Fred Wilpon, Jeff Wilpon

The Wilpons test their defense in the pages of the Daily News

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As has become standard practice, the day after the New York Times says something bad about the Wlipons/Madoff case, the New York Daily News has a story — sourced, quite clearly, by Wilpon’s lawyers — endeavoring to counter it.  Today’s story: explaining the Wilpon defense.

And that defense:  “hey, if the Securities and Exchange Commission had no clue that Madoff was a fraudster, how on Earth could the Wilpons be said to have “known or should have known” that things weren’t on the up-and-up?”

And you know what? That defense has some surface appeal.  It’s the SEC’s job to sniff out such frauds. If they can’t do it, why should the Wilpons be expected to?  But here’s my problem with it, provided by Daily News itself:

In attacking the SEC, the Wilpons are echoing the claims in a civil suit brought against the commission in 2009 by Phyllis Molchatsky and Steven Schneider, two alleged Madoff victims who claim the SEC’s “negligence, incompetence, inexperience, inattentiveness and laziness” is to blame for the epic scandal.

“For at least 16 years, the SEC’s failure to follow basic investigative procedures and practices, or even to observe simple common sense, allowed Madoff to perpetuate his scheme, drawing in innumerable new victims who were totally unaware that the government agency sworn to protect them had fallen down on the job,” their suit says.

As lawyers annoyingly say sometimes, that argument proves too much.  It’s one thing to say that the SEC was itself hoodwinked and unable to uncover Madoff’s crimes, which is how a defense attorney unrelated to the Wilpons characterizes the defense in the story.  If that’s the case — if the SEC, using all of its investigative powers and native experience and intelligence hit a dead end — of course the Wilpons shouldn’t have been expected to do better. But it’s another thing altogether to say the SEC didn’t even try and was epically incompetent, and thus the Wilpons should be judged by that standard too.

Indeed, the other side of the accusations in that above quote is that anyone who “was able to observe simple common sense” or anyone who wasn’t “negligent, incompetent, inexperienced, inattentive or lazy” could have figured Maddof’s fraud out. Just because the federal agency charged with looking into Madoff was utterly incompetent doesn’t mean that reasonable, sophisticated investors with better information at their disposal about Bernie Madoff than the SEC had shouldn’t have been expected to do the basic kinds of due diligence the Wilpons are accused of not doing.

Put differently, if the city cop on the corner “fell down on the job,” people on the street aren’t permitted to break the law and can’t point to the face-down cop as a defense when the more attentive county sheriff comes to arrest them.  People still have a duty to act in a reasonable manner and behave the way the law expects them.

I’d have a lot more faith in the Wilpons’ defense if it was the SEC going after them. Because, yeah, it would take a lot of nerve for the SEC to say “you should have done better than us.”  But it’s not the SEC going after the Wilpons. It’s a trustee appointed to represent the interest of people who were wronged by Madoff. His claim isn’t that the Wilpons should have done better than the SEC. It’s that the Wilpons should have done better than the did based on the information they had at their disposal.  As such, pointing at the SEC as their defense doesn’t totally do it for me.

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.