It’s spring training for PED moralists, too

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Hey, not everyone can show up in March with their PED outrage in mid-season form. Scott Ostler is going to need to get a few more reps in after this performance:

Among the things that ain’t what they used to be: the shame and disgrace of being busted for steroids.

Exhibits C and C: Bartolo Colon and Melky Cabrera.

They’re both back in baseball – although Colon has five games left on his suspension – and will be earning nice paychecks, without having to go the Hester Prynne route (look it up, you lazy kids!) where you wear your sins forever.

[snip]

Cabrera’s salary, what could have been and what now is, is about business, not morality. Same with Colon.

It’s hard to tell exactly what Ostler is arguing other than oblique outrage. Colon and Cabrera have done — or will have done, in Colon’s case — their time and paid the price, according to MLB’s drug policy. And that’s where the buck should stop.

Despite Ostler’s insistence that players caught using performance-enhancing drugs don’t wear a “scarlet letter”, some most certainly do. After an impressive 2007 season at the age of 42, Barry Bonds and his agent stated loud and clear he still wanted to play and would take the Major League minimum salary after earning $15.5 million the final year of his contract with the Giants. $390,000 for a player coming off of a season in which he hit 28 home runs and posted a 1.045 OPS? Somehow, every single GM in baseball passed.

Was it his age? Proneness to injury? Jamie Moyer earned $1.1 million last season at the age of 49 after recovering from Tommy John surgery. In his age 40-47 seasons, Moyer had an aggregate 4.40 ERA. If Moyer could land a job, why couldn’t Bonds? It was the “scarlet letter”. Not every player wears one, but it certainly isn’t non-zero as Ostler implies.

And yes, Cabrera and Colon will collect paychecks and get ample playing time in 2013 after getting caught using performance-enhancing drugs. As is their collectively-bargained right as Major League Baseball players.

Many sportswriters’ tunes would quickly change if they themselves had to endure the level of punishment — sports McCarthyism, in a nutshell — they consistently call for with scathing column after scathing column. Speed to the ballpark to get into the clubhouse sooner to break that sizzling piece of news? Banned from the press box for life.

UPDATE: Donald Trump declines Nats offer to throw out the first pitch

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UPDATE: Welp, we wont’ get to see that:

Sad!

8:53 AM: It’s just gossip now, but Politico is hearing that Donald Trump is in talks to throw out the first pitch at Nationals Park on Opening Day. The Nats are not commenting. Neither are the Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League, who no doubt feel slighted given that the president effectively is a local.

With the caveat that, on Opening Day, tickets are likely to be more expensive and thus you’re likely to have a lot more rich people and friends-of-the-owners in attendance, thereby ensuring a more conservative crowd, I’m struggling to imagine a situation in which Trump strolls on to a baseball field in a large American city and isn’t booed like crazy. He’s polling as low as 36% in some places. He’s not exactly Mr. Popular.

Oh well. I look forward to him three-bouncing one to Matt Wieters and then grabbing his phone and tweeting about how it was the best, most tremendous first pitch in baseball history. Or blaming Hillary Clinton for it in the event he admits that it was a bad pitch.

2017 Preview: Texas Rangers

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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 Texas Rangers.

The Rangers somehow won the AL West last year despite not being super great at any one aspect of the game. There are stars here — Adrian Beltre, Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Rougned Odor are all spiffy players — but the Rangers won the division by being greater than the sum of their parts. They scored a decent number of runs despite some bad collective peripheral numbers and they allowed more runs than anyone in the AL except the Twins and Athletics. Yet they had a great record in one-run games and outperformed their pythagorean record by a WHOLE lot. Luck shined brightly on the 2016 Rangers.

It’s hard to expect luck to hold in any instance, but that’s especially the case when there have been some pretty significant changes. Changes like the loss of Carlos Beltran, Ian Desmond and Mitch Moreland. In their place: A full season, the Rangers hope, from Shin-Soo Choo, a converted-to-outfield Jurickson Profar and Mike Napoli. That may wash out OK, especially if Choo is healthy, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some regression in two of those offensive slots.

Starting pitching is also a big question mark. Cole Hamels at the top is not a problem, obviously, and if Yu Darvish is healthy and durable the Rangers have an outstanding 1-2 punch. Martin Perez in the third spot presents promise, but he’s been exactly average so far in five major league seasons. The back end of the rotation has some real problems. Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are hurt at the moment and even if healthy, Cashner seems to be a shell of his once-promising self. A.J. Griffin is looking to pitch in his first full season since 2013. If the Rangers are strong contenders all year it’s gonna be on the “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain” model, but I have no idea what rhymes with “Darvish” and that’s sort of a problem.

The bullpen is going to look a lot like it did last year. Sam Dyson will close, but manager Jeff Banister has shown in the past that he’s not a slave to keeping guys in any one role down there. Jeremy Jeffress will likely set up but he’s closed before. Some think Matt Bush or Keone Kela could close. We’ll see Tanner Scheppers and lefty Alex Claudio. Banister has a Manager of the Year Award on his mantle and while that often doesn’t mean anything, it usually suggests that a guy knows how to deal with his pen. Banister will do OK with what he has.

Really, though, the rotation is a concern, as is hoping that a 35-year-old Mike Napoli and a soon-to-be 38-year-old Adrian Beltre can continue to be the types of players who can form the offensive core of a playoff team. There’s talent and a track record here, but there’s a lot of uncertainty. For that reason, I suspect the Rangers will fall back a smidge this year, even if they’re a playoff contender.

Prediction: Second Place, American League West.