’s one of the things that people may talk about throughout the season when discussing actual baseball.  As opposed to, you know, a seminar about how to maximize bobblehead promotion days. Of which there are many similar events this week.

But it’s also a pretty nothing-event in person. There is no Rule 5 Mel Kiper. There is no equivalent to those crazy Jets fans who scream at their team’s picks.I just left it. The Major League portion lasted less than 15 minutes. About half the teams passed, either because they already had 40 men on the roster or else because they didn’t see anyone who they thought could make the team. The minor league portion lasted another 25 minutes tops. The whole thing began at 9 AM. People started leaving the room at 9:38.

The Rule 5 is explained nicely here, but I think the most important thing for casual fans to know about it is that if you take someone, they have to stay on the big club all year or else they must be offered back to their old team for a pittance.  Which is why so many Rule 5 picks wind up on the disabled list with phantom injuries in the middle of the season: “we don’t want this guy on the major league team anymore, but we sure would like to keep him around,” the teams think. And then suddenly the guy has tendinitis or dead arm or some non-specific bone bruise someplace and gets stashed on the DL.  It’s uncanny, really.

As for the picks, I know stuff about exactly two of them: Scott Diamond, a lefty on the Braves AAA team went to the Twins. He was kind of nice to have around, but really, if he was anything special the Braves wouldn’t have left him unprotected. Also, the Nationals took the Mets’ Elvin Ramirez, a pitcher who supposedly throws really hard but doesn’t know where he’s throwing it.  There are a lot of guys like that in this thing.

Later on someone who knows more about non-elite AAA roster talent (i.e. the guys who get picked) will do a summary and we’ll point it out for you.  The upshot, though: no one around here thinks that there’s any kind of real talent in this year’s Rule 5, and almost everyone who gets picked will be forgotten about by everyone except the hardcore prospect trackers by the time we all get to the Orlando airport.

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.