We’re all entitled to believe what we want to believe. There are people out there who insist that Roger Maris is still the single-season home run champ and Hank Aaron is still the all-time home run champ. I hold no more of a grudge against people who think that stuff than I hold for someone who thinks that Dick Sergeant was the better Darren on “Bewitched.” As long as they concede that it is only their opinion, and not a matter of fact or official standing, no worries. Which, in the case of Bonds and the record book it is not, nor will it ever be according to Bud Selig:
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig will not consider changing Barry Bonds’ records following the slugger’s conviction on obstruction of justice last week … “In life there’s always got to be pragmatism,” Selig said Thursday at his annual meeting with the Associated Press Sports Editors. “I think that anybody who understands the sport understand exactly why.”
We understand it because, even before there were steroids, there were differences in context across eras. Some that just sort of happened (big ballparks, dead balls), some were imposed by the wrongdoing of men (steroids, segregation). While we can make a lot of adjustments, we can’t quantify the exact amount that any given record was affected by different conditions with anything close to precision. The margin for error in such adjustments is larger, in most cases, than the differences between two similar accomplishments separated by decades. In light of this, to mess with the record book in any official way is madness. Appropriate to its name, let it simply record what happened.
By the same token, it is madness to insist that the record book represents the Alpha and Omega of player analysis and appreciation. Intellectually I can acknowledge that Barry Bonds’ accomplishments were artificially enhanced to some degree. I can even conclude that Hank Aaron’s accomplishments — by virtue of his era, the challenges he faced and what I believe about his drug use — were more impressive than Bonds’. But that doesn’t mean that Bonds’ feats weren’t amazing to watch, nor does it mean that they were 100% illegitimate. They were what they were and we have all manner of means to put them into context, be it statistically, aesthetically, morally, anecdotally or any other “ly” you can think of. And the “lys” that have less to do with the raw numbers and more to do with the narratives are the things that interest me the most anyway. Let’s talk about the difference between Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron. Let’s not just compare numbers and veto those we don’t like.
Barry Bonds happened. So did Roger Maris and Hank Aaron. So too did Kennesaw Mountain Landis, the guys who manufactured baseballs in 1904, the chemist who first came up with an anabolic steroid and whoever it was that decided the mound needed to be 20 feet tall in Dodger Stadium in the 1960s. The record book is the least interesting thing to me in all of that.
ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported this morning that free agent reliever Tommy Hunter required core muscle repair surgery earlier this offseason. Coming off a disappointing 2015, it’s understandable why he’s still on the market, but it sounds like he has at least one significant lead.
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the Rays are having “advanced talks” with Hunter as they attempt to add an experienced arm to their bullpen. Nothing is considered close and Hunter is also talking to other clubs. Meanwhile, the Rays have been in touch with veteran reliever Ryan Webb while monitoring the trade market.
Hunter posted a 2.88 ERA as a late-inning arm from 2013-2014, but he compiled a mediocre 4.18 ERA over 58 appearances last season between the Orioles and Cubs. On the bright side, his velocity has held steady and his control is still very good. Despite the down year and core muscle surgery, Topkin writes that Hunter may be holding out for a multi-year deal.
Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.
Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.
It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.
Many have speculated on a potential match between the White Sox and Ian Desmond this winter, but we haven’t heard much in the way of legitimate interest. That could be changing with spring training right around the corner, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports that Chicago is among the teams considering the free agent shortstop.
After turning the page on Alexei Ramirez this offseason, the White Sox currently have Tyler Saladino in line to serve as their starting shortstop in 2016. The 26-year-old is considered a strong defender, but he batted .225/.267/.335 with four homers over 254 plate appearances as a rookie in 2015. Desmond is coming off a nightmare of a walk year and has seen his strikeout rate climb by 8.5 percent since 2012, but he possesses more offensive upside and it’s not hard to imagine a bounceback campaign while calling U.S. Cellular Field home.
Similar to fellow free agents Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, Desmond is attached to draft pick compensation after turning down a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Nationals. It’s a big reason why a potential deal with the Rays is reported to be a “long shot.” Chicago’s No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft is protected, so they would give up their No. 28 overall pick if they sign a qualifying offer free agent like Desmond.
Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.
O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.
It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.