melky cabrera getty

“Cooperation” with an investigation does not mean talking to the media

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Buster Olney is usually pretty sensible about PED stories. He’s not an apologist or anything, but nor is he usually an alarmist. He’s a realist, mostly. He doesn’t condone PED use, obviously, but he also sees it as part of the landscape of baseball and a problem to be dealt with as opposed to some moral scourge that threatens the institution.

Which is what makes his column today (sorry, ESPN Insider) so baffling.

In it he takes issue — in a way more agitated state than he normally portrays about, well, anything — with the official statements the Biogenesis linked ballplayers have made since the story broke. He particularly focuses on their comments about how they intend to cooperate with the investigation, calling it “posturing”:

Isn’t it amazing? Everybody who is caught really wants to help, wants to cooperate fully, but can’t answer questions … If those who are busted are truly contrite, they can give money made to charity. If they were truly sorry, they would have nothing to hide and they could answer any question from anybody, as lessons learned and passed on to others.

Olney is confused, I think, about with whom these players have a duty to cooperate. They have a duty to cooperate with Major League Baseball and, if it comes to it, law enforcement. They do not have a duty to “answer any question from anybody.” Indeed, given that they are subject to investigations by their employer and, potentially, the feds, they would be absolutely stupid to be “answering any question from anybody,” and indeed, both Major League Baseball and law enforcement would probably prefer that they didn’t so their investigations aren’t compromised.

In any event, these players do not have a duty to cooperate with the media or to testify in “the court of public opinion,” which 100% of the time means “the opinion of the writer penning the column you’re currently reading.” I gather that Olney would rather have them say nothing at all — he tweeted a few moments ago that he’d prefer a “no comment,” — but how that is acceptable when a short “I’m aware of the information, will cooperate with the investigation but cannot comment any more publicly” is so odious to him, I’m not sure.

But while we’re comparing comments, let’s compare two more, also from Olney’s column. Check out this bit, referring to Melky Cabrera’s statement that, in taking PEDs, he made a “mistake”:

A “mistake”? Would someone who embezzled money from his company say he made ‘a mistake’? Would someone who used somebody else’s ATM card to take millions claim he made “a mistake”? Note to players who are linked to PEDs: If you get caught, please, enough with the statements that are supposed to convey contrition and sorrow and a desire to fix the problem of drug use in baseball. Just save it. Please, say nothing at all.

Then, a few paragraphs and a change of subject later, Olney tackles Todd Helton’s DUI apology:

Helton, 39, declined to discuss the nature of help he’s receiving. He told The Denver Post after the news conference that he doesn’t believe he has a drinking problem. However, he reiterated that he’s following a protocol to avoid another misstep and recognizes the gravity of the situation.

Helton talked for 9 minutes, 47 seconds, his voice halting at times as he recalled telling his older daughter, Tierney, about the incident.

“I told her I made a mistake. Just like Daddy forgives you for your mistake. I have to learn from it. When I talk about taking the right steps, I am talking about her too,” Helton said. “She holds me very accountable too.”

What, no angry rant at Helton for having the gall to call his crime — a far more serious one than Melky Cabrera committed — a “mistake?” No demand for more information about Helton’s decision making and his judgment or, alternatively, an invitation to shut up? Why, Buster, are you so agitated at Melky Cabrera copping to a mistake which harmed no one but himself but totally cool with Helton copping to a mistake which could have killed multiple people?

To his credit, Olney rarely if ever traffics in hysterical outrage. I suppose, then, that’s why he’s so uneven in applying it here. Simple inexperience.

The deeper implications of the A.J. Ellis trade

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers heads to the dugout at the end of the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on May 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The trade of a light-hitting backup catcher is normally about as inconsequential as it gets. The trade of A.J. Ellis by the Dodgers to the Phillies, however, is anything but that. Indeed, it may be the public manifestation of long-simmering, well, maybe “feud” is too strong a word, but a definite butting of heads between the team’s front office and its best player.

