Today’s decision punishes A-Rod, but it also gives Bud Selig new power

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I think the most interesting thing about Alex Rodriguez’s suspension is that curious number of games: 162. It’s such a great number. It matches up so perfectly with a major league baseball season! I thought Ryan Braun’s suspension was interesting too: 65 games. When, as a matter of pure coincidence, I’m sure, the Milwaukee Brewers had 65 games left on their schedule. How neat that is!

It’s almost as if we now have a new matrix for drug suspensions:

  • First offense: 50 games
  • Second offense: 100 games
  • Third offense: lifetime ban
  • Offense by a guy who REALLY makes us look bad and we want to hammer: Until the end of the year, how ever many games that may be.

Which, however satisfying that may be — who doesn’t want A-Rod to just be gone for a season at this point? — is a departure from what Major League Baseball has done with suspensions in the past. Until Braun and now A-Rod, suspensions were for a set number of games, agreed-to beforehand in the Joint Drug Agreement. It was automatic, not a matter of personal judgment by Bud Selig or an arbitrator. We’re in new territory here.

The explanation I’ve seen from some on this — particularly Tom Verducci, but others have said it as well — is that the odd, convenient number of games is because the enforcement action was not based on testing, it was based on non-analytic information (Tony Bosch and the Biogenesis documents) and that when we’re in non-analytic land, the Commissioner has discretion.

Except that is not at all clear from either the terms of the CBA or the JDA. It’s apparently what Bud Selig asserted and, presumably, it’s a position the arbitrator validated in the A-Rod arbitration. But we don’t know, because his decision is sealed. I wonder if, given how much time A-Rod’s lawyers seemed to spend on claiming the existence of a vast conspiracy against their client, they bothered to spend much time arguing that point of the Commissioner’s authority. If they didn’t, that’s pretty awful lawyering.

In any event, that’s basically the effect of this ruling: a big grant of power to Bud Selig to exceed the penalties set forth in the JDA in cases that don’t involve a positive test. A power that, for whatever reason, he decided not to use for Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and all of the other Biogenesis players, but I suppose that’s convenient too. And, perversely, a power he would not have if the drug testing system he has put in place would have caught these players before we heard about it in the Miami New-Times. Indeed, the failure of the drug testing system worked to Selig’s benefit, which is kind of crazy itself if you think about.

But that’s neither here nor there. The real takeaway here is that Selig now has power in the drug enforcement world he didn’t have before and which he did not obtain via negotiation with the union. He obtained it by simply asserting it and seeing if he could make it stick.  He made it stick.

It’l be interesting to see if the union, under new leader Tony Clark, is going to make this an issue when the new CBA is negotiated or if they’re going to let Selig’s grab for power– his quite successful grab — stand.

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.