Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves

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

50 Comments

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.

Mets Syndergaard ejected after throwing behind Utley

160528 noah
Getty Images
14 Comments

NEW YORK — In a scene that has seemed inevitable since October, New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard has been ejected for throwing a 99 mph fastball behind Chase Utley of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Utley is playing at Citi Field this weekend for the first time since his late takeout slide in last year’s playoffs broke the right leg of then-Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada.

New York was incensed by the aggressive slide, which led to a change in baseball rules on slides at bases this season. But the Mets had not attempted to retaliate until Saturday night.

With one out and nobody on in the third inning of a scoreless game, Syndergaard’s first pitch to Utley sailed behind the second baseman’s back by a considerable margin.

Plate umpire Adam Hamari immediately ejected Syndergaard, prompting irate Mets manager Terry Collins to come storming out of the dugout. Collins also was ejected.

Indians’ Brantley unsure of return from shoulder injury

160528 brantley
Getty Images
Leave a comment

CLEVELAND — Indians outfielder Michael Brantley has no timetable for his return from the shoulder injury that has sidelined him for the second time this season.

Brantley spoke to reporters Saturday for the first time since being placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 14. He began the season on the DL following surgery for a torn right labrum in November. Brantley hit .231 with seven RBIs in 11 games before being shut down again.

“I wasn’t bouncing back quick enough to keep playing back-to-back games, which is very important,” he said. “I want to be healthy each and every day and I have to play at a high level. This is the major leagues. You have to be at the best of your ability and the highest health-wise you can be.”

Brantley, who received an anti-inflammatory shot in the shoulder two weeks ago, doesn’t think he returned from the surgery too soon.

“I was ready,” he said. “We talked about it. We had a great process laid out. Everything went smoothly. It was just a bump in the road.”

Brantley has been hitting off a tee but isn’t sure when he will begin taking swings in the batting cage. He is playing catch since he throws left-handed but wants to be cautious about resuming a hitting program.

“Surgery is nothing to play with,” he said. “You have to be smart and understand your body.”

Brantley visited Dr. Craig Morgan, who performed the surgery, in Wilmington, Delaware after he returned to the DL. An MRI showed no changes in the shoulder.

“He said everything checks out good, just make sure to take your time and we’ll see what happens from there,” Brantley said.

Brantley finished third in the AL MVP voting in 2014 when he hit .327 with 20 homers and 97 RBIs. He batted .310 with 15 homers and 84 RBIs last season.

Blue Jays walk off Red Sox, 10-9, as Travis scores Martin

160528 jays
Getty Images
1 Comment

TORONTO (AP) Devon Travis drove home Russell Martin with two out in the bottom of the ninth as the Toronto Blue Jays rallied to beat the Boston Red Sox 10-9 on Saturday.

With the Blue Jays trailing 9-8 on a David Ortiz home run in the top of the inning, Boston closer Craig Kimbrel retired Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders. But Justin Smoak singled on a line drive to center, and with Ezequiel Carrera pinch running for Smoak, Martin drove in his third run of the day on a double to tie the game.

After Martin advanced to third on a wild pitch, Travis forced third baseman Travis Shaw to stretch to corral a shot, and though he tried to throw Travis out at first, his throw was dropped by Hanley Ramirez and Martin scored.

The walk-off win was Toronto’s second of the season, the first coming against Texas on May 3, and completes the series win over the Red Sox, snapping a two-series home losing skid.

Martin hit his third home run in four games with a solo shot over the right-field wall in the sixth inning, while Xander Bogaerts and Shaw both had home runs for the Red Sox.

Ortiz’s 13th home run of the season and league-leading 46 RBI had seemed to be enough for the Red Sox, who watched an 8-4 lead disintegrate in the eighth inning as the Blue Jays rallied to tie the score.

Reliever Gavin Floyd (2-3), who gave up Ortiz’s shot, got the win, while Kimbrel (0-2), on his 28th birthday, was tagged with the loss.

