Major League Baseball’s lawsuit against Biogenesis should be laughed out of court

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And should probably cause the lawyers who file it to be slapped with sanctions, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

In case you missed it, the backstory here is that Major League Baseball plans to sue Biogenesis today in an effort to obtain the documents it has thus far been unable to obtain and which it needs to punish ballplayers like Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez for taking performance enhancing drugs.

There are, however, a few slight problems with this strategy. The largest being that this is a transparent and cynical attempt by Major League Baseball to obtain documents to discipline its employees, not an attempt to vindicate an actual legal injury, and courts do not like to be used in such a fashion.

Baseball has loudly lamented that it (a) has no way of getting the Biogenesis documents; and thus (b) has no way of punishing the ballplayers named in the documents. For them to now, suddenly, tell a judge that this is really about redressing some legal injury it suffered at the hands of this little clinic is laughable in the extreme. If someone had handed them a box of documents last week they would have never considered suing Biogenesis. They are now suing with the sole intent of getting documents. Which is problematic because the purpose of the legal system is to redress legal injury, not to be used as a cudgel in some employment dispute involving non-parties to the lawsuit or to help sports leagues with their public relations problems.

Baseball’s lawyers probably realize this, so they will not be so dumb as to put the real purpose of the lawsuit in the complaint. They will assert some legal claim in the suit — maybe tortious interference with a business relationship? — and claim they were damaged. Indeed, an expert cited in the New York Times story about all of this lays out how that might look:

“If I sold drugs to a baseball player, the league might say it damaged the good will of the league and its ability to make money and prosper,” Eckhaus said. “That’s probably a good claim.”

This would be a fun deposition:

Defense lawyer: Mr. Selig, your claim asserts that baseball has not been able to make money and prosper as a result of performance enhancing drugs like those alleged to have been given to your players by my client, yes?

Selig: Yes sir!

Defense lawyer: Can you tell me, Mr. Selig, how baseball’s revenues, profits, attendance, TV ratings and popularity have been negatively impacted as performance enhancing drugs?

Selig: …

Defense lawyer: Mr. Selig, you’d agree with me, wouldn’t you, that since the mid-1990s through the present day, baseball has had unprecedented financial success, yes?

Selig: …

Defense lawyer: And that this period, often called The Steroid Era, is when performance enhancing drugs proliferated?

Selig: …

Defense lawyer: And that now baseball is experiencing a mind-boggling windfall due to television dollars and exploding franchise values?

Selig: … well, um, that may be true. But Mr. Lupica is really, really upset.

It’s total nonsense to suggest financial damage here. If baseball asserts in its complaint that it has suffered financial damage due to the actions of Biogenesis it is lying. If it does not assert financial damage the complaint will be thrown out for failing to state a legal claim.

And it may be total nonsense for Major League Baseball to articulate a theory of recovery even if some damages claim can be cobbled together. I no longer have access to my magic legal research resources, but I’d be rather surprised if there is any kind of rich case history in which companies have been allowed to sue drug dealers for selling to its employees.  Employees are not the company’s property. They have no standing to assert such claims. Baseball would have a better claim against the NFL for damaging its brand than it would have against Anthony Bosch.  The Beatles would have just as good a claim against Yoko Ono for breaking them up than Selig would have against Biogenesis.

Baseball is having a highly-publicized, real time temper tantrum. It has been impotent in its attempts to obtain the Biogenesis documents and it casting about for any way to obtain them. That it is now looking to waste scarce legal resources in an ill-conceived lawsuit to do what it has been unable to do otherwise is every bit as shameful as it is unlikely to succeed. If they get a bored judge who doesn’t care about such things maybe this has some legs for a while. If they get a judge like most judges I’ve ever known — ones who do not abide nonsense like this — they could very well find their lawsuit dismissed with a quickness and their lawyers sanctioned as a result of the frivolity of the claims they are about to assert.

But hey, there’s part of me which actually wants this thing to go forward. Because if baseball is going to disingenuously claim that it has suffered financial damages as a result of all of this, it will have to turn over financial documents to prove that such damages exist. Tell me: when was the last time baseball was eager to do that?

2017 Preview: Minnesota Twins

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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 Minnesota Twins.

Which iteration of the Twins will we get in 2017? The second-place contenders of 2015, blazing their way through the standings with 83 wins and a handful of hot prospects? The burnouts of 2016, flopping to the bottom of the division with 103 losses and a lineup held in place by Brian Dozier and, well, Brian Dozier? Or something in between?

Finishing dead last has its perks, namely a first-round draft pick and the feeling that things can’t be quite as bad as they were the year before. Unfortunately for the Twins, the only major preparation they made for the 2017 season came in the form of a front office shakeup. Derek Falvey assumed control of the club in October, bringing GM Thad Levine into the fold in November as the club assumed a more analytics-friendly approach toward the rebuilding movement.

When it came to roster revisions, however, there wasn’t much moving or shaking this winter. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe, catcher Kurt Suzuki and left-handers Tommy Milone and Pat Dean vacated their spots on the roster. Falvey avoided some of the bigger bats and bullpen arms in free agency and opted to sign backstop Jason Castro and journeyman reliever Ryan Vogelsong instead.

