Author: Matthew Pouliot

Bartolo Colon

Cheating is bad, but are the drugs?


One of the issues many of us have with steroids is that they make players something they’re not. Or so we think anyway. Barry Bonds was practically a superhero in the early part of the last decade. Ryan Braun was probably destined to be a major leaguer, but now we assume that he was never meant to be an MVP. And it’s likely the case that more than a handful of pitchers who would have topped out at Double- or Triple-A otherwise turned themselves into major league relievers for a spell by juicing and adding a few miles per hour to their fastballs.

But what about the other side of juicing? What about the players who just want to be what they were? Many players have used the excuse that they turned to performance-enhancing drugs to aid in the recovery from an injury. Some of those people were undoubtedly lying, but others weren’t. Players want to play.

Bartolo Colon was pretty much written off as a major league pitcher after hurting his shoulder in 2009. Following a controversial surgery in which he had stem cells inserted into his right shoulder, he resurfaced with the Yankees in 2011 and was surprisingly solid, going 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA in 164 1/3 innings. It was the first time he had cracked 100 innings since his Cy Young season in 2005.

Colon performed even better for the A’s in 2011, going 10-9 with a 3.43 ERA, but then he was nabbed for testosterone use. The A’s re-signed him anyway, and this year, he’s been flat-out terrific, going 14-3 with a 2.54 ERA that ranks third in the AL.

We now know that Colon was a Biogenesis client alongside Braun, Alex Rodriguez and others. Many suspect he’s still cheating to this day. Even if he isn’t, he could still be deriving some benefit from the meds he got to help strengthen his shoulder.

And, oddly enough, I just don’t seem to care much about it. In reality, Colon’s crime is the same as Braun’s, and I pretty much despise Braun at the moment.

Colon, though, isn’t something he isn’t supposed to be. Instead, he’s a guy who simply bought himself a few more years. According to Baseball Info Solutions data, Colon is currently defying American League hitters with a fastball that averages all of 90.1 mph. That’s down from 92.7 mph in his Cy Young campaign eight years ago. The data doesn’t go back to when he first came up, but he probably averaged 94-95 mph in the late 90s, often going higher.

Steroids didn’t give Colon the excellent fastball accuracy he’s always enjoyed. They also haven’t helped him master a slider or a curve, which he never really did in the first place. He’s throwing two-seamers and four-seamers 85 percent of the time this year.

Now, maybe Colon’s cocktails will come back to bite him in the long run. We don’t know. Steroid use has always been reported to have dangerous side effects. Since we’ve demonized and criminalized steroid usage, studying whether these more modern regimens could prove relatively harmless is pretty much impossible.

We all like the idea of a level playing field, and if Colon is artificially extending his career, he’s taking a roster spot from a clean player. But, of course, depending on where you want to draw the line, half of the league is composed of guys who are now or will later artificially extend their careers. That’s just modern medicine doing its part.

It’s not like we’re ever going to win the war on performance enhancers. Chemists are always going to come up with new things. Someday, these new things won’t even be frowned upon. We shouldn’t be trying to outlaw substances that make us feel better and look better. We should just be making sure they’re safe.

Someday, people will look at the steroid era and wonder why so many people were so upset. They’ll have moved on. Perhaps not for the better. Perhaps they’ll simply be complaining about genetically engineered people ruining sports.

In the meantime, yes, by all means, punish the cheaters. But don’t pretend that the performance enhancers themselves are a black and white issue. The drugs keep getting better, and they’re not just for bodybuilders and professional athletes. Maybe they should be for everyone.

No, the Red Sox aren’t trading Xander Bogaerts for Cliff Lee

Xander Bogaerts

Cliff Lee is pretty terrific. He’s currently 10-4 with a 3.05 ERA. He’s on pace for a sixth straight season of 200 innings pitched, and his worst ERA in that span is a 3.22 mark. Since 2008, he has the second best ERA+ or anyone to throw 500 innings, coming in a bit behind Clayton Kershaw. Lee is also 7-3 with a 2.52 ERA in 11 postseason starts.

Lee’s contract is less terrific. The Phillies backloaded it so that they could get away with paying him just $11 million in 2011. As a result, he’ll make $25 million in both 2014 and ’15. Worse is his option for 2016. It can vest at $27.5 million, which isn’t so terribly bad. But it has a $12.5 million buyout attached to it, which is going to be an awfully big hit for a team to take if Lee falls apart at some point within the next two years.

