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REPORT: Baseball’s updated drug program to include better testing, 80-game suspensions for first offenses

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It used to be that when baseball did things with its drug program, the league was accused of merely being reactive in an effort to calm down P.R. problems. If baseball had merely jacked up penalties for drug offenses — which they are reportedly doing — one might arguably say that’s what MLB was doing here, as a reaction to Biogenesis stuff. But, according to this Bob Nightengale report — from an unnamed source, so the specifics could still change — that’s not all they’re doing:

The new agreement will not only increase the drug penalties, but also implement widespread carbon isotope testing, the official said, hoping to dramatically increase the detection of a synthetic testosterone.

That’s a big deal, because the biggest problem with the Biogenesis thing wasn’t that it was somehow different or more insidious than your usual run-of-the-mill cheating, it’s that MLB didn’t catch the guys without help of an alternative newspaper in Miami. If MLB catches A-Rod on a drug test in 2012, it’s a totally different situation. Other players involved in Biogenesis may stop using. A protracted dispute about the length of penalties is not had and that arbitration from last year doesn’t exist. Toughening the testing and not letting players who use PEDs feel like they can get away with it is essential to cutting down on PED use.

But of course, increased penalties are part of the system too:

The official said first-time offenses will be 80 games, an increase from 50, and a second offense will be for an entire 162-game season instead of 100 games. There will be a lifetime suspension for a third offense.

I have no problem with this. It’s what the players want, and that’s the most important thing. It isn’t terribly draconian yet it does raise the stakes. Most importantly, there have been reports that there will be safeguards in place for players who can show that they inadvertently took a PED, so the situation that is most worrisome — a guy’s career being put at risk for an honest mistake — is off the table.

Interesting times for what many consider to be U.S. sports’ strongest drug program.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.

Keith Law: The Braves have the best farm system in baseball

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Associated Press
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Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!

Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.

This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.

If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.

Some Mets fans are not happy that Beyonce is playing at Citi Field

Beyoncé performs during halftime of the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif.  (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Associated Press
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The funny thing about that “stick to sports” stuff I was going on about the other day is that, in reality, a whole lot of the people who say “stick to sports” don’t really want to just stick to sports. They’re totally cool going on about political, social or cultural stuff as long as it fits their world view. It’s not “stick to sports.” It’s “don’t talk about the social implications of sports-related stuff in ways that upset me.” If sports and culture come together in other ways, however, they’re completely fine in grinding their axe.

For example, Beyonce is playing a concert a Citi Field this summer. The show is so popular that they added a second date. The Mets’ Twitter feed just announced that tickets will go on sale for the new show soon:

A while lotta Mets fans responded to that negatively. For political/social/cultural reasons that they are willingly bringing in to a conversation about a pop singer and a baseball stadium that will double as a concert venue:

And they go on and on.

How much do you want to bet that a whole lotta these respondents would tell you to “stick to baseball” if you wanted to bring up how race affects the sport or how, if instead of Beyonce, this was announcing a Kid Rock/Ted Nugent-headlined festival and you mused whether that was a case of the Mets somehow endorsing their messages?