Jason Bay, Yunel Escobar

Braves writer wants to make it very, very clear that everyone really, really hated Yunel Escobar

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When the Braves traded Yunel Escobar to the Blue Jays last year there was plenty of talk about how few people in Atlanta were sad to see him go, so this isn’t exactly shocking news.

However, with Escobar back in town for an interleague series and playing very well for the Blue Jays while the guy who replaced him, Alex Gonzalez, struggles at the plate for the Braves, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution wants to make sure everyone knows just how despised Escobar was.

O’Brien kicks off his article by calling Escobar “a petulant hot dog of a player who rubbed teammates wrong at least as frequently as he ticked off opponents.” And there’s plenty more where that came from:

A year later, I challenge you to find one individual employed in any capacity by the Braves, from the clubhouse to the front office and everywhere between, who regrets the move. Gonzalez is infinitely more popular with his teammates, plays steady defense, and comes to play every day, notwithstanding an infrequent lapse in judgment in not running out a ground ball or some such offense. But like I said, if Escobar were playing like he has this season for the Blue Jays, particularly like he has for the past six weeks, the Braves wouldn’t have traded him.

But wait, there’s more:

Again, I defy you to find one Braves player, coach, front-office official or team employee who wishes they had Escobar on the team rather than Gonzalez.

And more:

To this day, I can’t find anyone in the organization that regrets it.

And more:

I know he does still have a couple of friends on the team, but even they have said they understood why the Braves made the trade, that it had reached a point where Escobar and his teammates and coaches were just not meshing together at any reasonable degree any longer.

In fairness to O’Brien he lays out the relevant numbers since the trade, admitting that Escobar has been better than Gonzalez, but he also dismisses all that while focusing on how everyone hated Escobar and no one in the organization regrets the trade. I’m guessing they wouldn’t be particularly quick to admit regret to O’Brien even if they did and more importantly the Braves’ level of regret doesn’t change the fact that Escobar has hit .278 with a .741 OPS for the Blue Jays while Gonzalez has hit .245 with a .673 OPS for the Braves.

If the Braves are fine losing 70 points of OPS by replacing a 28-year-old shortstop with a 34-year-old shortstop so be it–they rank 11th among NL teams in scoring, so the extra offense would come in handy–but O’Brien’s piece reads more like a sales pitch than reporting or even analysis. O’Brien is one of my favorite beat writers, but here he’s trying to sell Braves fans on the fact that they shouldn’t regret a trade that was motivated by off-field factors and has hurt the team on the field.

He brushes off any “lapse in judgment” by Gonzalez to hammer home the point that he’s a better person than Escobar in the clubhouse and repeatedly stresses that the Braves never would’ve dealt Escobar if he’d played this well for them. But he did play this well for the Braves, just not in the half-season preceding the trade. Escobar hit .291 with a .771 OPS in 446 games for the Braves and he’s hit .278 with a .741 OPS in 128 games for the Blue Jays. If anything he was more productive in Atlanta than he’s been in Toronto.

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.