Bud Selig

MLB needs to assure the players that the A-Rod case does not set a new precedent


Everyone is squawking about MLB officials going on “60 Minutes” last night. I don’t think it’s the biggest thing in the world. It’s unseemly for MLB to basically take a victory lap like that, but I doubt they would have if A-Rod and his lawyers hadn’t been pulling those kinds of stunts themselves. Which, of course, followed many MLB leaks and things going back months. No one is covered with glory when it comes to the discretion angle of this nearly year-long affair.

That said, it’s possible to view MLB’s willingness to make a public case like this as an extension of their willingness to break with the automatic penalties of the Joint Drug Agreement that I described on Saturday. Dispensing with the clearly-delineated penalties of the JDA and grabbing a Commissioner’s discretion to suspend for hundreds of games in a first offense. Making P.R. cases in a drug testing program that is supposed to be automatic, zero-tolerance and, above all, confidential. Indeed, the entire character of Major League Baseball’s drug program has been changed as a result of the Biogenesis investigation and suspensions.

And as a result of that, it is incumbent upon Major League Baseball to tell the players and, to the extent they care, the fans, whether it intends to continue on in this fashion or if, alternatively, this was an odd, and unlikely-to-be-repeated case. And yes, this matters.

As I said on Saturday, Bud Selig, with the approval of baseball’s arbitrator, has created a new power to punish from whole cloth. When a player is suspected of drug use but there is no positive test — which, of course, represents a failure of the testing program — Major League Baseball now has the power to use discretion and to apply any penalty it wants, without reference to the 50-100-lifetime ban. It can justify it by claiming a lack of candor (justifying 15 extra games for Ryan Braun) or obstruction, justifying 112 additional games for Alex Rodriguez. The evidence of that lack of candor or obstruction is not for public consumption. It can publicize its investigation and punishment with impunity.

And, most importantly of all, unlike any other power to punish players in existence, Major League Baseball has claimed these powers without the assent of the Players Union.

While it is unlikely that some player is going to draw the ire in the same way Ryan Braun and A-Rod did, it is now possible for baseball to go after someone in the same way if it so chooses. If it hears a rumor of a player’s drug use, it can question the player and decide, on its own, whether that player is being truthful. It can file lawsuits against his friends and associates to coerce them into turning on him. It can buy stolen property and give six-figure sums to shady people as long as they cooperate with them. In the end, it can suspend the player for hundreds of games — maybe 200 or more — and only see the suspension reduced if the player has the means to mount a months-long legal challenge.

Perhaps it is unlikely that Major League Baseball would ever do this again. Perhaps A-Rod and Ryan Braun represent unique cases. But, tell me, when was the last time any governmental, quasi-governmental or administrative body willingly relinquished power for which it made a bold grab?

While the unpopularity of appearing to side with Alex Rodriguez or appearing to be anything less than tough on PEDs mitigates against most players and members of the media from criticizing the manner in which Major League Baseball obtained its discipline against A-Rod, the fact is, Bud Selig’s actions and assumption of new power in the drug game is troubling and potentially damaging. It could lead to abuses by Major League Baseball. More likely, it could lead to mistrust between the players and the league and could inject itself into labor negotiations in the future once people realize exactly what just happened here and why it’s so troublesome.

Major League Baseball could head that off, of course. After the dust from Saturday’s ruling settles, the league could issue a statement explaining — with reference to facts and perhaps the unsealing of the arbitrator’s ruling, not rhetoric like we’ve seen for months — exactly why A-Rod’s suspension was justified. It could assert where the power to issue a 211-game suspension (and then a 162-game suspension) flows from for a first offense.  It could explain why — if it truly believes so anyway — this isn’t a power grab by Commissioner Selig and why this decision does not create precedent beyond the highly-unique circumstances of Alex Rodriguez’s case.

I’m not holding my breath for that. Because, again, those who claim unprecedented power rarely voluntarily relinquish it and even more rarely adequately justify it. And they are especially loathe to do either if no one bothers to complain.

Blue Jays still focused on upgrading their pitching

Marco Estrada
AP Photo/LM Otero
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Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.

The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.

Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.

Report: Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”

Jonathan Papelbon
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.

Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.

The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.

Minor league home run king Mike Hessman retires

NEW YORK - JULY 29:  Mike Hessman #19 of the New York Mets bats against the St. Louis Cardinals on July 29, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 4-0.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.

Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.

Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.

Marlins announcer Tommy Hutton was let go because he was “too negative”

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We heard earlier this week that Marlins television analyst Tommy Hutton was let go after 19 seasons on the job. By all accounts, he’s well-liked and respected, so it smelled a little fishy with a team that has owner Jeffrey Loria calling the shots. Well, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald was told by a source close to the Marlins that Hutton was let go because he was “too negative.”

Jackson was also able to get in touch with Hutton, who provided some details about how things went down.

“I know there were times I was negative, but I thought those times were called for,” he said. “Ninety percent of what I said was positive. I tried not to be a homer, but you could tell I wanted the Marlins to do well.”

After being told that his salary wasn’t a factor in the decision, Hutton suspected that his candid, blunt analysis might be the impetus for his ouster.

So after learning his fate on Monday, he asked that question – whether they thought he was too negative — to both a Fox producer (at a meeting at Starbucks) and the Marlins’ vice president/communications (by phone).

He said the question was met with silence by both executives.

“I couldn’t get a yes or a no,” he said.

Hutton said there were three incident in recent years where he was told the Marlins were uncomfortable with something he said. He disclosed one example where he was exasperated at the ballpark’s dimensions after former catcher John Buck flew out to the warning track for the final out of a game. He was told by a Marlins vice president after the game that Loria prefer he not talk about the ballpark’s dimensions. Of course, the team is moving in the fences this winter.

To be clear, Hutton said he was told it was a “mutual decision” between the Marlins and FOX to let him go, but Jackson’s source hears that the concern about his “negativity” came from the team.

Hey, do you know the best way to prevent “negative” talk about your team? Fielding a winning baseball team without a dysfunctional ownership and front office. Crazy idea, I know, but it could be cool?