Tim Raines

My imaginary Hall of Fame ballot

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The Hall of Fame ballot came out yesterday. One does not get to vote unless one has been a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America for a decade. I am not a BBWAA member, of course, so my voting will have to be imaginary. That’s OK, though, I do a lot of pretend things.  Anyway, if I had a ballot, here would be my slate:

Barry Larkin
Jeff Bagwell
Edgar Martinez
Mark McGwire
Tim Raines
Alan Trammell

The Shortstops

Trammell and Larkin should be no-brainers. Superior defensive shortstops who, it just so happened, also happened to be superior-to-elite hitters through much of their careers. We got spoiled by the brief shining moment in the 1990s and early 2000s when some shortstops hit 40 homers and batted .350, but that’s a crazy-aberration. A-Rod in his prime is not the standard for a shortstop making the Hall. Both Trammell and Larkin are above the standard — way above the standard — and until the A-Rod/Jeter/Tejada/Garciaparra blip occurred, you could argue that the only better ones were Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughn and Cal Ripken.

Larkin will likely get in this year. Trammell won’t, despite the fact that they are basically identical players. This is a travesty. If I ever fully flip out and take the to streets as a costumed avenger, there’s a decent chance I’ll be wearing a Tigers number 3 jersey.

Raines

Tim Raines was the best player in baseball for about four or five years in the 1980s. People don’t believe this, but it’s true. He suffers because he had similar skills to Rickey Henderson who is an all-time elite, and that’s just as unfair as comparing those shortstops to similar outliers.  He also suffers because so much of his value was about getting on base and people just didn’t appreciate that as much at the time as they should have and still don’t, really. He also suffers because some people hold him to a different standard with respect to his cocaine use than they held Paul Molitor, for example, and that’s some ugliness I don’t think anyone wants to explore. But Raines is easily a Hall of Famer in my view.

The Designated Hitter

Edgar Martinez was a DH. And his career started late, meaning that his raw numbers aren’t as impressive as a lot of Hall of Famers. But his rate stats were astonishingly good. He had an OPS+ of 150 or greater eight times.  Sure, you have to hit at a higher rate than your average Hall of Fame hitter if you want to get in with no defensive value, but I think Martinez did that.

The PED Casualties 

As for McGwire and Bagwell, I don’t think anyone disputes that their numbers make them Hall of Fame first basemen. What people are doing with them is knocking them out because of steroids. In McGwire’s case because he has admitted to their use. In Bagwell’s because people — for reasons no one has yet had the information or the guts to explain — assume he used them. What they’re doing to Bagwell is outrageous, by the way, but we’ll save it until someone writes his “I have questions …” column about him later this month.

Here’s my thing on PEDs and the Hall of fame. I don’t totally ignore them.  My inclusion of McGwire shows that. However, my exclusion of Rafael Palmiero shows that I do consider it to some extent.  Yes, I know it’s not a perfect system, but my approach is (a) if the PED use is established; (b) to determine whether, roughly speaking, the guy was a Hall of Famer even if he never used PEDs. Yes, that’s subjective as hell, but I see it preferable to either assuming a player’s entire record was fraudulent because he took drugs, which would be silly, or alternatively assuming that PEDs had zero impact on his career performance. because we know neither of those things is the case.  I give guys like McGwire and Palmiero a discount, and in my mind that slips Palmiero below the Hall of Fame line and doesn’t do the same for McGwire. Have at me.

The Exclusions

  • Fred McGriff: McGriff continues to be really hard for me. I go back and forth on him all the damn time.  I’ve argued for and against his candidacy on alternate occasions. I’m a basketcase when it comes to him. I think there’s a good argument that he was the best first baseman in baseball for a few years there in the late 80s and early 90s, and usually if you were the best in baseball at your position for a few years, that’s enough for me.  Maybe I’m making a big mistake here. Someone help me out. Convince me one way or the other on him.  If I had a real ballot I think I’d be spending most of my December considering Fred McGriff’s candidacy. I don’t rule out changing my mind here and putting him on.
  • Jack Morris: He is not a Hall of Famer. I’ve spilled a lot of virtual ink on this. Short version: Morris didn’t prevent the opposition from scoring runs at anything much greater than an average clip.  He didn’t “pitch to the score” (or, if he tried to, he was not particularly successful at it), as so many will tell you when trying to explain away his pedestrian ERA.  Apart from one game in the 1991 World Series, he was nothing special as a playoff pitcher.  Despite his “best starter of the 80s” reputation, he was rarely thought of as special by Cy Young voters, who gave him the same number of Cy Young votes over his career as Mike Hampton and Dontrelle Willis. That title is a function of him putting his best ten year stretch together in a way that corresponded with the decade beginning and ending, not by being the best pitcher in the decade most of the time. He wasn’t. Just cut it out, OK?