While almost all of the clubhouse drama in Los Angeles has surrounded a talented but aggravating corner outfielder currently toiling in the minors, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wrote last night that the Ellis trade could very well be seen as the front office’s shot across Clayton Kershaw‘s bow:

Kershaw’s preference of Ellis was the subject of a longstanding tug-of-war between Kershaw and the front office, which wanted Yasmani Grandal behind the plate as much as possible . . . Some players interpreted the trade as a message from the front office.

This isn’t Kershaw’s team. It’s not Corey Seager’s team or Adrian Gonzalez’s, either.

It’s Friedman’s.

The notion that Kershaw likes to pitch to Ellis is pretty well-known, but the idea that it was so strong a preference that it created a dispute as to whether he has final say over a roster spot is news, at least to people who aren’t around the Dodgers all the time. Hernandez is a good columnist and is particularly well-plugged in to the Dodgers after many years of being their beat writer for the Times. He wouldn’t throw the notion of there being something of a power struggle in this regard out there all willy-nilly in order to stir the pot or something. I don’t doubt for a second that something bigger than most of us have seen is going on here.

As for the trade itself: yeah, it’s pretty debatable as to whether it makes any kind of sense. Carlos Ruiz is likely an upgrade over Ellis, but it’s a pretty marginal upgrade when you consider how few plate appearances the Dodgers backup catcher will make for the rest of the year. It’s especially marginal if you assume, as Hernandez and others assume, likely with reason, that the loss of Ellis is going to harm morale. At least in the short term before they get to know Ruiz well (worth noting, though, that he comes pretty highly recommended from Kershaw-caliber aces for all the same reasons Ellis does). I can see a lot of reasons not to make that deal even for an extra hit or two a week that Ruiz may give you over Ellis.

All of which speaks to what we don’t know. What we don’t know about the mind of Andrew Friedman and whether or not there is something more going on here than is immediately apparent. About the relationship between him and Kershaw and, for that matter, him and the rest of the team that would cause him to make a deal that plays as poorly with his own players as this one does. It could be something about Ellis. It could be something about Friedman’s relationship with Kershaw. It could be something totally unrelated to any of that, such as offseason plans and the roster in 2017 (Ruiz has a team option for next year, Ellis is a pending free agent). Unless or until Friedman speaks or a reporter gets someone to shed more light on this, there will continue to be questions.

In the meantime, I’ll grant that there are certainly different rules which apply to superstars than mere mortals, but veto power over a trade and/or playing time for other players isn’t typically one of them. If, as Hernandez suggests, there was a sense that Kershaw and Friedman didn’t see eye-to-eye on that and it wasn’t otherwise being resolved, it makes Friedman’s move somewhat more understandable.

World Baseball Classic pools, venues announced

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 10:  Miguel Cabrera #24 of Venezuela gets a hit and drives in a run against Spain during the first round of the World Baseball Classic at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on March 10, 2013 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Yesterday the folks who run the World Baseball Classic (i.e. the Rand Corporation, in conjunction with the saucer people, under the supervision of the reverse vampires, the Illuminati and the Trilateral Commission) announced the groupings and venues for next springs’s tournament. It breaks down thusly:

  • Pool A will play in Tokyo, featuring Australia, China, Cuba, and Japan;
  • Pool B will play in Seoul, featuring Chinese Taipei, Korea, the Netherlands, and either Brazil, Israel, Great Britain, or Pakistan (final participant to be determined at a qualifying tournament in New York next month);
  • Pool C will play in Miami, featuring Canada, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and the United States;
  • Pool D will play in Guadalajara, featuring Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

A winner and a runner-up will advance from each pool following a round-robin competition. That will result in a second round robin made up of Pool A and B — which will be called Pool E, because it HAS to be complicated — and which will be played in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Pool C and D’s representatives will make up Pool F, who will play in San Diego at Petco Park.

The winner of Pool F will then take on the runner-up of Pool E in a semifinal at Dodger Stadium, while the winner of Pool E will face Pool F’s runner-up there as well. The winners of those matches will play in the WBC final, also at Dodger Stadium.

Got it? Good.

Now we wait. And listen to people tell us how much we should care about the World Baseball Classic between now and March.