Brace Yourself

The Hall of Fame ballot will be announced today

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Many of you hate Hall of Fame arguments. Many of you hate steroids arguments. If that’s the case, you may want to skip about half of all baseball content written between now and the end of the year. Why? Because the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot will be announced at noon today, and it represents a watershed moment for both the Hall of Fame and the subject of performance enhancing drugs in baseball. The arguments, they shall be epic. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

The main event, obviously, is the debut of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa on the Hall of Fame ballot.  All three were considered locks for the Hall at one point, their cases so obvious that detailing them here seems superfluous. But their associations with PEDS — or, less charitably, their perceived public relations deficiencies in handling their association with PEDS — makes all three extreme long shots at induction. Indeed, I would bet there is a non-trivial chance that Sosa gets such little support he could fall off the ballot in the next couple of years.

But it’s not just those three. Also making their debut today will be Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling. Biggio had 3000 hits and no one has yet to publicly accuse him of taking PEDS, so you’d have to think he stands a good shot. Schilling’s baseball case was less of a lock — he had big moments and great years, but not as many as other inductees — but he has many supporters. Piazza would seem to be a no-brainer inductee, but a whisper campaign about his alleged PED use has existed for some time despite there being no public evidence whatsoever that he used them. It will likely give many voters pause.

Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Raines are holdover candidates. Morris has been on the ballot since 2000 and is running out of time (players can appear for 15 years without being inducted before falling off). He received 67% of the vote last year, so he’s a good bet to receive the 75% necessary for induction this year, despite his on-the-merits baseball case being among the weaker ones in recent memory. In contrast, Tim Raines — who does not have PED associations and whose bonafides are ridiculously strong — has received short shrift and will likely fall short again. Bagwell was one of the best first basemen in baseball history, but unsubstantiated steroid allegations have kept his vote totals low. They will likely remain too low for induction.

If you’ve gotten the sense that the Hall of Fame voting process is in Bizarro Land, you are correct. The most worthy candidates like Barry Bonds are and likely will continue to be shut out. The more marginal candidates like Jack Morris are being ushered into Cooperstown. Cold hard facts of a stat sheet are being wholly ignored while gossip, rumor, innuendo and in some cases flat out slander are being elevated to imperative-creating gospel. In short, the Baseball Writers Association of America has damn near lost its mind when it comes to Hall of Fame voting.

The reason: an epidemic of puritanism in the Hall of Fame electorate, which seems to believe that examples need to be made of the Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens of the world despite the fact that (a) huge numbers of ballplayers in their era used PEDS, not just them; (b) despite rampant use, no one else came close to their production and greatness on the field; (c) Major League Baseball and the very media which forms the electorate turned a blind eye to their PED use at best and actively encouraged it at worst for about 20 years; and (d) every past era has seen players cheat and dope their way to greatness and ultimately into the Hall of Fame, and no one seemed to care.

Those who defend their exclusion of Bonds et al. will do so based on the clause on their Hall of Fame ballot which commands voters to consider, in addition to a candidate’s baseball talents, his “integrity, sportsmanship, character.” It should be noted that these words, commonly referred to as the “character clause,” did nothing to keep racists, segregationists, criminals, cheaters and drug users out of the Hall of Fame before Mark McGwire first appeared on the ballot a few years ago. Indeed, the Hall is home to some of the worst human beings to ever don a baseball uniform or wield an executive’s pen, most of them happily voted in by a baseball press who couldn’t care less about candidates’ moral shortcomings as long they had the numbers or the fame. But it has been dusted off for the PED crowd. Hall of Fame voters feel an odd sense of betrayal about these guys. A betrayal that is both lacking in coherence and intellectual consistency, even when they try their hardest to explain its nature.

But here we are.  The ballots will be released today. The arguments will commence. The voting will ensue. And on January 9, 2013 the results will be announced. For the next month and change, we here at HardballTalk will be making arguments for and against the candidates, will be engaging that lack of coherence in the Hall of Fame electorate and, hopefully, highlighting instances of the fever breaking and reason being restored in the case of some voters. If that is not your cup of tea, you should be able to easily avoid such content based on the headline of individual posts. Again, don’t say you weren’t warned.

In the end I suspect that Jack Morris and Craig Biggio will be the two inductees, with Curt Schilling falling a bit short and Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, Piazza, Bagwell and Raines falling considerably and damn near criminally short.  I’m hoping to be surprised, but I’m not at all optimistic.

Gentlemen, start your outrage.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

Brandon Belt
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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.

Keith Law: The Braves have the best farm system in baseball

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Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!

Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.

This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.

If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.