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Must-click link: a career minor leaguer talks about the PED pressure felt by the non-superstars

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While most of you like to call me a steroids apologist, the fact of the matter is that I am not pro-steroids. I am anti-hysteria and distortion. I am also against a baseball writing community that overwhelmingly thinks that the most worrisome and therefore most newsworthy aspect of PEDs in baseball is what it means for the record books and the Hall of Fame when there are far more important implications of PED use.

If you don’t believe me, allow me to quote myself from April 2007 — the very month I began blogging about baseball on a regular basis. It was around that time — months before the Mitchell Report came out — that Kirk Radomski was making news and the names of some marginal players to whom he dealt were coming out.  I opined then that, once we know more about PEDs in baseball, we’ll see that it’s likely a bigger problem among those marginal players — the guys trying to crack the bigs or hang on; the 26th man in the organization who feels he need that extra oomph — than it is among superstars:

I don’t say this in an effort to minimize the steroid problem. Indeed, minor leaguers and players who aren’t superstars constitute the vast majority of professional ballplayers. If my theory holds, the problem could be far greater than that which is portrayed by sportswriters who like to caricature only the most prolific sluggers as juicers. If I’m right, our concern over records and the Hall of Fame would seem pretty petty in comparison to the scores of regular Joes who are ruining their health as they walk the line between a lifetime of comfort and a job at a warehouse. Players that the steroid moralizers in the media almost uniformly ignore.

Now, I got a few things wrong back then, of course. I probably underestimated the number of superstars who used PEDs and I hilariously lumped Alex Rodriguez in with the non-users because that’s the best information anyone had back then. But I think the dynamic still holds: it’s a way, way bigger moral problem for a marginal player to feel like he has no choice but to take steroids than it is  for an already great baseball player to feel like he should take steroids to break some records.

This doesn’t mean that the superstars aren’t cheaters if they take PEDs and it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be held to account. What I’m getting at is that, in the great baseball conversation about PEDs, we should not care nearly as much as we do about records and legacies and we should care far more about what PEDs are doing down at the lower levels of baseball.  We should spill way less ink about who we think “the real Home Run King” is — as if that matters — and think way harder about those frequent minor league suspensions and what they mean to the people who are faced with the choice to take dangerous drugs or wind up out of baseball.

Against that backdrop is this excellent column from Eric Knott. Knott pitched 11 years in the minors and 24 games in the majors. He is the quintessential borderline guy who, if he had an extra couple of miles per hour on his heater, may have stuck.  But he didn’t get those miles per hour, and he didn’t try PEDs in an effort to do so.

Knott gives a fascinating, clear-eyed and detailed rundown of the environment in baseball during the height of the Steroid Era, as well as what factored into his decisions about whether to use.

It’s an absolute must-read. There’s more useful information in this piece than anything that can be found in the Mitchell Report or the latest bombastic anti-PEDs screen from Johnny Sportswriter.

Report: Juan Uribe is too expensive for the Giants

New York Mets' Juan Uribe follows the flight of his solo home run off Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Chris Rusin in the third inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that, while the Giants are interested in free agent Juan Uribe, the utilityman’s asking price is too high for the club. Despite having a capable starter at every position, the Giants are a bit thin on depth and Uribe would be a nice fit given his versatility.

Uribe, 36, spent last season with the Dodgers, Braves, and Mets. He hit a combined .253/.320/.417 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI over 397 plate appearances. In his only postseason plate appearance for the Mets, he hit an RBI single in Game 3 of the World Series against the Royals.

Uribe has mostly played third base in recent seasons, but also has plenty of experience at second base and shortstop.

A study showed “grit” isn’t always a great attribute

Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper slides into third with a three RBI triple during the third inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, April 25, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
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This popped up in my Twitter feed and I felt it had some applicability to baseball. This past October, Olga Khazan of The Atlantic highlighted a study in which researchers from the University of Southern California and Northeastern University performed three separate but related experiments to determine how “gritty” their subjects were.

One experiment had them solve anagrams. The second, a computer game. Finally, the third test had them solve math problems. Those who were deemed “grittier” attempted to solve fewer anagrams, which means they were sticking too long with difficult words rather than skipping and moving onto easier ones. The “grittier” crowd worked harder when losing at the computer game, but worked only as hard as the less-gritty when winning. With the math problems, the subjects when stuck were given a choice to take $1 and quit or keep going for a potential reward of $2 but $0 if they failed. The study showed that the “grittier” people weren’t any more productive but were more willing to risk the $1 for the doubled prize.

