Andy Pettitte should NOT get the blame if Clemens walks

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Andy Pettitte’s testimony this morning in the Roger Clemens case was pretty bad for the prosecution.  He was called to establish one fact — that Clemens once admitted to using PEDs — and he was equivocal on that fact.  Pettitte said he wasn’t sure if Clemens ever said that, actually.

That testimony, however, has led to some misleading commentary this afternoon: The beginning of a meme in which Andy Pettitte is being accused, implicitly or otherwise, of sinking the government’s case, flip-flopping or otherwise changing his story.

First one I saw was Jon Heyman. I’d embed his tweet but he blocks me, so here’s the link and here’s what he said:

pettitte finally is misremembering. now suddenly, hes unsure of key hgh conversation with clemens.#oy

Then I saw Richard Justice:

I’m assuming others will get on the “Andy Pettitte flip-flopped” bandwagon soon. But if they do, they’re wrong. Because Andy Pettitte didn’t change his story. Not one bit.

Pettitte was deposed by the government in 2008.  You can read his entire testimony here.  The relevant parts of it come on pages 25-28.  There Pettitte recounts the two conversations he had about PEDs with Roger Clemens: one in 1999, one in 2005. As he did in court today, he said then that he initially believed Clemens told him in 1999 that he used PEDs.  Then in 2005, Clemens said something else: that it was his wife, not Clemens himself, who used.

Obviously, it’s possible that Clemens was lying in 2005. The heat was on PED users by then.  He may have wanted to make people think that he never used PEDs at all.  That may have been why Clemens said what he said about his wife, and it would not be at all unreasonable for Pettitte to assume in 2005 that Clemens was lying.

But Pettitte didn’t assume that. At least not publicly. Here’s what he told Congress, under oath in 2008, when they asked him what he made of Clemens apparently changing his story:

Q What was your reaction to what he said?

A Well, obviously I was a little confused and flustered. But after that, I was like, well, obviously I must have misunderstood him.

Q But he had never told you before that his wife had used HGH, that was the first you’d heard of that, is that right?

A Yes.

Q Did you understand that he was saying that as a way or sort of a strategy to handle the press inquiries? I mean, was that the nature of your conversation?

A Not really. The conversation wasn’t very long. That was really the end of the conversation. Just when he said that, I was like, oh, just kind of walked out. I wasn’t going to argue with him over it. You know.

Q It sounds like when you — it sounds like your recollection of the conversation you had with him in 1999, you are fairly certain about that, that he told you he used it. Do you think it’s likely that you did misunderstand what Clemens had told you then? Are you saying you just didn’t want to get into a dispute with him about it so you
dropped the subject?

A I’m saying that I was under the impression that he told me that he had taken it. And then when Roger told me that he didn’t take it, and I misunderstood him, I took it for that, that I misunderstood him.

In light of that previous testimony — that Pettitte, in his own mind, concluded that he misunderstood Roger Clemens in 1999 — there had to be zero expectation that he would say with any degree of certainty this morning that Clemens told him he used PEDs in 1999.  For him to do so would require him to contradict his previously-sworn testimony.

And he did not contradict his previous testimony. It was totally consistent. And it was freely available to the prosecution and the defense for the past four years. They all knew that Pettitte was going to say that he was unsure about Clemens’ 1999 comments after he heard what he heard in 2005.

The prosecution knew this and foolishly decided to call Petitte anyway, in an attempt to prove more than they really could.  The defense knew this and exploited it deftly, asking Pettitte how unsure he was, leading to that “less than 50/50” comment which was both an obvious way to go for anyone with a day’s worth of trial experience and was an absolute killer in practice since “less than 50/50” = “reasonable doubt” to just about any juror.  In short, it was awful lawyering by the government and a freaking slam dunk for the defense.

But the press knew it too. Or should have.  And to the extent any member of the press now claims that the Clemens trial was sunk because Andy Pettitte “changed his story” or is “suddenly unsure” of key facts, they are dead wrong.

And not only are they dead wrong, but they’re doing a grave disservice to Andy Pettitte. The only man in this whole case who has been honest and consistent all along.

Report: Rangers agree to six-year extension with Rougned Odor

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The Rangers have reportedly agreed to a six-year, $49.5 million extension for second baseman Rougned Odor, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports and Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The extension comes with a club option for a seventh year, Heyman adds.

It’s close to the six-year, $52.5 million extension Jason Kipnis netted with the Indians in 2014, a sum Odor was rumored to be seeking during contract negotiations over the last two years. Granted, the circumstances are a little different this time around. Both players signed extensions on the cusp of their fourth year in the major leagues, but at 27 years old, Kipnis was coming off of an All-Star campaign and a career-high 4.5 fWAR performance. Odor, meanwhile, saw mixed results in 2016, batting 33 home runs and putting up 2.0 fWAR while struggling to stay consistent at the plate and exhibiting poor defense.