By and large, the core of the Twins’ roster remained the same. Center fielder Byron Buxton, infielder/outfielder Michael Sano and right-hander Jose Berrios still form the nucleus of the club’s top prospects. Middle infielder Brian Dozier will also return in 2017, though he appears to be on borrowed time with the Twins after putting up monster numbers in the second half of 2016. Ervin Santana will head the rotation again, accompanied by fellow veterans Hector Santiago, Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes, while right-handed relievers Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Pressly and Matt Belisle and rehabbing lefty Glen Perkins attempt to prevent another bullpen collapse in 2017.

Without any major additions to the team (and, excepting the departure of Trevor Plouffe, any major subtractions), the Twins will look to their existing cadre of players for significant improvements in 2017. Miguel Sano is expected to take over third base in Plouffe’s absence, which will bring a welcome end to his short-lived and wholly unsuccessful experiment in right field. Brian Dozier, Jorge Polanco and Joe Mauer should round out the infield, with Byung Ho Park and Kennys Vargas currently vying for a spot as the team’s designated hitter.

The lineup is still four or five or six sluggers shy of formidable, but if Dozier can be counted on to repeat his 42-homer, 5.9 fWAR performance from 2016, there will be at least one Twin worth intentionally walking in 2017. Neither Miguel Sano nor Byron Buxton have quite found their footing against big league pitching yet, and another year spent struggling in the majors could mean another year of sub-optimal run production for the team as well. Jason Castro, who grades as an above-average defender behind the plate, is unlikely to provide any additional pop for the Twins at the plate after slashing just .210/.307/.377 through 376 PA with the Astros in 2016.

The pitching department also leaves a little to be desired in light of the league-worst 5.09 ERA they amassed last season. A veteran-heavy rotation could get a boost from the addition of fifth-starter candidate Jose Berrios, who is thought to be the favorite after fellow rotation candidate Trevor May underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this week. Right-hander Tyler Duffey and 23-year-old southpaw Adalberto Mejia are also waiting in the wings. Both have made convincing cases for their inclusion on the pitching staff this spring, but Duffey is coming off of a 6.43 ERA in 2016 and Mejia lacks some of the polish that Berrios offers. Still, stockpiling young pitching depth isn’t a bad thing, and could give the Twins a cushion in the event of injury or collapse down the stretch.

The bullpen outperformed the rotation in 2016, which is saying… something, though maybe not a lot. They still finished the year with a cumulative 4.63 ERA, good for last place among their American League rivals, and delivered just 2.1 fWAR while taking on the fourth-most innings in the league. The standout performer was 28-year-old righty Ryan Pressly, who worked a 3.70 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 8.0 SO/9 in 75 1/3 innings last year. In light of Ryan Vogelsong’s recent departure from the club, the Twins will round out their bullpen with left-hander Craig Breslow, who turned in a 4.50 ERA with the Marlins in 2016 and is looking for a bounce-back season of his own after reworking his delivery at age 36.

For now, it looks like Falvey and the Twins’ front office are taking a wait-and-see approach to the coming season, which bodes well for their long-term vision (assuming most of their young prospects pan out) and not so well for their chances of moving up in the division in the next year or so. That could change by the trade deadline if they can secure a worthwhile return for Dozier, though given the rumors of their understandably high asking price, it could take more than a few months to get a deal in place.

Even assuming that all the chips fall in the Twins’ favor in 2017 — prospects start hitting consistently, the rotation solidifies, and Falvey loosens the purse strings enough to net more established contenders — it’s difficult to imagine anything more than a fourth-place finish for the club as they continue to rebuild and regroup. Barring any major improvements on the inconsistent, if occasionally productive, lineup of 2016, another last-place finish feels imminent.

Prediction: Fifth place, AL Central.

Video: Angels use eight pitchers in spring training no-hitter

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Who says no-hitters can’t be just as fun when they happen during spring training?

Angels’ right-hander Bud Norris delivered two perfect innings on Friday night, paving the way for an eight-pitcher no-hitter against the Mariners at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Jose Alvarez, Cam Bedrosian, Andrew Bailey, Austin Adams, Drew Gagnon and Justin Anderson each filed a hitless inning of their own, leaving right-hander Abel De Los Santos to close out the ninth inning with just three pitches — and three game-saving plays by the defense.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Angels were facing a bevy of Mariners’ backups, rather than their starting lineup. In fact, Seattle’s lineup featured just two starting players — outfielder Leonys Martin and shortstop Jean Segura — while the majority of their everyday position players took on the Royals in a 4-3 win elsewhere in the Cactus League. The Mariners managed to reach base twice, first on catcher interference in the fourth inning, then on a four-pitch walk in the sixth, spoiling the Angels’ chances of turning their combined no-hitter into a combined perfect game.

Still, whether it’s executed in spring training or the regular season, against an All-Star lineup or one comprised of minor leaguers, a no-hitter is a no-hitter. The team’s eight-pitcher effort marked the first spring training no-no the Angels had completed since 1996, when they took on the Giants in a 15-0 showdown. Unfortunately for the 1996 squad, their regular season ended with a 70-91 record, good for last place in the AL West. Perhaps this no-hitter will prove a better omen for the coming season.