Eloy Jimenez
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White Sox don’t even try to hide what they did with Eloy Jimenez

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Eloy Jimenez, you likely know, is the top prospect in the White Sox’ system. He was just also named to the White Sox’ Opening Day roster. That’s great for him. It’s great for White Sox fans. But Lord Almighty did the path for him to get there stink to high heavens.

To review:

  • Last summer, Jimenez hit .337/.384/.577 across Double-A and Triple-A despite being younger than most players in both of those leagues. He actually did better at Triple-A than Double-A;
  • In September, the White Sox declined to call him up when rosters expanded. When asked why, Sox GM Rick Hahn talked about how all “boxes” need to be checked for a prospect to get a promotion. That the stat line is not enough. He said “our checklist that we want these guys to answer is a little more lengthy than that . . . and not until they’ve answered all those questions we have for them at the minor-league level will we promote them”;
  • Because there are no games at the minor league level in September, Jimenez did not get a chance to check any more boxes, of course. He did play eight games in the Dominican Winter League, but that’s not a White Sox development tool. That’s its own thing;
  • Jimenez came to camp this spring and made only 26 spring plate appearances. He was nonetheless sent down to minor league camp on March 13 where Manager Rick Renteria said he would “continue to work on his defense.”
  • Exactly seven days later the White Sox announced that they were giving Jimenez a six-year deal for $43 million;
  • Exactly six days after that, the White Sox announced that Jimenez would make the big league Opening Day roster.

I suppose it’s possible that Jimenez experienced a vast improvement in his defensive abilities and/or checked a certain number of boxes in those few days. However, to paraphrase a Twitter correspondent of mine, it would seem that the biggest thing Jimenez needed to work on was his ability to accept a contract offer which would not allow him to reach arbitration or to reach free agency on a schedule that would cost the White Sox real money. Once cost certainty was achieved — at a cost that is far, far less than Jimenez would’ve likely made had he gone through arbitration and reached free agency in the minimum six years — he was, magically, a much better player.

As we’ve discussed many times here, teams are not exactly great at hiding it when they manipulate a guy’s service time and/or use his lack of leverage against him, but this is the most transparent example of this I can ever recall. The sole criteria for cutting him from big league camp on March 13 was that putting him on the big league roster would start his arbitration and free agency clock. With that consideration removed by virtue of the extraordinarily team-friendly contract to which Jimenez agreed, he was suddenly big league ready. Amazing.

This is rotten as all get-out. Many of you will say things like “hey, that’s just good business sense by the Sox,” but it’s not that simple. Contrary to popular belief, teams are not allowed to manipulate service time like they did here. If they were, they would not tell the laughable lies they do about a guy “working on his defense.” They tell such lies because they are prohibited from making those sorts of decisions solely to save money. If it was allowable for them to manipulate service time you can bet your life that they would crow about doing so, because executives like to crow about doing smart things. They tell the “he needs to work on his defense” lies because they have to to avoid losing a grievance.

Of course, because Jimenez got that contract and is on the Opening Day roster, he will not file a grievance or anything. It would not shock me, however, if the other 29 teams fined the White Sox some nominal amount in their kangaroo court for making that which they at least try to hide on occasion so utterly and pathetically transparent.

Whitewash: Rob Manfred says he doesn’t think sign stealing extends beyond the Astros

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Rob Manfred said today that he believes the sign-stealing scandal which has taken over the news in the past week does not extend beyond the Houston Astros. His exact words, via Jeff Passan of ESPN:

“Right now, we are focused on the information that we have with respect to the Astros. I’m not going to speculate on whether other people are going to be involved. We’ll deal with that if it happens, but I’m not going to speculate about that. I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time.”

This is simply incredible. As in literally not credible.

It’s not credible because, just last week, in the original story in The Athletic, it was reported that the Astros system was set up by two players, one of whom was “a hitter who was struggling at the plate and had benefited from sign stealing with a previous team, according to club sources . . . they were said to strongly believe that some opposing teams were already up to no good. They wanted to devise their own system in Houston. And they did.”

The very next day Passan reported that Major League Baseball would not limit its focus to the Astros. Rather, the league’s probe was also include members of the 2019 Astros and would extend to other teams as well. Passan specifically mentioned the 2018 Red Sox which, of course, were managed by Alex Cora one year after he left Houston, where he was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach.

Add into this the Red Sox’ pre-Cora sign-stealing with Apple Watches and widespread, informed speculation on the part of players and people around the game that many teams do this sort of thing, and one can’t reasonably suggest that only the Houston Astros are doing this.

Which, as I noted at the time, made perfect sense. These schemes cannot, logically, operate in isolation because players and coaches change teams constantly. In light of this, players have to know that their sign-stealing would be found out by other teams eventually. They continue to do it, however, because they know other teams do it too. As is the case with pitchers using pine tar or what have you, they don’t rat out the other team so they, themselves, will not be ratted out. It’s a mutually-assured destruction that only exists and only works if, in fact, other teams are also stealing signs.

So why is Major League Baseball content to only hang the Astros here? I can think of two reasons.

One is practical. They had the Astros fall in their lap via former Astro Mike Fiers — obviously not himself concerned with his current team being busted for whatever reason — going on the record with his accusation. That’s not likely to repeat itself across baseball and thus it’d be quite difficult for Major League Baseball to easily conduct a wide investigation. Who is going to talk? How can baseball make them talk? It’d be a pretty big undertaking.

But there’s also the optics. Major League Baseball has had a week to think about the report of the Astros sign-stealing and, I suspect, they’ve realized, like everyone else has realized, that this is a major scandal in the making. Do they really want to spend the entire offseason — and longer, I suspect, if they want a thorough investigation — digging up unflattering news about cheating in the sport? Do they really want to be in the bad news creation business? I doubt they do, so they decided to fence off the Astros, hit them hard with penalties, declare victory and move on.

Which is to say, it’s a whitewash.

It’s something the league has tried to do before. They did it with steroids and it didn’t work particularly well.

In 1998 Mark McGwire, that game’s biggest star at the time, was found to have the PED androstenedione in his locker. It was a big freakin’ deal. Except . . . nothing happened. Major League Baseball planned to “study” the drug but most of the fallout was visited upon the reporter who made it public. It was accompanied by some shameful conduct by both Major League Baseball and the baseball press corps who eagerly went after the messenger rather than cover the story properly.

Four years later Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco went public with their PED use and said drug use was widespread. MLB’s response was slow and, again, sought to isolated the known offenders, singling out Caminiti as a troubled figure — which he was — and Canseco as a kook — which he kind of is — but doing them and the story a disservice all the same.

The league eventually created a rather toothless testing and penalty regime. Congress and outside investigative reporters filled the void created by the league’s inaction, calling hearings and publishing damning stories about how wide PED use was in the game. Eventually Bud Selig commissioned the Mitchell Report. Some ten years after the McGwire incident baseball had at least the beginnings of a sane approach to PEDs and a more effective testing plan, but it was pulled to it kicking and screaming, mostly because doing anything about it was too hard and not very appetizing from a business and P.R. perspective.

And so here we are again. Baseball has a major scandal on its hands. After some initially promising words about how serious it planned to take it, the league seems content to cordon off the known crime scene and refuses to canvass the neighborhood. Sure, if someone gratuitously hands them evidence they’ll look into it, but it sure sounds like Rob Manfred plans to react rather than act here.

That should work. At least until the next time evidence of cheating comes up and they have to start this all over again.