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.

Noah Syndergaard: ‘I feel like I’m going to bet (on) myself in free agency’

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Yankees starter Luis Severino and Phillies starter Aaron Nola both signed contract extensions within the last week. Severino agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract with a 2023 club option. Nola inked a four-year, $45 million deal with a 2023 club option.

While the deals both represented significant raises and longer-term financial security for the right-handed duo, some feel like the players are selling themselves short. It has become a more common practice for players to agree to these types of deals in part due to how stagnant free agency has become. Get the money while you can.

Mets starter Noah Syndergaard is in a similar situation as Severino and Nola were. He and the Mets avoided arbitration last month, agreeing on a $6 million salary for the 2019 season. He has two more years of arbitration eligibility left. A contract extension with the Mets would presumably cover both of those years plus two or three years of what would be free agent years. As Tim Britton of The Athletic reports, however, Syndergaard plans to test free agency when the time comes.

Syndergaard said, “I trust my ability and the talent that I have. So I feel like I’m going to bet (on) myself in free agency and not do what they did. But if it’s fair for both sides and they approach me on it, then maybe we can talk.” He clarified that he would be open to a conversation about an extension, but the Mets thus far haven’t approached him about it. In his words, “There’s been no traction.”

Syndergaard, 26, has been one of baseball’s better starters since debuting in 2015. He owns a career 2.93 ERA with 573 strikeouts and 116 walks in 518 1/3 innings. Among pitchers to have logged at least 400 innings since 2015 and post a lower ERA are Clayton Kershaw (2.22), Jacob deGrom (2.66) and Max Scherzer (2.71). Syndergaard made only seven starts in 2017 yet still ranks seventh among pitchers in total strikeouts since 2015.

If Sydergaard doesn’t end up signing an extension, he will be entering free agency after the 2021 season. The collective bargaining agreement expires in December 2021 and a new one will likely be agreed upon around that time. Syndergaard will hopefully have better prospects entering free agency then than players do now.