In focusing on Braun, Major League Baseball is abandoning the principles of its drug testing/enforcement program

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Been doing some more thinking about the story this morning about how Major League Baseball is laser-focused on Ryan Braun in the Biogenesis investigation, to the point where it is considering giving players immunity in an effort to nab him and some of the bigger fish.

As a basic premise, I don’t have a real problem with that. This is how police work is usually done: get the small fish to flip on the big fish and so forth. I think this differs from the organized crime analogy in that here the “big fish” is only one player whose violation is no different in kind or magnitude than that of any other person cheating — and, as such, going after Braun like this is likely to cause MLB to overlook multiple more cheaters who collectively represent a greater ill to baseball than one more famous cheater — but that’s their prerogative. If they get the goods on Braun and punish him, fine, he’s punished.

All of that said, in pursuing things in such a way it’s inescapable that Major League Baseball is abandoning some of the core principles of the drug program as currently constructed.

For one thing: zero tolerance. The most adamant anti-PED folks on the planet, including WADA and USADA have spent decades telling us that zero tolerance is critical to any drug testing regime and that only through zero tolerance can you have a level competitive landscape. In singling out Braun, however, and standing willing to grant immunity to some players in order to get him, Major League Baseball is abandoning that principle. It is saying that some cheaters are more important than others. Which is the same as saying that some cheating will, in effect, be tolerated and will go unpunished.

And maybe Major League Baseball is fine with that. If so, they should say so. And if so they should cease selectively applying the standards of zero tolerance. I mean, if MLB is satisfied that it can weigh the words and determine the truthfulness of one player’s word over another’s and that it can mete out differential enforcement like this and not harm the very essence of the Joint Drug Agreement, surely it can listen to defenses of inadvertent contamination and accidental ingestion of various stimulants and PEDs, can it not? Now Bud Selig says that it can’t do that for risk of imperiling zero tolerance principles. But if the Biogenesis investigation throws such principles over the side, what is left to protect?

Also being abandoned right now: the anonymity of the testing and enforcement process.  Major League Baseball’s fixation on Braun is of such a high pitch, it appears, that it was deemed unique and newsworthy by someone privy to the process and thus was leaked to Bob Nightengale of USA Today. Since when is that acceptable? The last time news of a drug investigation/enforcement proceeding was made public it led to MLB being publicly embarrassed when that outfielder from Milwaukee beat the rap. How did that turn out for you, Mr. Selig? And how has it turned out for that outfielder, whose name will always be mud to some folks regardless of what the future holds?

If Ryan Braun cheated — and if Major League Baseball can prove it — yes, he should absolutely be punished. And at this point, if what Nightengale is reporting is true, I’d lay better odds on Braun getting popped than him getting off.  But in getting that head on a platter it’s inescapable that Major League Baseball is transforming its drug testing and enforcement regime from a clinically-based program into a police operation.  And in doing so, it appears willing to abandon zero tolerance, anonymity, uniform enforcement and everything the league tells us is so good about the Joint Drug Agreement in the first place.

Hope it’s worth it, guys.

Jose Canseco to join NBC Sports California as an A’s analyst

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Hey, I have a new coworker: Jose Canseco has been hired by NBC Sports California as an Athletics pregame analyst.

OK, maybe he’s not technically a coworker, as the folks at NBC Sports California — formerly CSN Bay Area — and I do not hang out at the water cooler, have potlucks in the conference room or exchange secret Santa gifts at Christmas time, but dang it, I’m gonna TELL people I work with Jose Canseco. The only downside will be people assuming that, because he and I are on the same team, my performance is something less than authentic. Or, perhaps, Canseco may write another book and tell all of my secrets.

Anyway, Canseco will be part of NBC Sports California’s A’s Pregame Live and A’s Postgame Live shows. Live TV can be hard. I’ve done a bit of it, and there is certainly more to that gig than meets the eye. You can’t always prepare for what happens on the fly. I’m sure Canseco will do well, however, as he’s great with coming up with the best stuff off the top of his head.

2017 Preview: Cleveland Indians

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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 Cleveland Indians.

The Cleveland Indians almost won the World Series without their best hitter for the whole season and two of their starting pitchers for the playoffs. This year that hitter — Michael Brantley — is back and the starters — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — are healthy. Oh, and they added arguably the best free agent bat available in Edwin Encarnacion.

Baseball teams love to downplay their expectations, but given where the Indians are at the moment, anything less than another American League Pennant will have to feel like a disappointment, right? Fortunately for the Indians, they stand as the favorites to do just that.

They didn’t lose much in the offseason. Yes, World Series hero Rajai Davis is gone, but the Indians outfield will be fine if Brantley remains healthy. Mike Napoli‘s loss will be felt but it will be made up for with Encarnacion’s bat and probably then some. Coco Crisp left too, but he was not a key part of the equation.

The biggest losses are guys from last year who will start the year on the disabled list, most notably Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis is just starting to work out following time off to rest his sore shoulder. Chisenhall ran into a wall the other day and is being evaluated. There is no sense that either will miss extended time, however.

Otherwise, the lineup should score a lot of runs, with on-base machines Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor setting the table for Encarnacion, Brantley and Carlos Santana, who is entering his walk year. The Indians trailed only the Red Sox in runs scored in the American League last year and they should score a lot of runs this year as well.

The strength of the club, however, remains its pitching. Corey Kluber looked like his old Cy Young self last year, particularly in the playoffs. Danny Salazar built on his excellent 2015 season in the first half before falling prey to injury. Carlos Carrasco posted an ERA+ of 141 before breaking his hand and Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer both stood out for fourth and fifth starters.

The bullpen is excellent too, as relief ace Andrew Miller is joined by Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and newcomer Boone Logan make up one of the relief corps in baseball.

Pitcher health is probably the biggest uncertainty for any contender, but the Indians have the best pitching in the AL if everyone stays healthy. And maybe even if one or two guys don’t.

It’s hard to find much fault with the 2017 Cleveland Indians. They are the class of their division and, while the slog of the regular season turns a lot of surefire contenders into hash before it’s all said and done, there is no reason to look at the Indians right now and think of them as anything other than the best team in the American League.

Prediction: First place, American League Central.