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Meanwhile, in an alternate universe where the Barry Bonds prosecution was “a triumph” for the prosecution


ESPN’s legal expert Lester Munson has been in love with the Barry Bonds prosecution for several years now. Specifically, the Barry Bonds prosecutors as well as the feds behind the BALCO investigation. And it has led to some pretty wacky analysis of that case on his part.

He was wildly incorrect about earlier evidentiary rulings. And he wasn’t merely mistaken about them. He was so awfully mistaken about them that it was clear to anyone who understood the issues that, the moment he wrote what he wrote, his take was simply incoherent. He likewise responded to the Bonds verdict in a manner that was so far outside of the mainstream that multiple legal experts thought he was smokin’ banana peels.  It’s one thing to simply have a different opinion about a case and its dynamics, but Munson’s takes have been the stuff of an alternate universe.

That trend continued late Friday night when Munson did a Q&A about the Barry Bonds sentence.  I don’t know what your take is on the prosecutors and the federal agents who spent nearly a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars going after a tiny drug operation with a tiny client list, but here’s Munson’s take:

… the prosecutors — who occasionally stumbled — rallied brilliantly at the conclusion of the Bonds trial and obtained the conviction for obstruction of justice and were one vote shy of a conviction for perjury. This outcome, even with the light sentence, is a triumph for investigative agent Jeff Novitzky and prosecutors Jeff Nedrow and Matt Parrella.

A triumph? Rallied brilliantly? It was originally an indictment of more than a dozen counts. They got whittled down to four. They whiffed on the three biggest of those and the fourth one stands an excellent chance of being overturned on appeal because it was clearly counter to the evidence. And what’s that stuff about “one vote shy of a conviction for perjury?”  A jury’s verdict is a pass/fail test. The prosecutors failed it. Close counts for nothing.

Of course, Munson doesn’t think this is an unmitigated triumph. He acknowledges that it didn’t all go perfectly. Why?

The problem that led to the conviction on only one count and a deadlocked jury on three counts of perjury was not the quality of the work of the agents and prosecutors. The problem was the refusal of Bonds’ personal trainer, Greg Anderson, to testify against him. For reasons that are not yet known, Anderson went to jail twice instead of offering evidence against Bonds. Anderson’s refusal to testify prevented the prosecutors from connecting Bonds to positive drug tests and other compelling evidence of Bonds’ use of steroids.

No, Anderson wasn’t there and, yes, things would have been totally different if he had been, I’m sure. But the unavailability of that evidence was a known fact for years before trial. Yet the prosecutors pushed on anyway. They pushed on knowing that they could not make an essential part of their case. This was awful tactical and legal judgment, yet Munson absolves the prosecutors totally. He makes it sound like they got blindsided.

All of that makes Munson sound like an apologist for the prosecution. But don’t worry, he’s not just an apologist. He is a cheap-shot artist, at least when it comes to the judge:

Q: The jury concluded that Bonds obstructed the investigation of the grand jury. Why wouldn’t the judge support the crime-fighting efforts of the grand jury by sentencing Bonds to the penitentiary?

A: The federal judge who presided over the Bonds trial is Susan Illston. She is a San Francisco Democrat and a bit of an enigma … It was one of many decisions made in the course of the BALCO prosecutions that indicated Judge Illston just didn’t get it … It was clear throughout the Bonds trial that Illston would rather be doing something else. The federal sentencing guidelines suggest a term of 15 months in prison. Illston ignored the guidelines and told Bonds he would be confined for a month in his mansion.

In other words, Munson is saying that Ilston was politically-motivated, dumb or simply didn’t care about her job. If one of the prosecutors in this case said these things they’d be in front of Judge Ilston on contempt charges. I don’t know if Munson still has an active legal license (UPDATE: He doesn’t, and for good reason), but lawyers are held to higher standards than others when it comes to criticizing judges and no officer of the court should ever be heard to say such things about a federal freaking District Court judge.

And decorum aside, on the merits, he’s just wrong. Lawyers who have practiced before Judge Ilston have a wildly different opinion of her.  And “sentencing guidelines?”  They are just that: guidelines. An important part of the judge’s job is to, you know, judge. Munson neglects to mention that Ilston followed the report and recommendation of the probation office to the letter. She took all information at her disposal into account before she sentenced Bonds. Munson would have her do something … less.

He then goes on to slam Ilston’s overall sentencing practices, wondering why so many of the BALCO figures got light sentences, and why the attorney who leaked the grand jury testimony to the “Game of Shadows” authors got two years. I suppose it’s possible Munson just doesn’t realize that perjury and obstruction are far less serious crimes than the leaking of grand jury testimony by an attorney in a case. But that interpretation — that he’s simply ignorant of the law — doesn’t exactly flatter Munson any more than one in which his take on this was a product of him being an anti-steroid zealot.

But that’s pretty par for the course with Munson. His take on this case has, from the beginning, been colored by his views on PEDs and the personalities involved. And that’s fine for anyone else who wants to opine on all of this. But Munson is supposed to be providing legal analysis of this stuff, and that analysis has been way, way off the mark as a result.