So that’s my ballot. Have fun.

Report: Blue Jays and Josh Donaldson agree to two-year, $29 million deal

Toronto Blue Jays' Josh Donaldson celebrates his two run home run against the Kansas City Royals during the third inning in Game 3 of baseball's American League Championship Series on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015, in Toronto. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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The Blue Jays and 2015 American League Most Valuable Player Josh Donaldson have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year, $29 million contract, reports Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca.

Donaldson was arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter. He filed for $11.8 million and was offered $11.35 million by the Blue Jays when figures were exchanged last month. It wasn’t a big gap, but since the Blue Jays are a “file and trial” team, they bring these cases to an arbitration hearing unless a multi-year deal can be worked out. They were able to get it done in this case. Donaldson was a Super Two player, so he’ll still have one year of arbitration-eligibility once this two-year deal is completed.

The 30-year-old Donaldson is coming off a monster first season in Toronto where he batted .297/.371/.568 with 41 homers while leading the American League with 123 RBI.

Giants and Brandon Belt have an arbitration hearing scheduled for Wednesday

San Francisco Giants'  Brandon Belt reacts after being called out on strikes by home plate umpire Jim Joyce to end the top of the first inning against the Colorado Rockies in a baseball game Friday, Sept.. 4, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Brandon Belt filed for $7.5 million and was offered $5.3 million by the Giants when arbitration figures were exchanged last month. That’s a pretty sizable gap. While there’s still a chance that an agreement will be worked out at the last minute, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that an arbitration hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

The Giants haven’t gone to an arbitration hearing since 2004, when they lost to catcher A.J. Pierzynski. Schulman hears from one person involved that because of the gap between Belt and the Giants, there’s a real chance this will break that string and require a hearing.

Belt batted .280/.356/.478 with 18 home runs and 68 RBI over 137 games in 2015, but he dealt with concussion symptoms for the second straight season. An arbitration hearing could bring some unpleasant conversation to the surface.

Padres sign veteran utility player Skip Schumaker

Cincinnati Reds' Skip Schumaker is tagged out at home plate by San Francisco Giants' Buster Posey during the seventh inning of a baseball game Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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The Padres have inked veteran utility player Skip Schumaker to a minor league contract, per FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.

Schumaker, who turned 36 last week, has spent the last two seasons with the Reds. He batted .242/.306/.336 with one home run and 21 RBI over 131 games last season while making starts between all three outfield spots and second base. Cincinnati cut ties with him in November after declining a $2.5 million club option for 2016.

While Schumaker had to settle for a non-guaranteed deal here, it would be no surprise to see him land a bench job with the Padres come Opening Day.

Report: MLB, union making progress on new slide rule at second base

New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada falls after a slide by Los Angeles Dodgers' Chase Utley during the seventh inning of an NL Division Series baseball game Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, in Los Angeles. (John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News via AP)
John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News via AP
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After Ruben Tejada suffered a fractured right fibula on a takeout slide from Chase Utley during the playoffs, there was momentum for a new rule about slides at second base. We haven’t heard much about it since the Owners’ Meetings in November, but ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that talks between MLB and the players’ union are making progress and a change is expected for the 2016 season.

The exact wording of the new rule is still unclear, but Olney hears that there’s a focus toward “ensuring that sliding runners either touch the base or make an effort to touch the base.” Below are some more details:

Sources said that in the union’s internal discussions, players made it clear they had been taught since they first began playing baseball to go into second base with the intent of breaking up double-play attempts. Although the union wants to improve safety for middle infielders, it does not want to eliminate players’ aggressiveness on slides or the ability to break up a double play.

However, there is a desire on both sides to eliminate slides on which a baserunner goes beyond the effort to reach second to make contact with middle infielders.

There’s already a rule in place for a situation like we saw with Utley, but it’s rarely, if ever, enforced. It’s unfortunate that Tejada’s fractured fibula had to be the catalyst for change or clarification with the rules, but hopefully this will result in fewer injuries in the future. Similar to the “Buster Posey Rule” for plays at home plate, get ready for life with the “Chase Utley Rule.”

Here’s the video of the Tejada/Utley play:

And here’s the video of another high-profile play from 2015 which resulted in a torn lateral meniscus and a fractured tibia for Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang: