The Michael Pineda pine tar thing last night will set tongues wagging on talk radio today. Which is fine, because it’s fun to talk about that kind of crap while we wait for the next day’s games. But as our tongues wag, let’s remember something here: just about every pitcher uses something to mess with baseballs and/or enhance their grip, and for the most part baseball is content to look the other way about it.
We were reminded of this last year when Clay Buchholz was (more or less) busted with the Bullfrog sunscreen on his arms. While pitching in a domed stadium. At night. No on one the Blue Jays complained about that — it was noted by broadcasters Dirk Hayhurst and Jack Morris — and in the aftermath we got reports that upwards of 90 percent of pitchers use something to enhance grip. Heck, Pineda wasn’t even the only pitcher using foreign substances yesterday. As Evan Drellich reports, Astros reliever Josh Zeid was seen putting sunscreen on his arms yesterday before entering the game. In a domed stadium. At night.
When asked about it on the record, pitchers — after some hilarious early denials that they had anything untoward on their hands or arms — will tell you that they do this to get extra grip on the ball and hitters will tell you that they are more or less OK with this if it prevents pitches from being inadvertently sent on a trajectory toward their heads. Off the record, of course, pitchers will note that if it helps them get some extra mustard on the ball, well hey, ain’t that a daisy? Off the record hitters will privately grouse about it too (and apparently Red Sox players were privately grousing about Pineda’s pine tar last night). But no one makes a stink out of it because the last thing a hitter wants is his own pitcher being similarly scrutinized.
So this is the dance. It’s a dance that wasn’t as necessary before HDTV, telephoto lenses and social media made these incidents visible and subject to discussion in real time, but it’s a dance that isn’t likely to change any time soon. With the exception of PEDs, baseball has always been able to deal with these gray and complicated ethical areas in which someone may be cheating but our guy is cheating too without getting too worked up about it.
Just keep that in mind if your local sports yakker decides today that Michael Pineda is a dirty rotten cheater and that baseball must do something about it.
UPDATE: Andy Martino of the Daily News spoke with Chris Capuano and some other players about it. And the message: yes, everyone does it. Just don’t be so obvious about it, ok?
MASN’s Roch Kubatko is reporting that the Orioles have “some level” of interest in free agent outfielder Denard Span. The Nationals did not make a $15.8 million qualifying offer to Span, which means he doesn’t come attached with draft pick compensation unlike other free agents such as Alex Gordon and Dexter Fowler.
Span, who turns 32 in February, hit a solid .301/.365/.431 with five home runs, 22 RBI, 38 runs scored, and 11 stolen bases, but took only 275 plate appearances due to back and hip injuries. He underwent season-ending hip surgery in September but is expected to be ready to participate in spring training.
The Mets and Royals have also reportedly shown interest in Span’s services.
ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that the Blue Jays are on the prowl for relievers with closing experience. Ryan Madson is one of the names on their list.
Madson, 35, had a career rebirth with the Royals in 2015. He signed a minor league deal with the club that paid him a salary of $850,000 if he made it back to the majors. Due to a plethora of arm injuries, Madson hadn’t pitched in the majors since Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals as a member of the Phillies. For the Royals, he wound up becoming a crucial member of the bullpen, finishing with a 2.13 ERA and a 58/14 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings.
While Madson allowed five runs in 8 1/3 post-season innings, he pitched well when it mattered most, as he hurled three scoreless frames in three appearances in the World Series against the Mets.
Madson has closing experience, with 55 career saves. 32 of them came in 2011 when he took over the closer’s role from Brad Lidge.
After signing Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ, and trading for Jesse Chavez, the Jays have bolstered their rotation but it was reported on Saturday that interim GM Tony LaCava is still focused on upgrading the pitching staff.
ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that free agent pitcher Trevor Cahill is looking for a one-year, bounce-back deal. The Pirates are one of the potential teams he is considering.
It’s no surprise that the Pirates are on Cahill’s list. Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage has garnered a reputation as a miracle worker after turning around the careers of a handful of pitchers, including Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano, and J.A. Happ. Volquez parlayed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Pirates into a two-year, $20 million deal with the Royals last December. Liriano signed with the Pirates on a one-year, $1 million contract and turned that into a three-year, $39 million deal. Happ, dealt to the Pirates from the Mariners at the most recent trade deadline, just signed a three-year, $39 million contract with the Blue Jays.
Cahill, once a highly-regarded pitching prospect, has scuffled over parts of seven seasons in the majors. The 27-year-old owns a career 4.13 ERA with a 754/427 K/BB ratio in 1,083 2/3 innings. Cahill had some brief success after signing with the Cubs as a free agent in mid-August, compiling a 2.12 ERA in 11 appearances out of the bullpen.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that the Blue Jays have narrowed their search for a new general manager down to two candidates: current interim GM Tony LaCava, and Indians vice president of player personnel Ross Atkins. Former Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos resigned last month.
LaCava was promoted to interim GM on November 2 and has already made a handful of moves along with new president Mark Shapiro. The club acquired Jesse Chavez in a trade and signed pitchers Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ to multi-year deals.
Atkins worked under Shapiro in the Indians organization for 15 seasons, so it is no surprise that he is a finalist for the open GM position.