Michael Bourn

Astros should have done better for Michael Bourn

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I was impressed with Houston’s return for Hunter Pence.  By all indications, Astros GM Ed Wade did a nice job of playing the suitors off each other and he ended up with a pair of top-50 prospects from the Phillies for his troubles.

The Michael Bourn trade with Atlanta was also a four-for-one deal, but in this case, the four wasn’t nearly so impressive.  And one can argue that Bourn is just as valuable of a property as Pence.  Factoring in his exceptional defense and his value on the basepaths, he’s been the superior player this year while hitting .303/.363/.403 in 429 at-bats.  And while Pence is under control for the additional year, Bourn at about $7 million for 2012 alone sounds better than Pence at approximately $23 million for 2012-13.

In return for Bourn, the Braves gave up outfielder Jordan Schafer and three pitchers: Brett Oberholtzer, Paul Clemens and Juan Abreu.

Schafer, 24, was a top prospect two years ago, but he ended up on the shelf for much of 2009 and all of 2010 and he’s hit just .223/.310/.303 in 363 major league at-bats.  He’s a legitimate center fielder, and he could yet establish himself as a quality regular if he can get healthy and stay that way.  He’s currently on the DL with a chip fracture in his left middle finger.

Oberholtzer, a 22-year-old lefty, is the top pitching prospect in the deal, but he’s only in the second tier of Braves arms.  The 2008 eighth-round pick is 9-9 with a 3.74 ERA and a 93/42 K/BB ratio in 127 2/3 innings for Double-A Mississippi.  His fastball is pretty average, but both his changeup and curveball should be quality major league pitches.  He projects as a No. 4 starter.

Clemens, a 23-year-old righty, was drafted one round ahead of Oberholtzer in the 2008 draft and was his teammate at Mississippi this year, going 6-5 with a 3.73 ERA and a 93/44 K/BB ratio in 108 2/3 innings.  He’d been in the pen more often than not leading up to this year, and his secondary pitches will have to get better for him to remain a starter.  His fastball, though, reaches the mid-90s.

Abreu, a 26-year-old right-handed reliever, has good stuff out and a spotty track record.  Pitching in Triple-A for the first time, he’s had something of a breakthrough year, amassing a 2.25 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 48 innings.  He has walked 27, though, and the Braves never thought he was worthy of a callup.

So, Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart these guys are not.  If this was the best Wade could do now, he should have kept Bourn until the winter.  The deal from the Astros’ perspective will probably come down to Schafer and whether he fulfills his promise an an everyday player.  He’s still young enough to turn the corner, but three straight injury-plagued seasons don’t bode well.

A far-fetched sounding drug test scam

NES TSIONA, ISRAEL - JANUARY 22:  A laboratory technician checks human blood samples before placing the glass tubes on an automated testing line at the Maccabi Health Services HMO central laboratory January 22, 2006 in Nes Tsiona which is located in central Israel. The laboratory, which operates a fully automated system complete with advanced robotics, can test more than 50,000 blood samples a day. The lab is considered one of the most modern of its kind in the western world.  (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)
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Kevin Draper at Deadspin is passing along a story — and that’s not me editorializing; he’s admitting that it’s unconfirmed gossip at the moment — about a major league player paying a teammate $2.5 million to take the fall for him on a drug test. The story came via a tip from someone who, apparently, had a conversation about the drug test scam with a college baseball player who knew the players allegedly involved in the scam.

Here is how the conversation was recounted:

College Baseball Player: [MLB player’s star teammate] paid him to take his blood test. $2.5 million dollars.

Bar Patron: How does that even work?

College Baseball Player: [MLB player] and [MLB player’s star teammate] were getting tested the same day. They traded samples.

Deadspin says that the story is “probably bulls**t” but that some preliminary investigating they’ve done doesn’t disprove it and, to some extent corroborates it. How it’s been supported or not is left unclear and Deadspin couches all of this in a request for more information if anyone has any. Which, OK, fine.

