Deer

Deer antlers: the hot new PED

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Given how many baseball players spend their offseasons hunting you’d think we would have heard about this by now, but this is the first I’ve heard of ground up deer antlers being used by athletes as a PED:

They harvest the so-called velvet antler (a soft coating that covers deer antlers) in New Zealand, freeze-dry it and then grind it into a powder. It then gets shipped to the United States, where it gets put into either capsules or liquid extracts that can become a simple mouth spray. You can buy it for $68 a bottle.

For the elite athlete, experts say it’s essentially a human growth hormone, one of the substances organized sports is trying to keep out. The difference here is deer antlers are natural, not synthetic, and properly discovering it in a test falls somewhere between extremely challenging to virtually impossible.

Apparently the active ingredient — IGF-1 — is one of the main proteins in human growth hormone. The author of the piece — Dan Wetzel — talks about its use being widespread in the NFL and gets quotes from the usual hand-wringing suspects about just how awful this is.  Indeed, as this story was being written I was asked to ship my personal fainting couch to the WADA offices in Montreal because they’re suffering a shortage.  It wouldn’t be so bad but everyone up there is afraid that the medication doctors prescribe for cases of the vapors might unfairly impact their job performance.

Of course, you know where all this is heading:

Freeze-dried, ground up, liquid extract, New Zealand velvet deer antlers. That’s the level the athletes will go to gain an advantage. Anyone got any good ideas how far the leagues have to go to stop it?

I suppose that question is inevitable. Seems to me that another question should be asked first, but isn’t: does the stuff actually improve athletic performance one iota?  Because HGH hasn’t been proven to do so. At all.  But of course, anti-doping groups don’t care nearly as much about that as they do about coming up with, selling and promoting the latest drug testing methods and shaming those who don’t seek their seal of approval, so it’s understandable why that’s all glossed over.

Oh well.  All I know for sure is that given what passes for reasonable suspicion these days, Luke Scott’s Hall of Fame case is in deep trouble.

Angels ink Javy Guerra to minor league deal

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Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Angels have agreed to terms on a minor league contract with right-handed reliever Javy Guerra. The deal includes an invitation to major league spring training.

Guerra was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball last July after testing positive for a drug of abuse. That suspension is now over, though Guerra is probably ticketed for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate to begin the 2016 season.

The 30-year-old made just three major league appearances in 2015 for the White Sox before getting outrighted off Chicago’s 40-man roster. He does own a 2.87 ERA in 150 1/3 career innings, but it has come with bouts of inconsistency and unreliability.

Maybe he can get everything going in the right direction with Anaheim.

Braves sign reliever Carlos Torres

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As first reported by Bill Shanks of Fox Sports 1670, the Braves have signed right-handed reliever Carlos Torres to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Torres was waived by the Mets in January, somewhat surprisingly, and elected to become a free agent. The 33-year-old ultimately chose Atlanta, where he should have a good shot at an Opening Day roster out of spring training with the rapidly-rebuilding Braves.

Torres posted an ugly 4.68 ERA in 57 2/3 innings last season for the Mets, but he registered a gorgeous 3.06 ERA and 96 strikeouts across 97 innings in 2014.

If he gets off to a good start in 2016, he could become valuable trade bait.

Blue Jays will have a closer competition this spring

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Roberto Osuna became the youngest pitcher to ever play for the Blue Jays last season at age 20 and he rose to the challenge with a 2.58 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, and 75/16 K/BB ratio in 69 2/3 frames. Osuna eventually took over as Toronto’s closer, earning 20 regular-season saves and one in the American League Division Series — a five-out effort in Game 5 to close out the visiting Rangers.

But the Jays upgraded the back end of their bullpen this winter, acquiring Drew Storen from the Nationals in early January for speedy outfielder Ben Revere. Jesse Chavez was also brought to Toronto in a trade with the A’s.

Storen has more experience at closer than Osuna, and Storen struggled when the Nationals tried to put him in a setup role. Storen, in his final year of salary arbitration, also gets paid much more. He’s probably going to enter spring training as the favorite for the Jays’ ninth-inning gig, but there will be a competition …

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins told Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca on Wednesday that he doesn’t expect the team to choose between Osuna or Storen until midway through spring training, if not later.

There’s been talk of making Osuna a starter, so add that wrinkle.

Storen, 28, boasts 95 career major league saves.

Orioles plotting late-offseason push? Gallardo, Fowler, Alvarez, Bruce in consideration

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Baltimore’s front office appears to be lining up a run of potential roster additions leading into the beginning of spring training.

We’ve already passed along the reports suggesting they are close to a three-year deal with free agent starter Yovani Gallardo, but now FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal adds that free agent outfielder Dexter Fowler could be next on the Orioles’ target list. It they get those two deals done, the O’s could then chase free agent slugger Pedro Alvarez.

Rosenthal says the Orioles are even eyeing Jay Bruce of the Reds, though the FOX reporter hears the O’s might not have the prospects to pull off that kind of trade.

The focus for the Orioles out of the gate this winter was re-signing Matt Wieters and Chris Davis. Wieters accepted his one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer in November and Davis was locked up to a seven-year, $161 million contract in mid-January.

Now the O’s are spending a little leftover cash on late-offseason additions to improve their position in what should be a tight 2016 American League East race.