“Grit” is also a common colloquialism in baseball circles, used to refer to players who always run out a routine ground ball or pop-up. Other common characteristics include a willingness to dive for fly balls, slide into players to break up double plays, and to stick up for their teammates when there’s a disagreement between members of two teams. Often, those deemed “gritty” are in many other ways subpar players, but their perceived “grit” gives them value.

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is a rare superstar player who has earned the “grit” descriptor. There are many examples showing why he has earned it, but the most famous incident occurred on May 13, 2013 at Dodger Stadium. Harper turned his back to the field to chase an A.J. Ellis fly ball but went face-first into the wall, suffering abrasions on his face and a jammed left shoulder. This was during a game the Nationals were comfortably winning 6-0 in the sixth inning. At the time, the Nationals were 95 percent favorites to win the game, according to FanGraphs. Is the risk of suffering an injury — which could keep Harper out only a game or two, or cause him to miss the rest of the season — worth potentially turning a double or triple into an out?

Famously, Philadelphia fans and talking heads got on outfielder Bobby Abreu’s case in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s because he appeared gun-shy when approaching the outfield fence on fly balls. He was under a lot of pressure to sacrifice his body for the supposed good of the team, and developed a reputation as “soft”. As a more recent example, former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins caught flack from fans when he didn’t run out a routine pop-up against the Mets on August 30, 2012. Then-manager Charlie Manuel benched the veteran. At the time, the Phillies were 62-69 and 17.5 games back of first place in the NL East and 8.5 games behind the second Wild Card. Freak injuries can happen, as Rollins’ teammate Ryan Howard showed when making the final out of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals. Is that non-zero injury risk worth the tiny chance that the infielder drops the pop-up and Rollins gets a single (or, in rarer cases, a double) in a game that is essentially meaningless?

The aforementioned study shows that maybe Abreu and Rollins had it right after all. Statistically, a freak injury that occurs on a “hustle” play is bound to happen. Maybe that’s what it will take to stop expecting athletes to put their bodies on the line for no realistic gain.

Zach Britton settles with the Orioles for $6.75 million

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Zach Britton delivers a pitch against the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Boston. The Orioles won 6-4. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
AP Photo/Steven Senne
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The Orioles and closer Zach Britton avoided an arbitration hearing, agreeing to a $6.75 million salary for the 2016 season, Jon Heyman reports. The club has now handled all of its remaining arbitration cases and won’t have to go to a hearing with any players.

Britton, in his second of four years of arbitration eligibility, filed for $7.9 million while the Orioles countered at $5.6 million. $6.75 million is exactly the midpoint between the two submitted figures.

The 28-year-old lefty saved 36 games in 40 chances last season for the O’s while putting up a 1.92 ERA with a 79/14 K/BB ratio over 65 2/3 innings.

The Blue Jays will also try to sign Josh Donaldson to a multi-year deal

Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Josh Donaldson gets up after being unable to handle an infield single by Boston Red Sox's Mookie Betts during the fourth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston Monday, Sept. 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
AP Photo/Winslow Townson
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Tacking onto Friday’s report that the Blue Jays will attempt to sign Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to multi-year deals, Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports that the club will try to do the same with third baseman and defending American League Most Valuable Player Josh Donaldson. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports notes that Donaldson’s arbitration hearing is scheduled for February 15, so the two sides will have 10 days to hammer out a contract.

Donaldson, 30, is entering his second of four years of arbitration eligibility. After earning $4.3 million last season, Donaldson filed for $11.8 million and the Blue Jays countered at $11.35 million. The $450,000 difference isn’t much compared to some of the other disparities among arbitration-eligible players and their respective clubs. Jake Arrieta and the Cubs, for example, had a gap of $6.5 million.

This past season, Donaldson let the league in runs scored and RBI with 122 and 123, respectively, while batting .297.371/.568 with 41 home runs and 41 doubles. He earned 23 of 30 first place votes in AL MVP balloting, with runner-up Mike Trout of the Angels grabbing the other seven votes.