The only possible explanation for it is either rank incompetence (which I do not believe, because I’ve admired his handling of other sports-related cases in the past) or that his judgment is seriously clouded by his views of steroids in sports. He doesn’t like Barry Bonds. Great. No one really does. But the difference is that Munson has allowed that view to paint such a wildly misleading picture of the legal landscape in which that case resides, and in doing so, he has done a disservice to his readers.

Erik Johnson likely to open 2016 in the White Sox rotation

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Starting pitcher Erik Johnson #45 of the Chicago White Sox delivers against the Colorado Rockies during Interleague play at Coors Field on April 9, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the White Sox 10-4.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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With the White Sox losing Jeff Samardzija to free agency, Erik Johnson will likely get a shot to contribute out of the rotation to open up the 2016 season, GM Rick Hahn said in a conference call on Wednesday, per a report from’s Scott Merkin.

“As we sit here today, I think it will be an opportunity for Erik Johnson to convert on sort of the return to form he showed back in 2015 when he was International League pitcher of the year for [Triple-A] Charlotte,” Hahn said. “Obviously, he got some starts in September and continued to show the progress in Chicago he had shown in the Minor Leagues over the course of the last season.

“So if Opening Day were today, then I think Johnson is penciled in to that spot in the rotation right now. In all probability, once we get closer to spring, there will be some competition for him to earn that spot. But if we were strictly looking at today, then I would think Johnson has the inside track on filling Samardzija’s innings.”

Johnson was called up from Triple-A Charlotte in September and made six starts, allowing 14 runs (13 earned) on 32 hits and 17 walks with 30 strikeouts in 35 innings. That followed up an impressive five months in the minors where he compiled a 2.37 ERA and a 136/41 K/BB ratio across 132 2/3 innings.

Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and each included Johnson on their top-100 prospect lists, ranking him 63rd, 67th, and 70th, respectively. The right-hander was selected by the White Sox in the second round of the 2011 draft.

Major League Baseball will investigate Yasiel Puig for his role in Miami nightclub brawl

Yasiel Puig
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

It was reported on Friday afternoon that Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was involved in a brawl at a Miami nightclub. Details were scant at the time, but he reportedly left with a bruise on his face.

Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reports that Major League Baseball plans to investigate Puig under the league’s new domestic violence policy for his role in the brawl. Citing a report from TMZ, Hernandez notes that Puig shoved his sister, “brutally sucker-punched” the manager of the bar, and instigated the brawl.

The Dodgers and Puig’s agent have thus far refused to comment on the situation.

Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes was the first player to be investigated under the league’s new domestic violence policy earlier this month, as he allegedly assaulted his wife. Reyes has pleaded not guilty after he was charged with domestic abuse in Hawaii.

As our own Craig Calcaterra pointed out, commissioner Rob Manfred does not need to wait for Puig to plead guilty or to be found guilty to levy a punishment.

Dayan Viciedo close to signing with Japan’s Chunichi Dragons

Dayan Viciedo
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Patrick Newman is reporting that the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and outfielder Dayan Viciedo are close to an agreement on a contract. Newman notes that the Dragons are close to signing pitcher Jordan Norberto as well.

Viciedo, 26, has struggled since making his major league debut in 2010 with the White Sox, batting an aggregate .254/.298/.424 with 66 home runs and 211 RBI in 1,798 plate appearances. He spent the 2015 season with Triple-A Charlotte (White Sox) and Nashville (Athletics), hitting a composite .287/.348/.450. While Viciedo can hit the occasional home run, he hasn’t shown the ability to do much else at the big league level. Given his age, he could prove himself in Japan and parlay that into a renewed shot in the majors in the future.

The White Sox signed Viciedo out of Cuba in December 2008, agreeing to a four-year, $10 million deal. The club re-signed him to one-year deals in 2013 and ’14 for $2.8 million each and $4.4 million ahead of the 2015 season.

Blue Jays sign J.A. Happ to a three-year, $36 million contract

J.A. Happ
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Update (8:45 PM EST): Per Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, Happ will get $10 million in 2016 and $13 million each in 2017 and ’18.

*’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the Blue Jays have signed lefty J.A. Happ to a three-year deal worth $36 million.

Happ, 33, had a rebirth as a member of the Pirates last season after starting the season with 20 subpar starts with the Mariners. He made 11 starts for the Buccos, boasting a 1.85 ERA with a 69/13 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.

Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported this past August that Happ’s newfound success had to do with a delivery tweak suggested by Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. The Blue Jays are certainly hoping that adjustment is the full explanation for his success.

The Jays’ signing of Happ most likely signifies they won’t be pursuing free agent lefty David Price.

This will be Happ’s second stint with the Blue Jays. The Astros dealt him to Toronto in a July 2012 trade. He posted a 4.39 ERA with a 256/113 K/BB ratio in 291 innings with the Jays, then went to the Mariners in a trade this past December that brought outfielder Michael Saunders to the Jays.