Bogaerts, who went 3-for-5 with three runs, extended his hitting streak to a career-high 21 games with a homer off the top of the left-center-field wall in the fourth inning. The streak is the second longest in the majors this year, behind teammate Jackie Bradley Jr.’s 29-game run, which ended Thursday.

Ramirez drove in three runs, while Dustin Pedroia had a pair of doubles and two RBIs as he extended his hitting streak against Toronto to 22 games.

Boston starter Rick Porcello gave up four runs on seven hits while striking out five over 6 2/3 innings.

Marcus Stroman tied his shortest outing of the season, also against Boston, surrendering seven runs on 11 hits while striking out five. He was chased in the fifth inning with one out.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: SS Troy Tulowitzki (right quad) was placed on the 15-day DL. Tulowitzki, who is batting just .204 this season with eight home runs and 23 RBIs, had sat out two games this week with the injury. Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney are expected to split time at shortstop until the veteran returns. Toronto activated left-handed reliever Aaron Loup from the 15-day DL to take Tulowitzki’s place. Loup, who has yet to play this season, has been recovering from a forearm strain and just completed a rehab assignment with Triple-A Buffalo.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: LHP David Price (7-1, 5.34) returns to a happy hunting ground Sunday. The former Blue Jay makes his first start of the season at Rogers Centre, where he is 11-1 in 15 career starts with a 3.34 ERA.

Blue Jays: RHP R.A. Dickey (2-6, 4.60) is 0-5 in his last eight starts against the Red Sox. He is looking for his first win against them since going 4-0 in 2014.

Hendricks pitches 5-hitter, Cubs beat Phillies 4-1

160528 hendricks
Getty Images
1 Comment

CHICAGO (AP) Kyle Hendricks pitched a five-hitter for his second career complete game, Dexter Fowler hit a leadoff homer and the Chicago Cubs beat the Philadelphia Phillies 4-1 on Saturday.

Hendricks (3-4) struck out seven and walked none. He was in line for his second career shutout before giving up a run in the ninth.

Fowler sparked a two-run first against Jerad Eickhoff (2-7) with his sixth home run.

Jason Heyward had two doubles for Chicago, which has won four in a row. Ben Zobrist had two hits, including an RBI double, to extend his streak to 14 games.

The Phillies lost for the sixth time in eight games.

Philadelphia had just four hits before right fielder Heyward and second baseman Zobrist allowed Freddy Galvis‘ fly to drop between them for a leadoff double in the ninth.

Galvis scored from third when Ryan Howard struck out swinging on a pitch in the dirt. The Cubs had a shift on with the lefty at the plate, allowing the runner to take a huge lead.

Catcher Miguel Montero looked him back, but Galvis took off for home as he threw to first on the strikeout, spoiling the shutout and drawing boos from the crowd. Hendricks then retired Cameron Rupp on a groundout.

Dominant in a rare win over struggling Atlanta in his previous start, Eickhoff came up short against the team with the best record in the majors. The right-hander went six innings, allowing four runs and eight hits while striking out seven and walking one.

The Cubs, tops in the majors in run differential, wasted no time grabbing the lead.

Fowler drove a 3-1 fastball just over the wall in left-center for his second leadoff homer this season and the 16th of his career. Heyward followed with a double and scored on a two-out double by Zobrist, who came in on a 22-for-50 tear.

The Cubs made it 3-0 in the third on back-to-back singles by Addison Russell and Hendricks and a double by Heyward. Hendricks got thrown out trying to score to end the inning, but the way he was pitching, it didn’t matter.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Phillies: Galvis came up limping in the sixth inning after Hendricks hit him in the right leg with a pitch. He walked gingerly to first and stayed in the game after being tended to by a trainer.

UP NEXT

RHP John Lackey (4-2, 3.38 ERA) goes for his first win in more than three weeks for Chicago while RHP Vince Velasquez (5-1, 2.75 ERA) tries to shake off his shortest outing of the season for Philadelphia. Lackey is 0-1 in his past three outings, although he has lowered his ERA from 4.02 to 3.38. Velasquez lasted four innings against Detroit on Monday, allowing three runs and nine hits.