Craig Biggio

Why on earth is Craig Biggio above steroid suspicion?

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Here we have Bill Madden’s latest gem of a column, which contains enough strawmen to fill up Citi Field. In it, he promotes Jack Morris and Craig Biggio for the Hall of Fame, and while he doesn’t unequivocally state that they are the only two players he is voting for, the column certainly suggests it.

I’ve tackled Morris before and will again tomorrow, but let’s concentrate on Biggio for a moment. Biggio is being promoted by Madden and others as this year’s clean candidate, whereas his longtime Astros teammate, Jeff Bagwell, has had his candidacy tainted by steroids.

What I don’t get is why one if not the other?

The case against Bagwell is that he showed little power as a youngster, befriended noted steroids user Ken Caminti, got a lot stronger in the majors and then turned into one of the game’s best players.

And that differs from Biggio how? Biggio hit four homers in 555 at-bats at age 24, four homers in 546 at-bats at age 25 and six homers in 613 at-bats at age 26 before turning in the first of seven 20-homer campaigns at age 27.  His career high of 26 homers came at age 39.

Furthermore, Bagwell and Biggio were good friends who spent 15 years as teammates. I have my doubts that the training methods of one were a secret to the other. If Bagwell was on something, one would think there’s a more than slight chance that Biggio was on it, too.

So why does Biggio get trumped up as clean? Because he was a middle infielder? Because he hit 20 homers per year rather than 40? I’ll give you that Biggio wasn’t quite as stacked as Bagwell in his prime, but the guy had some muscles.

Personally, I’m very much in favor of putting Biggio into the Hall, just as I’m in favor of Bagwell’s candidacy. Part of Biggio’s power spike can be attributed to him leaving the Astrodome for Enron Field/Minute Maid Park. Towards the end of his career, once he realized he could no longer cover the entire plate, he made a conscious decision to become more of a pull hitter and take aim at the shallow left field porch at Enron.

Biggio was a favorite of mine, and I’d like to think he spent his entire career steroid-free. My point here isn’t to label Biggio a cheater. It’s simply to say that we don’t know, and that anyone that would go to lengths to promote him as the clean candidate is either naive or stupid.

Gerrit Cole set to begin throwing program

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 24:  Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates sits in the dugout in the second inning during the game against the Houston Astros at PNC Park on August 24, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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During the Pirates’ FanFest on Saturday, right-hander Gerrit Cole announced that he is back up to full health after being shut down with elbow inflammation in September. Per Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Cole said he’ll start a throwing program on Monday as he works on regaining his form for the 2017 season.

The 26-year-old pitched through 116 innings for the Pirates in 2016, delivering a 3.88 ERA and 2.5 WARP before landing on the disabled list in June with a triceps strain and again in August with elbow inflammation. It was a steep drop for the right-hander, who saw a considerable spike in his ERA and BB/9 rate and struggled to strike out batters at the 8.7 mark he managed in 2015.

The upside? Inflammation was the worst of Cole’s issues in 2016, and while the newfound health issues didn’t help his case for an extension, a more serious injury doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.

The White Sox wanted Astros’ top prospects for Jose Quintana

CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 27:  Jose Quintana #62 of the Chicago White Sox pitches against the Seattle Mariners during the first inning at U.S. Cellular Field on August 27, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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The Astros, Braves and Nationals came sniffing around White Sox left-hander Jose Quintana during the Winter Meetings, but each appeared to find the Sox’ asking price well beyond what they were willing to give up for the starter. On Saturday, Peter Gammons revealed that the White Sox had floated Francis Martes, Kyle Tucker and Joe Musgrove as a possible return for Quintana.

It’s a strategy that worked well for Chicago in the past, most recently when they dealt Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others, and flipped Adam Eaton to the Nationals for a trio of pitching prospects. Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow didn’t appear eager to sacrifice some of his core talent to net a high-end starter, however, and told the Houston Chronicle’s Jake Kaplan as much on Wednesday:

We’re prepared to trade players to improve our club right now. […] We’re just not prepared to trade away players that are core to our production in 2017, and those are sometimes the players that are required to get these deals done.

While Lunhow was speaking specifically to the inclusion of third baseman Alex Bregman in future deals, it’s not unrealistic to think that top prospects Francis Martes and Kyle Tucker would also be considered instrumental to the Astros’ plans for the next few seasons.

Martes, 21, currently sits atop the team’s top prospect list on MLB.com. The right-hander blazed through his first full season in Double-A Corpus Christi, posting a 3.30 ERA and career-best 9.4 K/9 over 125 1/3 innings in 2016. Tucker, meanwhile, profiles as the Astros’ second-best prospect and made a successful jump to High-A Lancaster last season, slashing .339/.435/.661 in 69 PA. Rookie right-hander Joe Musgrove is the only player left off the top prospect list, but he got off to a decent start with the club in 2016 as well, going 4-4 with a 4.06 ERA and 3.44 K/BB rate in 62 innings during his first major league season.