I’ll offer that, on the surface, this seems like a bit more than mere “bulls**t.” It sounds structurally impossible. If it’s a blood test for HGH as the excerpt suggests, the samples are tested back in the lab to make sure they match up with previous samples. Meaning: the lab processing the sample knows if it’s your blood or not. If it’s a urine test, as Deadspin thinks it may have been, I’m not sure how samples could be switched given that urine tests are directly observed by testing officials. Yes, they watch you pee. They’d likely prevent you from peeing right next to your bro teammate, but even if you did, they’d see you exchange little plastic containers of urine with him.

I’m not going to say that this is 100% bull because we can’t really know for sure, but the scenario as described sounds highly unlikely, approaching the impossible. If someone had a story about bribing a sample taker with $2.5 million well, hey, maybe we’re getting somewhere, because that would get you over some procedural hurdles. For now, though, this all sounds like someone passing along a tall tale.

If it is true? Hoo boy, that’d be fun. At least for people like me who write about this stuff.

The deeper implications of the A.J. Ellis trade

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers heads to the dugout at the end of the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on May 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The trade of a light-hitting backup catcher is normally about as inconsequential as it gets. The trade of A.J. Ellis by the Dodgers to the Phillies, however, is anything but that. Indeed, it may be the public manifestation of long-simmering, well, maybe “feud” is too strong a word, but a definite butting of heads between the team’s front office and its best player.

While almost all of the clubhouse drama in Los Angeles has surrounded a talented but aggravating corner outfielder currently toiling in the minors, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wrote last night that the Ellis trade could very well be seen as the front office’s shot across Clayton Kershaw‘s bow:

Kershaw’s preference of Ellis was the subject of a longstanding tug-of-war between Kershaw and the front office, which wanted Yasmani Grandal behind the plate as much as possible . . . Some players interpreted the trade as a message from the front office.

This isn’t Kershaw’s team. It’s not Corey Seager’s team or Adrian Gonzalez’s, either.

It’s Friedman’s.

The notion that Kershaw likes to pitch to Ellis is pretty well-known, but the idea that it was so strong a preference that it created a dispute as to whether he has final say over a roster spot is news, at least to people who aren’t around the Dodgers all the time. Hernandez is a good columnist and is particularly well-plugged in to the Dodgers after many years of being their beat writer for the Times. He wouldn’t throw the notion of there being something of a power struggle in this regard out there all willy-nilly in order to stir the pot or something. I don’t doubt for a second that something bigger than most of us have seen is going on here.

As for the trade itself: yeah, it’s pretty debatable as to whether it makes any kind of sense. Carlos Ruiz is likely an upgrade over Ellis, but it’s a pretty marginal upgrade when you consider how few plate appearances the Dodgers backup catcher will make for the rest of the year. It’s especially marginal if you assume, as Hernandez and others assume, likely with reason, that the loss of Ellis is going to harm morale. At least in the short term before they get to know Ruiz well (worth noting, though, that he comes pretty highly recommended from Kershaw-caliber aces for all the same reasons Ellis does). I can see a lot of reasons not to make that deal even for an extra hit or two a week that Ruiz may give you over Ellis.

All of which speaks to what we don’t know. What we don’t know about the mind of Andrew Friedman and whether or not there is something more going on here than is immediately apparent. About the relationship between him and Kershaw and, for that matter, him and the rest of the team that would cause him to make a deal that plays as poorly with his own players as this one does. It could be something about Ellis. It could be something about Friedman’s relationship with Kershaw. It could be something totally unrelated to any of that, such as offseason plans and the roster in 2017 (Ruiz has a team option for next year, Ellis is a pending free agent). Unless or until Friedman speaks or a reporter gets someone to shed more light on this, there will continue to be questions.

In the meantime, I’ll grant that there are certainly different rules which apply to superstars than mere mortals, but veto power over a trade and/or playing time for other players isn’t typically one of them. If, as Hernandez suggests, there was a sense that Kershaw and Friedman didn’t see eye-to-eye on that and it wasn’t otherwise being resolved, it makes Friedman’s move somewhat more understandable.