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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.

Reds prospect Juan Duran suspended 80 games

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Juan Duran, a minor-league outfielder in the Reds’ farm system, has been suspended 80 games following positive tests for the performance-enhancing drugs Drostanolone, Stanozolol, and Nandrolone.

Duran is 6-foot-7 with big-time power, averaging 23 homers per 150 games since 2011, but he also strikes out a ton and struggles to control the strike zone. He spent last season at Double-A, missing a lot of time with injuries and hitting .256 with six homers and a .728 OPS in 59 games as a 23-year-old.

Duran is on the 40-man roster and is considered a quasi-prospect, but he’ll be ineligible to play until July and figures to head back to Double-A once reinstated.

The Blue Jays will talk long term deals with Jose Bautistia and Edwin Encarnacion

Jose Bautista Blue Jays
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Ever since Alex Anthopoulos resigned as Blue Jays’ GM and Mark Shapiro took over as team president, a distinct air of frugality has set in over Rogers Centre. The go-for-broke attitude that fueled Toronto’s fantastic second half last year was repudiated and long-term, sustainable building has seemed to be the order of the day.

But the Jays aren’t going to go crazy with that: ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports that the Blue Jays plan to have long-term extension talks with the agents of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion during spring training. This, combined with the still-remaining possibility that they can avoid arbitration with MVP Josh Donaldson and hammer out a long-term deal could mean some serious spending by the Jays before Opening Day.

Or this could just be talk from the front office designed to buoy the spirits of fans. Locking up all three of them to long-term deals may be hella expensive and may not be possible. It’s also the case that, given their ages — Bautista is 35 and Encarnacion is 33 — it may not be advisable to lock the both up. As always, it depends on the terms and how generous Rogers Communications plans on being with the Jays’ budget.

But the chatter is now out there and expectations are poised to be set.

The Rays are REALLY ready to get to work on that new ballpark

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Last month St. Petersburg and the Tampa Bay Rays reached an agreement that would allow the Rays to seek a new ballpark outside of the St. Pete city limits, anywhere in the Bay Area. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports today that the Rays have submitted a required report to that end which “describes how they plan to evaluate potential ballpark sites across the Tampa Bay area” and serves as a rough outline of the sort of facility they’re looking to build.

They submitted it 39 days before deadline. Ya think they’re eager to get moving?

As for the specifics, it sounds like they’re shooting for a Braves or Cardinals style destination place with surrounding entertainment, retail and the like. The Braves are achieving that by basically building the park at a mall and plan to surround it with other mall/entertainment district-type development. The Cardinals built a downtown park, but have developed Ballpark Village after the fact. This is to be contrasted with downtown parks which either counted on existing city businesses or spurred separate development.

All of which makes sense given that there isn’t one dominant location in Tampa which all but demands development there. Tampa has a few different areas that might make sense and the place is generally more spread out than older cities. It also makes sense for the Rays’ owners who are likely well aware that being in the real estate business is just as good for them as being in the baseball business.

Will anyone EVER break that record that was broken nine years ago?

Hank Aaron
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In 2007, Barry Bonds hit his 756th home run. He would go on to hit six more, finishing his career with 762. That was nine years ago and, at present, the active home run leader is nearly 80 homers behind him and no sure bet to come close. The next closest guy is over 200 homers back and clearly entering a period of decline.

All of which raises the question: will anyone EVER pass the home run total of Hank Aaron, who is in second place on that list?

Maybe you think that’s not really a pertinent question. We tend not to ask whether people who do not, by any objective measure, hold a record will have their records surpassed. But you’d be wrong. Why, just today, on Hank Aaron’s 82nd birthday, at least two journalists speculated whether anyone would ever become the all-time second place home run king:

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That’s from Cliff Corcoran at Sports Illustrated. As always, it’s excellent work from Cliff. Right up there with his seminal “will anyone ever catch Lou Brock in stolen bases?” and “who can catch Trevor Hoffman in career saves?” pieces.

Then there’s Dave O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who approves of the question posed and has his own response:

You can imagine how those tweets were received by those parts of Twitter who are all about PED apologia, math, objective standards, noting that Aaron admitted that he took a PED that would have him banned today too and stuff like that. As always, these things get ugly.

Not that they have to be. It’s almost as if, if one were to try, one could celebrate the amazing inner-circle Hall of Fame career of Hank Aaron, full as it is with nearly unsurpassed accomplishment, without applying a revisionist gloss to the one accomplishment that, according to all objective measures and the accounting of Major League Baseball, has been surpassed. That one could talk about Aaron without slagging on Bonds.