Apparently we’re supposed to suspect PED users for the rest of their careers

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Buster Olney has a great exercise in McCarthyism today. And if you consider my use of the term “McCarthyism” too extreme, know that one significant part of the good senator’s m.o. was to use a given person’s past mistakes and associations as proof, in and of itself, of continued wrongdoing. That’s what Olney is doing with Melky Cabrera today.

The upshot: Melky got caught cheating a couple of years ago. He’s now playing well in 2014. You can choose to believe that he’s clean, but if you choose to believe he’s a big fat cheater, well, that’s reasonable. And that’s clearly what Olney is suggesting you do, make no mistake. He uses an analogy involving a bank robber who went unpunished, suggesting that Cabrera has done the same. He makes a note to say that Cabrera is “a good friend of Alex Rodriguez,” which is gratuitous guilt by association. It’s really a mess of a column in which Olney says it’s OK to always consider someone a cheater if they cheated in the past. He even ends it with the sentence “All’s fair.”

Maybe strongly implying that a guy who did the crime and the time two years ago is still doing the crime now and telling your readers that always assuming guilt without evidence it’s not just OK, but probably the smart thing to do is “fair” in Olney’s world. But it’s certainly not a world I would choose to live in. And it’s not the world that Major League Baseball has sought to create with its drug testing system. Indeed, the entire point of the system is quite the opposite.

If Melky Cabrera tests positive for PEDs this season, I will assume his performance was artificially and illegally enhanced. Until that happens, however — or until some other evidence of his wrongdoing besides this sort of odious and baseless innuendo reveals itself — I won’t. If you have a rational and fair way to handle these things apart from that, I’d love to hear about it.

UPDATE: Many of you are referencing the notion of “not giving a past cheater the benefit of the doubt. About that:

The idea of not giving Cabrera the benefit of the doubt is valid. If questioned, no, of course you can’t blithely assume that someone with a dark past is on the up and up. The issue, however, is why are we constantly questioning and whether that questioning is even reasonable.

Some in the comments used an analogy to someone with a criminal record or to a philandering husband. To that I say, sure, if a guy who once cheated on his wife is late getting home with a sketchy explanation or if someone who was convicted for embezzling money suddenly has $100K in the bank, obviously you can’t forget what they did in the past.

However, we don’t, for no reason whatsoever, question past cheaters or past criminals constantly, forcing them to defend themselves when there is nothing to suggest they’ve reverted to their old ways. To do that is patently unreasonable and, depending on the circumstances, offensive. If you can’t live with a cheater, you divorce him, you don’t take him back and then suspect him all the damn time. If you don’t think the sentence served by the embezzler is sufficient, you ratchet up the penalties, you don’t keep him under police surveillance. The same goes for baseball players and PEDs: they did the time for the crime. If that is not enough for you, institute lifetime bans or quit watching baseball altogether. Don’t sit in constant, baseless judgment.

Melky Cabrera is a professional baseball player doing things now that are not unusual for professional baseball players to do in the space of a month or so. Especially when, even if you pretend that anything good he did in the past was via PEDs, the guy was signed by the best team in baseball when he was 17, was touted by scouts and put up good numbers at a surprisingly young age. Was he ever as good as he was in 2012 for the Giants? No, but it’s not like he was pre-super soldier serum Steve Rogers, either. It’s totally reasonable to expect a clean player to do what Cabrera is doing now without suspicion.

If Melky’s name shows up on some email from a drug dealer or he’s mentioned in the next Biogenesis-style scandal, even obliquely, or even if he suddenly develops ADD and has some doctor get him a therapeutic use exemption after all of this time, fine, your questions about him are reasonable and you don’t have to grant him the benefit of the doubt. However, we do not and should not think that good baseball performance is necessarily illegally enhanced performance without anything more. Even if the guy, in the past, took PEDs. To do so is to engage in ridiculous McCarthyist garbage and stretches the notion of “benefit of the doubt” to crazy extremes.

Pressure is on Phillies to finally spend “stupid money”

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For the Phillies, the term “stupid money” has defined their offseason. Coined in November when owner John Middleton said, “We’re going into this [offseason] expecting to spend money, and maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.” While Middleton caught himself, adding, “We just prefer not to be completely stupid,” it was a rare promise — especially these days — by a team owner appearing to actually commit to spending money. Austerity measures, it seems, have been implemented by most other front offices across the league.

One of two bombshells finally dropped on Tuesday: infielder Manny Machado reportedly signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres. The deal also apparently includes an opt-out clause after the fifth year. The other bombshell, of course, is free agent outfielder Bryce Harper.

While the Phillies have been more strongly linked to the superstar Harper, the club’s connection to Machado could not be overlooked. Several prominent members of the front office, including president Andy MacPhail and GM Matt Klentak, worked with Machado during his years in Baltimore. Upon learning today’s news, Klentak said (via Matt Gelb of The Athletic), “If the reports are true, this contract will exceed our valuation. Sometimes you have to walk away.”

The Phillies, mind you, spent the last five years actively and publicly rebuilding, which included a complete overhaul of the front office. All of that losing was designed to have the club be built up just in time for this offseason, featuring two mega-free agents in Machado and Harper. There are free agents every year. Few of them are of Machado and Harper’s caliber and at the age of 26. The free agent market has stagnated in recent years, in part, due to more analytics-focused front offices being hesitant to pay players lots of money beyond their prime years. Machado and Harper still have plenty of prime years left and, arguably, may not have even entered their primes yet. As far as free agency goes, there are no better bets than Machado or Harper.

So, the pressure is now on the Phillies to go get Harper and live up to Middleton’s “stupid money” proclamation. Despite adding J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson, and Jean Segura this offseason, PECOTA still projects the Phillies to finish tied for third place in the NL East at 85-77, just four games behind the projected first-place Nationals. The whole point of rebuilding is to avoid being an 85-win team, teetering on playoff contention. To these more analytically-oriented front offices, it’s either boom or bust. Failing to get Harper would not only make the spurt of activity over the last four months and the entire rebuilding scheme pointless, it would be a slap in the face to fans who endured the pitiful quality of play the club has shown over the last half-decade. Klentak, hired after the 2015 season, subjected fans to things like Jeanmar Gomez, closer; Rhys Hoskins, left fielder; and whatever the heck you call the last three editions of the starting rotation beyond Aaron Nola.

If the Phillies do fail to sign Harper, Klentak will likely say something similar to what he said today, that Harper’s ask didn’t match up with their internal valuations. There will be claims that the Phillies can still spend “stupid money” elsewhere in free agency, like going on a binge and signing Craig Kimbrel, Marwin González, and Dallas Keuchel. No one player left in free agency is a better bet than Harper and no group of players would impact the Phillies’ strength relative to their competitors more than Harper alone would. For the Phillies, it is now Harper-or-bust, and fans should revolt if the club opens the regular season not having signed a free agent superstar.