Ryne Sandberg opines on baseball’s steroid era

45 Comments

Phillies third base coach Ryne Sandberg is expected to be the next Phillies manager if and when the Charlie Manuel era ends. Sandberg started his playing career with the Phillies but went to the Cubs in the infamous Ivan de Jesus trade in 1982, arguably one of the worst trades in baseball history. With the Cubs, Sandberg would become one of the best second basemen ever to play the game. In recent years, he has worked his way up through the Minor Leagues as a coach.

MLB.com’s Barry M. Bloom peppered Sandberg with questions about his past when he managed in the Minor Leagues, what he expects in the future, and got Sandberg to opine on how the Hall of Fame should handle players from the steroid era.

Sandberg: I’m not a sportswriter. I don’t get to vote. I don’t get the ballot in the mail, so it’s out of my hands either way. I can say that in the history of the Hall of Fame, there are no suspicions about guys who are in the Hall of Fame. It’s an elite group. And once you’re in the Hall, you’re in the Hall. Up until now, I think the voting system has handled things very well. And like I said before, there are no suspicions in the Hall of Fame.

MLB.com: But in your speech, you did say that Andre Dawson should be in. You said, “He did it the right way, the natural way.” So you have voiced your opinion, even though you don’t have a vote.

Sandberg: But that wasn’t about drugs. That was about a player whose numbers, I thought, were being dwarfed by those put up in that era. I played with the guy and against him for most of my career. I saw most of his career. For a number of years, he was overshadowed by the guys who hit 60 or 70 home runs. Those numbers were astronomical and were numbers I could not relate to. I thought he was a Hall of Famer and had had a Hall of Fame career. That’s why I voiced my opinion on that, and I was very happy to see him go in.

Sandberg isn’t 100% right about there being “no suspicions in the Hall of Fame”. The Hall is rife with bat-corkers, ball-scuffers, spitballers, players who have taken amphetamines (e.g. Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Mike Schmidt), and so forth. Not to mention the otherwise unsavory characters like Ty Cobb.

Older eras of baseball were just as impure as the steroid era has been purported to be. You see this a lot when older people talk about the younger generations. Take TIME Magazine’s latest cover, for instance, titled “The ME ME ME Generation”. Or their 1990 cover titled “twentysomething”, asking if the generation is “laid back, late blooming, or just lost?” People tend to romanticize the generation in which they were brought up and demonize ensuing generations. It seems like that’s what Sandberg is doing here, willfully glossing over his own generation’s seedy history to complain about those damn kids with their loud music and their steroids.

Six of seven players decline $17.9 million qualifying offers

Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dodgers pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu was the only one of seven eligible players to accept his $17.9 million qualifying offer. Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, Craig Kimbrel, Patrick Corbin, Yasmani Grandal, and Dallas Keuchel each rejected his, officially making them free agents. Teams that had their QO’s rejected will recoup a draft pick once the player signs elsewhere.

That Harper rejected his QO comes as no surprise, as he is expected to strike perhaps the largest free agent contract in baseball history. Though the free agent market has been less lucrative lately than in previous years, the combination of Harper’s elite talent and his age — he’s only 26 years old — makes him a primary target for more than a handful of teams. Harper reportedly turned down a 10-year, $300 million contract extension offer from the Nationals, so that would seem to be a baseline.

It is also not surprising that Kimbrel, 30, turned down his QO from the Red Sox. Despite a so-so showing during a championship run, Kimbrel is still young and talented enough to land another lucrative contract on the free agent market.

Keuchel bet on himself in turning down the Astros’ QO. He’s been solid since winning the AL Cy Young Award in 2015, owning a 3.77 ERA across 83 starts over the last three seasons. However, he turns 31 years old at the beginning of 2019, and his already mediocre strikeout rate declined even further this past season, so there may be some skepticism about his ability to perform over the course of a multi-year deal. Keuchel will still get one eventually, but his market may be slower to develop.

Pollock, soon 31 as well, will be the outfielder most coveted once Harper is off the market. When he’s healthy, he’s a dynamic five-tool player. However, Pollock hasn’t played in more than 113 games in a season since 2015, so that may be a red flag. Pollock ended 2018 batting .257/.316/.484 with 21 home runs, 65 RBI, 61 runs scored, and 13 stolen bases in 460 plate appearances while playing above-average defense according to various defensive metrics.

Grandal, 30, could’ve gone either way with his QO, but ultimately chose to decline. He had a disappointing postseason, both offensively and defensively. Given how humans are prone to recency bias, it stood to reason that his October performance could have hurt his market. The catching position, however, is rather weak and Grandal stands out in a market that is otherwise focused on Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. Grandal did swat 24 home runs with an .815 OPS in 140 games for the Dodgers this past season.

Corbin, 29, was the most obvious QO decline after Harper. The lefty is coming off of a career year, finishing with a 3.15 ERA and a 246/48 K/BB ratio in exactly 200 innings. Corbin is the best free agent pitcher on the market this offseason. The Yankees have been seriously linked with Corbin even before the season ended.

Ryu likely chose to accept his QO because of his age and injury history. It would have been a gamble to pursue a multi-year deal. He did, however, make 15 starts during the regular season to the tune of a 1.97 ERA with 89 strikeouts and 15 walks in 82 1/3 innings. Those are great numbers. And most clubs would have been smart enough to look beyond his 5.21 ERA in the postseason, which has more to do with a leaky bullpen than his own personal failings. Still, it’s hard to fault Ryu for playing it safe and taking the guaranteed $17.9 million for one year.