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Stop it: Ryan Braun is not Lance Armstrong


I think I’ve been pretty clear in saying that Braun (a) is a liar; (b) is a cheater; and (c) should count himself lucky that he only got 65 games. On radio spots today I’ve opined that he’s probably some sort of sociopath who I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw. I won’t believe a word that comes out of his mouth for the rest of career. If he says he’s “making some adjustments at the plate” I’m going to assume he’s really selling heroin to school kids.

I don’t think that’s being a Braun “apologist” but then again I don’t think most things I do constitute being an apologist for PED guys even if everyone says I am. I just wanted to be very clear about my feelings about Ryan Braun here, because lots of folks seem to be misinterpreting it.

And they’ll misinterpret it here too, because I’m about to say something that is less than “Ryan Braun is Stalin.”  I’m led to say this after about the tenth column I’ve read today in which the columnist has said that Braun owes an apology to Dino Laurenzi, the man who collected the sample from Braun last year and around whose handling of the sample Braun based his ultimately successful appeal.

Fact: under MLB rules then in place, Laurenzi did mishandle the sample. He didn’t taint it or do anything sinister, but he did, technically speaking under the letter of the rules he was to follow, mishandle it. That gave Braun his opening and he and his lawyers took it. If you dispute that just stop reading because that’s simply a statement of fact. MLB even changed its rules after the fact in order to address it, so they acknowledged a problem too. And if you’re still in doubt about this, ask a former drug testing specimen collector who doesn’t exactly shed tears for Mr. Laurenzi’s plight.

Fact: Braun said a lot of things about how his sample was handled last year at a press conference and in public statements, either from his own mouth or through his handlers. These were gratuitous and unnecessary as he need not have made any public statements at all. They were also, given what we know now, low rent in that they suggested the possibility of contamination brought on by mishandling in such a way that many people construed it as Braun suggesting Laurenzi contaminated it himself. He stopped just short of that, but that was many people’s takeaway from it and Braun either knew better or was so careless about his comments that he shouldn’t have said a damn thing to begin with.

Opinion, but an informed one, and one which I’d be curious to know if anyone with legal training cares to dispute: What Braun said was not actually legally actionable slander. People are insulted all the time, but slander is a different beast and I do not believe that any court would actually entertain a defamation case from Laurenzi on this even if he chose to bring one. The comments were vague and not particularly pointed and related just as much to theoretical possibilities of contamination in general than they did to any malicious accusation of wrongdoing.

I feel like this is important, because I am seeing a race among columnists today to see how evil one can portray Braun’s comments last year. Buster Olney and others have compared Braun to Lance Armstrong. Gregg Doyel, while not going quite to the level of an Armstrong comparison — suggests that some form of reparations — money? college funds for Laurenzi’s kids — are in order. Many have portrayed Laurenzi’s life as a living hell after last year’s comments from Braun. I don’t know that we have any information on that, actually. I’ve called Laurenzi and haven’t heard back from him. I’d be curious to hear his take.

With my above disclaimer about my feelings for Braun in mind, I think the Armstrong comparisons and the increasingly extreme portrayals of what Braun has done to Laurenzi are a bit much.  Lance Armstrong sued people on false grounds in a concerted effort to silence them and run them out of the business. Actually recovered money from them too.  He built a multi-million dollar cancer-fighting empire based on a goodwill borne of statements and a persona millions of time more righteous than anything Braun ever attempted to portray. Armstrong literally harmed people and arguably destroyed people’s lives. Time will tell if he’s done a disservice to cancer patients who have come to rely on an edifice he helped create and which may or may not be harmed by Armstrong being exposed for what he is.

I’m sure Laurenzi had a bad few days last year. I’m sure he wished he was never involved in the Braun mess to begin with. And, as I said yesterday, Braun certainly owes him an apology.  But I feel like people are going out of control in an effort to paint Ryan Braun with a black brush while ignoring the very different orders of degree of his acts as opposed to those of Lance Armstrong.

Maybe that makes people feel better, but I don’t think it helps Dino Laurenzi or anyone else besides the one offering such statements at all.

Erik Johnson likely to open 2016 in the White Sox rotation

DENVER, CO - APRIL 09:  Starting pitcher Erik Johnson #45 of the Chicago White Sox delivers against the Colorado Rockies during Interleague play at Coors Field on April 9, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockies defeated the White Sox 10-4.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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With the White Sox losing Jeff Samardzija to free agency, Erik Johnson will likely get a shot to contribute out of the rotation to open up the 2016 season, GM Rick Hahn said in a conference call on Wednesday, per a report from’s Scott Merkin.

