Author: Craig Calcaterra

San Francisco Giants v New York Yankees

Oh, look, we’re back to “The Yankees should try to void A-Rod’s contract” land again


source: Getty Images

Buster Olney’s take on the latest A-Rod news starts off well enough. Unlike some of his peers, he does not act shocked and appalled at yesterday’s revelation that A-Rod told the truth to the DEA about his drug use. He merely recounts the past events in the saga, correctly noting that anyone with a brain wasn’t fooled by any of this.

I will take a couple of issues with a couple of his points, however. Like this one:

As Ian O’Connor noted in his column Tuesday, Rodriguez had been making appearances on behalf of the Taylor Hooton Foundation — which is devoted to the fight against PED use — and speaking to kids about the dangers of steroids while simultaneously whispering out of the other side of his mouth to Anthony Bosch about how to best juice up and avoid detection. He used the integrity of the foundation, created after the death of the founders’ son, to burnish his image as the remorseful and rehabilitated A-Rod, and all the while he was taking drugs.

There is certainly no defense to A-Rod lying in general, and absolutely no defense to him lying in the course of charitable and youth outreach efforts. It’s profoundly scummy and cynical of him.

But let us not forget that A-Rod is not the only party who uses the Hooton Foundation to “burnish his image.” The entire relationship between it and Major League Baseball is a function of the league desperately seeking a way to get on the right side of the PED story back in the bad old days of the Mitchell Report. It became MLB’s go-to charity/shield, and that relationship is the very reason A-Rod was set up with it in the first place. To help with the p.r. fallout from back in 2009 when he first admitted to using drugs.

Again, that doesn’t excuse A-Rod’s behavior. But let us have no illusions that MLB’s relationship with the Hooton Foundation is not itself borne of calculation. And when the roots of a relationship are such, it is inevitable that, at some point, there will be fallout like this.

Olney also scolds A-Rod for putting the MLBPA and, specifically, its late director, Michael Weiner, through the pain and indignity of defending him. He is particularly mad that Weiner had to expend energy on this as his condition worsened, and says:

And then Rodriguez, apparently knowing that the union’s defense on his behalf was built on the sands of his lies, had the temerity to show up at Weiner’s funeral.

I’ll let the funeral bit go — people in baseball are really big fans of attendance or the lack thereof at people’s funerals as a gauge of character for some reason — but can we please dispose of the “A-Rod duped the union!” talking point?

Rodriguez’s “I didn’t do it defense” was laughable, but the union had both the right and the responsibility to defend him against the process by which he was punished and the severity of the punishment that was levied. Even if Rodriguez had said in January 2013 “Yep, I did a bunch of PEDs” the union should have and I have no doubt would have defended against a 211-game suspension that was based on, well, nothing other than Rob Manfred’s desire to make such a thing stick and to create precedent for future off-JDA punishment.

The MLBPA’s defense was certainly not helped by A-Rod in any real respect. Indeed, he made a mockery of the proceedings at times. But the idea that there was no defense but for A-Rod’s lies is simply wrong.

Finally, Olney goes back to something he’s been fond of arguing for years: the voiding of contracts of PED users. He argues that the Yankees should do so now:

But there is a higher ground for the Yankees and owner Hal Steinbrenner to take this.

A lot of teams in baseball, the Yankees among them, have long attached conduct clauses to their standard player contracts, in spite of the general perception within the industry that the language of the team clauses is superseded by the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. That validity of the conduct clauses has never really been challenged; nobody knows for sure whether they are at all enforceable.

Could any team have a better opportunity to test-drive a conduct clause?

He goes on to say that the biggest justification for this is, more or less, that the Yankees will win over a lot of people if they look like they’re going hard after A-Rod because, you may have heard, he’s unpopular. And he’s calling Rodriguez cynical!

That aside, what, exactly, does Olney think should trigger a contract-voiding? It can’t be the revelation of PED use, because A-Rod has already been punished and has fully served his sentence for that. He must think that the argument should be that A-Rod lied about it publicly. Not under oath. Not in a way that broke any law. Just that he publicly, in comments to the press, lied about something.

Are we really cool with the idea that a player should have his contract voided for lying and the attendant bad P.R. that creates? Should a team void a contract for a player who claims that he is in the Best Shape of His Life but then pulls a hamstring in spring training? How about a guy who says his bad year was because he was tipping his pitches but it was really because he just can’t pitch anymore. Or, more realistically, how about voiding the contract of a player who hides an injury or tries to play through one without fully disclosing its severity to the team?

One can construct any manner of untruths that could lead to a contract-voiding if one puts one’s mind to it. People lie ALL THE TIME. Athletes maybe even more so, either because they have to deal with a pushy press corps or because part of the essence of being an athlete is convincing yourself of things that may not be so. Many players use that to motivate themselves.

Ultimately, the argument that Olney and others seeking the voiding of A-Rod’s contract are advancing is “This is a big, big story that looks bad and A-Rod is a big, big jerk, so the Yankees should get to keep the millions they promised him.” And I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough.

The guy is a liar. The guy is a jerk. But the guy served his time. It’s time to let it go.

Alex Rodriguez is “working out like a fiend”

alex rodriguez yankees getty

Is A-Rod in . . . The Best Shape of His Life?

A source close to Rodriguez told The News Wednesday that the former AL MVP has been working out “like a fiend,” hitting several days a week at the University of Miami among other places . . .“If anything, this is just making him more determined,” said the source, who saw A-Rod working out in Miami last weekend. “He just wants to prove everybody wrong.”

“This” being the latest furor we discussed this morning.

I still have no idea if a 39-year-old can play effectively after a year layoff. It’s possible he can’t. And it’s possible (probable) that this story is a function of people close to A-Rod trying to focus the story back to baseball on the day news hit about him. Which, heck, is an improvement over A-Rod’s past p.r. efforts, which were akin to dumping kerosene on a flame.

