MLB’s defense in the stolen documents story: “Did anyone prove the documents were stolen?”

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I noted the other day that hardly any national columnist types seemed to want to touch the story about how MLB knowingly purchased stolen documents. Well, one did. Or at least one former national columnist-turned-blogger. That’s right, Murray Chass did what no one else seems all that interested in doing and dug into the slime of that case and the allegations against MLB that arose from the Newsday story.

Chass spoke to MLB vice president and counsel Dan Halem, who said (1) MLB didn’t rely on the stolen documents in question; and (2) maybe they weren’t stolen, did you ever think of that?

“The police had multiple theories; we made a judgment on what we had. They haven’t proven that they were stolen. We operated on the theory that they weren’t stolen . . . Did anyone prove the documents were stolen? Did anyone prove we used stolen documents?”

That’s a subtle twist on old the “you can’t prove it!” defense, but it’s still a pretty damn weak defense.

The part about MLB not even using those documents is weak in that, if they were so useless, why did they even bother to buy them? It’s weak in that, regardless of whether or not they used them, they still engaged in slimy behavior (they didn’t put the Biogenesis employee who slept with an MLB investigator on the stand either. Does that make it OK?) It’s weak in that, if nothing bad happened, why did MLB fire the investigators involved right before the Newsday story came out? It’s weak in that, if a major league player were to float some “hey, those drugs didn’t really help me out” defense they wouldn’t be given the time of day, and rightfully so.

But it’s weak mostly in that, as my readers are so fond of telling me, this isn’t a court of law. No one, not even the Boca Raton police, seem to think it’s worth prosecuting the matter of those stolen documents and thus no one is trying to ascertain whether MLB or any of its employees is guilty of a crime, rendering the “you can’t prove it!” defense beside the point.

Rather, people are noting that MLB willingly got into bed with slime balls — literally and figuratively — paid them off for information that was of dubious provenance and crossed multiple ethical and (possibly) legal lines in order to nab one baseball player it wished to turn into The Face of PEDs. Then they went on a high-fiving victory lap of the talk shows and received all kinds of attaboys for cleaning up the game.

Can we prove that anyone broke the law? Maybe not. But we certainly don’t need much more to know that Major League Baseball’s investigation was pretty damn shady. And, given that a very large part of the steroids-in-baseball conversation involves people making moral judgments about players who may have cheated even if we can’t prove it, it matters.

The Nationals sign Kevin Jepsen

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Chris Cotillo of SB Nation reports the Nationals have agreed to terms with free agent reliever Kevin Jepsen.

Think of this as the latest in what will likely be a series of no-risk bullpen additions. The Nats, basically, collecting as many almost free arms they can find in an effort to fix their bullpen woes without having to give up anything valuable at the trade deadline. Just like the K-Rod signing earlier this week or the Edwin Jackson signing two weeks ago.

Jepsen pitched for Tampa Bay and Minnesota last year, posting a 5.68 ERA with the Rays and a 6.16 ERA with the Twins, appearing in 58 games in all. He went unsigned this past offseason.

Eh, it might work. It probably won’t, but it might.

Rival Executives Expect Justin Verlander To Hit The Trading Block

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About a month ago, a report circulated that if the Detroit Tigers weren’t above .500 by the end of June, they were going to chuck the season, look to trade off veterans and rebuild. It’s now June 29 and the Tigers are 34-42 and sit six games out of first place.

As such, we should not be too terribly surprised to see a report from Jeff Passan of Yahoo that multiple baseball executives expect Tigers ace Justin Verlander to hit the trade market sometime in the next two weeks. Passan notes that the Tigers haven’t formally offered him and that he’s just passing along speculation from rivals, but it’s pretty astute speculation.

The question is what the Tigers can get for Verlander. On the one hand, yes, Verlander is Verlander and has been one of the top starters in baseball for a decade. While he had struggled for a bit, last year featured a return to Cy Young form. He still has a blazing fastball and there is no reason to think he could not anchor the staff of a playoff caliber team.

On the other hand, as Passan notes, his 2017 has been . . . not so good. He looks amazing at times and very hittable at other times. Overall his walk rate is way up and his strikeout rate is down. There doesn’t appear to be anything physically wrong with him — various ailments contributed to his 2014-15 swoon — so it’s possible he’s just had a rough couple of months. Like I said, Verlander is Verlander, and it may not be a bad gamble to expect him to run off a string of dominant starts like he has so many times in the past.

The problem, though, is that anyone acquiring Verlander is not just gambling on a handful of starts down the stretch. They’re gambling on the $56 million he’s owed between 2018 and 2019 and the $22 million extra he’ll be guaranteed for 2020 if he finishes in the top five in Cy Young voting in 2019. Those would be his age 35, 36 and 37 seasons. There are certainly worse gambles in baseball, but it’s a gamble all the same.

If the Tigers don’t find any gamblers out there on the market, they’re going to have to make a gamble of their own: let Verlander go and get relatively little in return if another club picks up that $56 million commitment or eat it themselves and get prospects back in return to help kickstart a rebuild. Personally I’d go with the latter option, but I don’t work for the Illitch family.