“As we sit here today, I think it will be an opportunity for Erik Johnson to convert on sort of the return to form he showed back in 2015 when he was International League pitcher of the year for [Triple-A] Charlotte,” Hahn said. “Obviously, he got some starts in September and continued to show the progress in Chicago he had shown in the Minor Leagues over the course of the last season.

“So if Opening Day were today, then I think Johnson is penciled in to that spot in the rotation right now. In all probability, once we get closer to spring, there will be some competition for him to earn that spot. But if we were strictly looking at today, then I would think Johnson has the inside track on filling Samardzija’s innings.”

Johnson was called up from Triple-A Charlotte in September and made six starts, allowing 14 runs (13 earned) on 32 hits and 17 walks with 30 strikeouts in 35 innings. That followed up an impressive five months in the minors where he compiled a 2.37 ERA and a 136/41 K/BB ratio across 132 2/3 innings.

Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and each included Johnson on their top-100 prospect lists, ranking him 63rd, 67th, and 70th, respectively. The right-hander was selected by the White Sox in the second round of the 2011 draft.

Major League Baseball will investigate Yasiel Puig for his role in Miami nightclub brawl

Yasiel Puig
AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi

It was reported on Friday afternoon that Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was involved in a brawl at a Miami nightclub. Details were scant at the time, but he reportedly left with a bruise on his face.

Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reports that Major League Baseball plans to investigate Puig under the league’s new domestic violence policy for his role in the brawl. Citing a report from TMZ, Hernandez notes that Puig shoved his sister, “brutally sucker-punched” the manager of the bar, and instigated the brawl.

The Dodgers and Puig’s agent have thus far refused to comment on the situation.

Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes was the first player to be investigated under the league’s new domestic violence policy earlier this month, as he allegedly assaulted his wife. Reyes has pleaded not guilty after he was charged with domestic abuse in Hawaii.

As our own Craig Calcaterra pointed out, commissioner Rob Manfred does not need to wait for Puig to plead guilty or to be found guilty to levy a punishment.

Dayan Viciedo close to signing with Japan’s Chunichi Dragons

Dayan Viciedo
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
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Patrick Newman is reporting that the Chunichi Dragons of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and outfielder Dayan Viciedo are close to an agreement on a contract. Newman notes that the Dragons are close to signing pitcher Jordan Norberto as well.

Viciedo, 26, has struggled since making his major league debut in 2010 with the White Sox, batting an aggregate .254/.298/.424 with 66 home runs and 211 RBI in 1,798 plate appearances. He spent the 2015 season with Triple-A Charlotte (White Sox) and Nashville (Athletics), hitting a composite .287/.348/.450. While Viciedo can hit the occasional home run, he hasn’t shown the ability to do much else at the big league level. Given his age, he could prove himself in Japan and parlay that into a renewed shot in the majors in the future.

The White Sox signed Viciedo out of Cuba in December 2008, agreeing to a four-year, $10 million deal. The club re-signed him to one-year deals in 2013 and ’14 for $2.8 million each and $4.4 million ahead of the 2015 season.

Blue Jays sign J.A. Happ to a three-year, $36 million contract

J.A. Happ
AP Photo/David Zalubowski

Update (8:45 PM EST): Per Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, Happ will get $10 million in 2016 and $13 million each in 2017 and ’18.

*’s Gregor Chisholm reports that the Blue Jays have signed lefty J.A. Happ to a three-year deal worth $36 million.

Happ, 33, had a rebirth as a member of the Pirates last season after starting the season with 20 subpar starts with the Mariners. He made 11 starts for the Buccos, boasting a 1.85 ERA with a 69/13 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.

Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported this past August that Happ’s newfound success had to do with a delivery tweak suggested by Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage. The Blue Jays are certainly hoping that adjustment is the full explanation for his success.

The Jays’ signing of Happ most likely signifies they won’t be pursuing free agent lefty David Price.

This will be Happ’s second stint with the Blue Jays. The Astros dealt him to Toronto in a July 2012 trade. He posted a 4.39 ERA with a 256/113 K/BB ratio in 291 innings with the Jays, then went to the Mariners in a trade this past December that brought outfielder Michael Saunders to the Jays.