So, basically, any team that trades for Lee is going to be paying market value for his services. And if you’re going to pay market value for his services, there’s no way it makes any sense to give up one of the top 10 prospects in baseball for him.

Xander Bogaerts is considered the best prospect the Red Sox have produced since Hanley Ramirez. In truth, he’s a better prospect than Ramirez was, since there were always questions about Ramirez’s work ethic and ego as he climbed the ladder. Bogaerts might not be quite as talented as Ramirez, but he’s close. He’s hit .311/.407/.502 in 56 games in Double-A and .279/.380/.483 in 41 games in Triple-A this year at the tender age of 20. He’s also turned himself into a pretty good shortstop through hard work. It used to be assumed that he’d outgrow the position and move to third base. That’s still a possibility, and the Red Sox have recently given him starts at third in Triple-A in order to determine whether he can help them this year. But he has shown enough at shortstop to suggest that he could last there for at least his first few major league seasons.

The Red Sox won themselves a World Series by trading Ramirez to the Marlins for Josh Beckett, but they haven’t been back there since 2007 and maybe they would have been if they had kept Hanley and Anibal Sanchez around. Of course, they’d still do it all over again and they’d be right to. If trading Bogaerts for Cliff Lee assured them of a World Series victory this year, they’d do that, too.

But it doesn’t. Lee, for all of his postseason success, has never pitched for a World Series winner. That doesn’t reflect on him, just on the crapshoot that is the postseason. Lee is great, but he doesn’t swing the odds enough. If a lesser package could bring him in, the Red Sox might bite. It probably won’t, so they’ll simply make do. 6 2/3 seasons of Bogaerts for the right to pay Lee either $70 million through 2015 or $85 million through 2016 just doesn’t work.

Frank Castillo’s day in the spotlight

Frank Castillo

Frank Castillo’s big-league career was rather interesting in the abstract. On the whole, he looks like a below average starter — he finished 82-104 with a 4.56 ERA in 13 seasons — but he had his moments.

In his first full season, he had a 3.46 ERA in 33 starts for the 1992 Cubs. He regressed the following year and ended up spending most of 1994 in the minors. He came back with his best season in 1995, finishing 11-10 with a 3.21 ERA that ranked eighth in the NL. The next year, he tied for the NL lead in losses, and when he went 3-9 with a 6.83 ERA for the Tigers in 1998, he appeared done, even if he was just 29.

Rather than give up, Castillo kept going. No turnaround appeared forthcoming when he posted a 4.68 ERA in 19 starts for the Pirates’ Triple-A team in 1999, but in 2000, he made the Blue Jays and busted out with a 10-5 record and a 3.59 ERA in 138 innings. Now, 3.59 might not seem like much now, but he would have ranked second in the AL in ERA to Pedro Martinez had he pitched the 162 innings to qualify. That caused the Red Sox to give him a multiyear deal as a free agent, and he came through with a solid first year (10-9, 4.21 ERA) before struggling in the second (6-15, 5.07 ERA) and vanishing again. He pitched just 5 1/3 more innings in the majors, the last at age 36 in 2005. In 2007, he pitched in indy ball as a 38-year-old before officially giving up. He later served as a pitching coach in the Cubs system before drowning this weekend.

But let’s go back to 1995 for a moment. On Sept. 25, Castillo was making his next to last start of the Cubs’ abbreviated season. Three weeks earlier, he had pitched a five-hit shutout against the Rockies. But on Sept. 25, facing the Cardinals, he had something even more special in store. With his wife watching on, Castillo took a no-hitter into the bottom of the ninth, losing it only when Bernard Gilkey delivered a triple on a 2-2 fastball with two outs, Sammy Sosa dove for the ball in right field, but came up a bit short.

“It was one of those pitches that as soon as I threw it, I wanted it back,” Castillo told the Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan afterwards. “Sammy made a great effort. He almost made it.”

He was one strike away from history, but even though he couldn’t quite pull it off, it was a whale of a game. He fanned 13 and walked just two. He faced two batters over the minimum. His Game Score of 96 was tied for the best of the 1995 season, and it was the highest mark for a Cub since 1971.

RIP, Frank. 44 is far too young.