But I really do think that people’s heads will ‘asplode – maybe even literally — if Rodriguez shows up to spring training in great shape and can actually be a useful ballplayer next year. I’m not sure anyone will know quite how to process it.

Should the Reds trade Johnny Cueto to the Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes (and stuff)?

Johnny Cueto AP

We’re in that lull between the end of the season and the heating up of the hot stove, and that’s a good time for throwing spaghetti up agains the wall to see if it sticks. Or whatever other metaphors you like in the “let’s make up possible trade scenarios” vein. David Cameron has an intriguing one over at Fox: Johnny Cueto for Yoenis Cespedes.

Now, to be clear, he acknowledges that Cueto — one of the top pitchers in baseball — is more valuable than Cespedes, and acknowledges that the Sox would have to throw in more than just Cespedes to get him. They’d need to put in some young, team-controlled players and/or some salary relief that would allow the Reds to seek some cheaper pitching to fill in the innings lost by Cueto’s departure.

But the basic bones of the deal are that (a) the Reds have A LOT of free agents and commitments in the near future; (b) they need to part with some of them; (c) Cueto is clearly the most valuable trade commodity they have; and (d) the contracts and situations between him and Cespedes are roughly comparable.

I’ll agree with his view that Cespedes’ power would play well in Great American Ballpark. I also think, however, that the Reds would need A LOT more, probably more than Cameron suggests, to part with Cueto. Indeed, given Cueto’s skill and his proven track record of pitching well in a place that eats some pitchers alive, one would think that the Reds would part with him only if they positively, absolutely had to, choosing to let others go instead.

But, like I said, it’s spaghetti season, we’re not general managers, and it’s fun to at least talk about this stuff.

You knew this was coming: the New York press returns to its A-Rod fainting couch

Alex Rodriguez

The day after the story broke that Alex Rodriguez revealed his PED use to DEA agents, the expected columns congratulating him for finally telling the truth and cooperating with law enforcement and helping to put away a drug dealer who peddled to school kids are out.

Hahaha, nooo, I’m sorry. That’s not true. What we have are the faux-outraged reactions from columnists who love nothing more than a good A-Rod bashing. Here’s Juliet Macur of the New York Times. Here’s Lupica. Both of them have the hottest of takes, you can imagine.

But it is unquestionably fake outrage. Because the only way one could be truly outraged by learning that A-Rod admitted his drug use to authorities is if one believed that he actually did not do drugs before. Otherwise, all you got yesterday was confirmation of what you knew all along: that Alex Rodriguez lied his face off when he said he didn’t do drugs. Lupica even admits this:

From the start only suckers believed his version of things on Bosch and Biogenesis. Suckers believed Alex Rodriguez was being railroaded by Major League Baseball. Sure he was. How was he getting railroaded, exactly?

Yet he still is shocked and appalled. And he thinks yesterday somehow changed something. How, exactly, he does not say, but dadgummit, the Yankees NOW need to find a way to get rid of Rodriguez. He talks about buyouts and things. Not once explaining how, on the baseball field or in the Yankees front office, anything is different today than it was yesterday. But boy, he sure showed everyone how mad he was.

Despite the baloney from Macur and Lupica, both the Times and the Daily News have good baseball writers who actually have a clue about this situation in general and/or what the Yankees are up to in particular. Tyler Kepner. Mark Feinsand. Feinsand wrote today that A-Rod is working out and focusing on his comeback and that, despite all of the noise yesterday, this doesn’t change anything given that Rodriguez has served his time. He tweeted yesterday that the only way Rodriguez doesn’t play for the Yankees next year is if he, you know, actually can’t play due to his age and the year layoff. Which makes perfect sense.

But I guess actual information and reasoning grounded in reality doesn’t get to lead the sports page when there is yelling and screaming to be done.

Dilbeck: The “geeks” and “nerds” have taken over the Dodgers

dodgers logo

Back when the Dodgers hired Paul DePodesta as their general manager the Los Angeles columnists decided that the best and smartest reaction to him would be to make calculator jokes, call him a geek, a stats guru and basically be those stereotypical jackasses in school who liked to shove stereotypical nerds into lockers. Or, I should say, fictional stereotypical jackasses and nerds because the way they behaved and the manner in which they described DePodesta did not actually reflect how anyone acts in real life. The whole thing was like that Simpsons episode where Homer went back to college and fought with the dean and made fun of nerds and all of that. A comedy writer’s idea of what a dumb person thinks about a given milieu.

That was a long time ago, of course. T.J. Simers is now retired and even Bill Plaschke has decided to focus his brand of buffoonery on targets other than sabermetrically-inclined baseball executives. Still, we have Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times doing the heavy lifting with respect to the Dodgers’ latest hire, general manager Farhan Zaidi:

The nerds have officially taken over the world. Just give into it. All those guys who used to sit in the back of the classroom with their black horn-rimmed classes, pocket calculators and clothes their mommies picked out?

They run things now. They’re making the decisions and signing the paychecks. All those years spent cozying up to the jocks and the popular kids just wasted . . . The Dodgers have formed their very own Geek Squad.

There’s everything you could want in there. Proudly owned ignorance of numbers and stats. References to calculators and “gurus.” The stuff about nerds and geeks referenced above. It’s like time hasn’t gone on. Like the industry which Dilbeck covers hasn’t evolved into something a lot more complex than the one he wishes it was. It’s almost as if Dilbeck has either completely missed what baseball is all about these days or simply rejects it or revels in his inability to understand it.

In any other industry, such an out-of-touch view of things would put someone’s job in jeopardy. It’s still cool in sportswriting, though.