What should MLB have done in the A-Rod case? What should the players think now?

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So much of what I’ve been writing about and reacting to the past few days has been focused on what x, y and z mean for Alex Rodriguez. And, frankly, that’s getting close to played out. Meanwhile, Chris Needham — a dedicated reader/critic of mine (but a smart and well-intentioned one) — challenged me this morning to take on some issues I have not dealt with as much.

The background here is that Chris has often accused me of too often retreating to my comfortable territory of (a) fixating on due process issues in the PED debates; and (b) looking hypercritically at what Bud Selig and MLB do while not leveling the same level of scrutiny at the A-Rods of the world.  He’s not wrong to make such accusations. Due process is my jam, so I write far more about that than anything. And given how large and loud the crowd going after the A-Rods of the world is, I’m naturally inclined to take the other side because I’m prone to being a pain in the ass contrarian at times. Knowing Chris as I do, I feel like he can at least appreciate that part of me.

But whatever can be said about all of that stuff, Chris does raise two very good topics of conversation. I’ll let him speak:

Let’s talk about those things, shall we?

The “what should MLB have done in the face of the evidence against the Biogenesis players” thing touches on something Chris and I discussed yesterday about MLB’s behavior in the investigation. I and many others have criticized baseball for buying off Tony Bosch and getting in the mud to get the goods on A-Rod and others, but it’s easy to fire shots from the sidelines after the fact. A better question is what should MLB have done at the time?

Since there are a number of different acts in play here, I’ll answer in bullet point form to save everyone’s eyes and brain:

  • I was highly critical of MLB’s lawsuit against Anthony Bosch which eventually coerced his cooperation. I still believe that, legally speaking, it was horrendous and that the Florida court was wrong to let it go forward. As a lawyer I make a different call than Bud Selig ultimately made in filing it because at the time I would have argued that it was likely to backfire and prove embarrassing for the league and because, ethically speaking, it skated close to abuse of process. But I will freely admit that I was wrong about the gambit’s ultimate success. It clearly was the game-changer in this case. But game-changer or not, I’d advise baseball that the “drug dealers are interfering with our contracts” strategy is not likely to be successful more often than it fails.
  • Short of that, I would make whatever deal I could with Bosch in order to enlist his cooperation. Yes, it’s unseemly to get in bed with scum like Bosch, but I’m not sure how else you’re supposed to get the information you need to discipline players in circumstances such as his. Maybe I’m way less successful in getting a deal with Bosch if I don’t have the lawsuit hanging over his head. Maybe A-Rod buys his silence before I can buy his cooperation. But I do reach out and offer him legal indemnification and offer to buy his documents and try to persuade him that he wants to be on the side of the angels rather than the A-Rods.
  • That said, as a bright line, I would not, if I were running Major League Baseball, have permitted my investigators to purchase the stolen Biogenesis documents. Maybe that costs me valuable information. Maybe that blows my case entirely. But I see no end result, including the possible failure to punish A-Rod, that is worth an organization under my command breaking the law, which I believe happened in this case. I also do my best to get better sourcing for the information my investigators obtained than guys named, simply, “Bobby.”
  • If I don’t have evidence, it means A-Rod got to Bosch. And given the reporting of last spring and early summer, everyone knows it. I stake my case against A-Rod on the documents I had, hope that the arbitrator accepts them for what they are without Bosch’s authentication and — if I don’t have Bosch — try to cut as many deals as I can with other Biogenesis players, possibly including deals to get them to admit to the arbitrator that the stuff in those documents relating to them was true and hoping that he takes the leap that it was true with respect to A-Rod too. At the same time, I lean far more strongly on an obstruction of the investigation case against A-Rod and hope that what I can’t get him for on drug use I can get him for in disappearing Bosch.

So where does that leave me if I am running MLB? Maybe a weak case. Maybe A-Rod skates. But I can at least look at myself in the mirror and — more importantly — I can face the players and the union and have them know that I’m a straight shooter who is not willing to trample over ethical lines in order to nail one guy I hate. And I still make my public case against A-Rod, because people think he’s scum anyway. And, even if the case against him fails, I at least now have something I can go to the union and the players with: “this guy just made us all look like fools. Do we want that? I don’t. Let’s ratchet-up the drug testing and penalty program again.”

Ultimately, this is rooted in my belief that the ends do not always justify the means and that the end in this case — punishing a guy who everyone already thinks is a cheater and who is already near the end of his career — certainly aren’t worth the risks MLB took in this case, even if they did prevail on their many gambles.

As for the second question: what the rank and file should/would think after all of this? Well, that one is a little easier. Really three big takeaways. I touched on the first one back in July, but let’s flesh it out more.

  • First, I think this whole affair sends the message that MLB is not content to sit back and wait for positive tests anymore. That, if someone is trying to sell me sophisticated, undetectable stuff that’s only part of the equation. Risk also comes from whether this guy is dealing with other players. Whether he’s himself compromised. Whether the police-style investigation that could come of this would prove embarrassing for me, even if it does only result in a suspension. Before they could only talk about my urine. Now they are willing to put my entire personal life — maybe even my sex life — out into the open if I’m in the crosshairs. A player who gets into PEDs now in the way most have before — via some guru/clinic he heard about from some other players who talked him up — is stepping into much more dangerous territory now than he was a couple of years ago. “MLB will get me and they will stop at nothing to do it” is something that has to enter my mind.
  • Second, if I am a player who is clean, always will be, hates the cheaters and hates that players are so often suspected of cheating because of jerks like Bonds and A-Rod and those who came before, I’m happy about what just happened. Maybe A-Rod isn’t the only one who ever did anything and maybe Selig doesn’t deserve hero status in the PED arena, but I’d much rather they be the focus of all of this than some never-ending game of suspicion. And I’m happy that maybe, just maybe, people will stop assuming everyone is cheating and accept that most of us are honest athletes doing great things. And I’m especially happy that those of my colleagues who would cheat have something to be fearful of.
  • Finally, once the dust on A-Rod settles and the conversation moves away from “piece of crap got what was coming to him,” I worry a little bit if I’m a major league baseball player. I worry that my league is willing to break rules and maybe the law to come after me if they want to. I worry — based on the difference in intensity between the league’s approach to A-Rod vs, say, Bartolo Colon — that if I become an unpopular or too-highly-paid figure that they may treat me differently than they do someone else. I worry that my union may make comments in public that come off less than supportive and, heck, I may even worry a bit that my union may not completely have my back in substance too. I also worry that we have a loophole in the drug testing system now where MLB can get substantially tougher penalties against me if I DON’T fail any tests than if I do, and that just seems crazy to me.

So, there we are. Some takeaways that aren’t a monomaniacal defense of Alex Rodriguez. Gosh, makes me feel all uncomfortable doing that. Quick — someone shoot me a link to an article in which some writer compares A-Rod to the Zodiac Killer. I need a fix.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.