According to MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan, Odor previously agreed to a $563,180 salary for 2017. Depending on when the extension kicks in, it should cover all three of Odor’s arbitration-eligible seasons and two seasons of potential free agency. The team has yet to confirm the extension.

2017 Preview: Minnesota Twins

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Minnesota Twins.

Which iteration of the Twins will we get in 2017? The second-place contenders of 2015, blazing their way through the standings with 83 wins and a handful of hot prospects? The burnouts of 2016, flopping to the bottom of the division with 103 losses and a lineup held in place by Brian Dozier and, well, Brian Dozier? Or something in between?

Finishing dead last has its perks, namely a first-round draft pick and the feeling that things can’t be quite as bad as they were the year before. Unfortunately for the Twins, the only major preparation they made for the 2017 season came in the form of a front office shakeup. Derek Falvey assumed control of the club in October, bringing GM Thad Levine into the fold in November as the club assumed a more analytics-friendly approach toward the rebuilding movement.

When it came to roster revisions, however, there wasn’t much moving or shaking this winter. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe, catcher Kurt Suzuki and left-handers Tommy Milone and Pat Dean vacated their spots on the roster. Falvey avoided some of the bigger bats and bullpen arms in free agency and opted to sign backstop Jason Castro and journeyman reliever Ryan Vogelsong instead.

By and large, the core of the Twins’ roster remained the same. Center fielder Byron Buxton, infielder/outfielder Michael Sano and right-hander Jose Berrios still form the nucleus of the club’s top prospects. Middle infielder Brian Dozier will also return in 2017, though he appears to be on borrowed time with the Twins after putting up monster numbers in the second half of 2016. Ervin Santana will head the rotation again, accompanied by fellow veterans Hector Santiago, Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes, while right-handed relievers Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Pressly and Matt Belisle and rehabbing lefty Glen Perkins attempt to prevent another bullpen collapse in 2017.

Without any major additions to the team (and, excepting the departure of Trevor Plouffe, any major subtractions), the Twins will look to their existing cadre of players for significant improvements in 2017. Miguel Sano is expected to take over third base in Plouffe’s absence, which will bring a welcome end to his short-lived and wholly unsuccessful experiment in right field. Brian Dozier, Jorge Polanco and Joe Mauer should round out the infield, with Byung Ho Park and Kennys Vargas currently vying for a spot as the team’s designated hitter.

The lineup is still four or five or six sluggers shy of formidable, but if Dozier can be counted on to repeat his 42-homer, 5.9 fWAR performance from 2016, there will be at least one Twin worth intentionally walking in 2017. Neither Miguel Sano nor Byron Buxton have quite found their footing against big league pitching yet, and another year spent struggling in the majors could mean another year of sub-optimal run production for the team as well. Jason Castro, who grades as an above-average defender behind the plate, is unlikely to provide any additional pop for the Twins at the plate after slashing just .210/.307/.377 through 376 PA with the Astros in 2016.

The pitching department also leaves a little to be desired in light of the league-worst 5.09 ERA they amassed last season. A veteran-heavy rotation could get a boost from the addition of fifth-starter candidate Jose Berrios, who is thought to be the favorite after fellow rotation candidate Trevor May underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this week. Right-hander Tyler Duffey and 23-year-old southpaw Adalberto Mejia are also waiting in the wings. Both have made convincing cases for their inclusion on the pitching staff this spring, but Duffey is coming off of a 6.43 ERA in 2016 and Mejia lacks some of the polish that Berrios offers. Still, stockpiling young pitching depth isn’t a bad thing, and could give the Twins a cushion in the event of injury or collapse down the stretch.

The bullpen outperformed the rotation in 2016, which is saying… something, though maybe not a lot. They still finished the year with a cumulative 4.63 ERA, good for last place among their American League rivals, and delivered just 2.1 fWAR while taking on the fourth-most innings in the league. The standout performer was 28-year-old righty Ryan Pressly, who worked a 3.70 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 8.0 SO/9 in 75 1/3 innings last year. In light of Ryan Vogelsong’s recent departure from the club, the Twins will round out their bullpen with left-hander Craig Breslow, who turned in a 4.50 ERA with the Marlins in 2016 and is looking for a bounce-back season of his own after reworking his delivery at age 36.

For now, it looks like Falvey and the Twins’ front office are taking a wait-and-see approach to the coming season, which bodes well for their long-term vision (assuming most of their young prospects pan out) and not so well for their chances of moving up in the division in the next year or so. That could change by the trade deadline if they can secure a worthwhile return for Dozier, though given the rumors of their understandably high asking price, it could take more than a few months to get a deal in place.

Even assuming that all the chips fall in the Twins’ favor in 2017 — prospects start hitting consistently, the rotation solidifies, and Falvey loosens the purse strings enough to net more established contenders — it’s difficult to imagine anything more than a fourth-place finish for the club as they continue to rebuild and regroup. Barring any major improvements on the inconsistent, if occasionally productive, lineup of 2016, another last-place finish feels imminent.

Prediction: Fifth place, AL Central.