Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Monday, December 24, 2012

PED Usage Should Prohibit Known Cheaters From Baseball Hall of Fame



This year's Hall of Fame ballot is littered with the names of first-time eligible players who have, rather infamously, been associated with steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) and, in some instances, even been implicated in their use. For example, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa are all on this year's ballot.

Bonds' and Clemens' names were all over the Mitchell Report. In fact, Bonds was mentioned a whopping 103 times (second to Jose Canseco, at 105 mentions) and Clemens was mentioned 82 times.

I've previously detailed the case against Clemens and there is ample evidence to prove that he was a cheater who used performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).

As for Bonds, there is equally compelling evidence against him.

Unsealed court documents show that Bonds tested positive for three types of steroids, and his personal trainer once told his business manager in the San Francisco Giants' clubhouse how he injected the slugger with performance-enhancing drugs "all over the place."

The documents reveal a secretly tape-recorded a 2003 conversation between Bonds' trainer Greg Anderson and Steve Hoskins, Bonds' childhood friend and personal assistant, in the Giants' clubhouse. Anderson and Hoskins were discussing steroid injections when Anderson stated that he moved Bonds injections "all over the place" in order to avoid complications.

During that conversation, Anderson also told Hoskins that "everything that I've been doing at this point, it's all undetectable," according to the documents. "See, the stuff that I have ... we created it. And you can't, you can't buy it anywhere. You can't get it anywhere else."

Also among the evidence made public were doping calendars used by Anderson with the initials "BB" and a handwritten note seized from his house labeled "Barry" that appears to be a laundry list of steroids and planned blood tests.

Bonds use of HGH was so prevalent that his head and feet actually grew during his time with the San Francisco Giants — while he was in his 30s. Bonds' statistics also took off in that period. In unprecedented fashion, Bonds became an extraordinary player in his late 30s and early 40's, well past the prime of all other historic players, a time when all others are in decline.

Sosa, who hit 609 career homers, was one of 104 players who tested positive for a PED in 2003. Beyond that, a cursory look at his career numbers reveals a one-dimensional hitter who does not belong in the Hall of Fame.

Rafael Palmeiro is on the ballot for the third time. In 2005, Palmeiro famously wagged his finger at Congress and intoned that, despite Jose Canseco's published claims, he had never used steroids. Less than five months later, however, he was suspended after test results showed presence of a steroid in his urine.

Mark McGwire is on the ballot for the seventh time. In January of 2010, McGwire finally admitted that he used performance-enhancing drugs (including steroids and human growth hormone) off and on for nearly a decade. That sealed his fate, as far as the Hall of Fame is concerned.

McGwire is the test case for all of the other PED users on this year's ballot, and in the years to come. The slugger has never received more than 23.7 percent of the vote, while 75 percent is needed for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

To his credit, McGwire said he wouldn't vote for himself for the Hall of Fame and also said that he doesn't expect to ever get into the Hall. He has continually shown more humility and honesty than any of the other players listed above. Yet, it's still not enough. If "good guy" McGwire is excluded, so are Bonds, Clemens and Sosa.

Some people mistakenly argue that steroids weren't banned in baseball until 2003 and, therefore, players who used them prior to that time should be excused and granted consideration for the Hall of Fame, provided that their career numbers warrant it.

The truth is, the use of steroids for performance enhancement has been implicitly banned by baseball since 1971 and expressly banned since '91.

Beginning in 1971 and continuing today, Major League Baseball's drug policy has prohibited the use of any prescription medication without a valid prescription.

Baseball's first written drug policy was issued by commissioner Bowie Kuhn at the start of the '71 season. The policy did not explicitly address anabolic steroids, but it did say that baseball personnel must "comply with federal and state drug laws." Federal law at the time mandated that an appropriate prescription be obtained for the use of anabolic steroids.

In 1991, Commissioner Fay Vincent first expressly included steroids in baseball's drug policy. Steroids have been listed as a prohibited substance under the Major League Baseball drug policy since that time.

The following is excerpted from Commissioner Vincent's memo on June 7, 1991, which spelled out a broader drug policy and directly prohibited the use of steroids without a valid prescription. Each team and the players' union received the memo.

"This memorandum sets forth Baseball's drug policy... The possession, sale or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by Major League players or personnel is strictly prohibited.... This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs and controlled substances, including steroids or prescription drugs for which the individual in possession of the drug does not have a prescription."

Absent a prescription, steroids and human growth hormone have always been illegal under U.S. law. Even if Major League Baseball hadn't expressly forbidden their use — which it clearly did — those drugs would still be legally forbidden.

Cheaters shouldn't be rewarded for cheating. Putting any of the above players in the Hall of Fame would set a horrible precedent. It would be a disgrace that would irreparably damage the integrity of the game. Cheating should never be condoned or overlooked.

Clemens and Bonds each had exemplary careers before they began their PED usage. But they are both cheaters nonetheless. Both achieved freakish results late in their careers, when all of their peers and predecessor were in decline. Neither player, both of whom were remarkably competitive, could accept a decline in performance and they wouldn't tolerate being second best.

Character and integrity are explicitly listed as criteria when measuring Hall of Fame merit, and neither player had them.

Voting for the Hall of Fame is being conducted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA). The results will be announced on January 9, 2013.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Red Sox Land Ryan Dempster on 2-Year, $26.5 Million Deal


Of all the Red Sox needs this season (first base, left and right fields), none was more critical than obtaining a reliable starting pitcher. The Sox need someone who can go deep into games and give them at least 200 innings per season. With that in mind, they may have found their guy.

The Red Sox have agreed to terms with Ryan Dempster on a two-year, $26.5 million contract. The righthander has been a solid No. 2 or No. 3 starter through much of his career, posting a 3.74 ERA and 911 strikeouts in 997 innings over the past three seasons, including a 3.38 ERA in 173 total innings this year.

Dempster came up with the Marlins and spent the first four-and-a-half years of his career in Miami.

In July 2002, he was shipped to Cincinnati. But after making just 20 starts for the Reds in 2003, Dempster underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery on his right elbow that August.

After his release by the Reds, the free agent joined the Cubs before the 2004 season and found success there for the better part of nine seasons.

From 2000 to 2002, Dempster threw more than 200 innings per season. But there were struggles along the way; he led the NL with a whopping 112 walks in 2001 and 125 earned runs in 2002.

Despite his propensity to eat innings, those struggles (and the reconstructed elbow) persuaded the Cubs to shift the righty to the bullpen, where he spent the next four years in Chicago.

The move worked out well; from 2005 to 2007, Dempster finished at least 50 games per season for the Cubs, leading the NL with 64 games finished in 2006.

Notwithstanding his success as a reliever, the Cubs converted Dempster back to a starter in 2008 and he proceeded to rack up at least 200 innings in each of the next four seasons.

In 2012, spilt between the Cubs and Rangers, Dempster tossed a combined 173 innings, marking the first time he failed to reach 200 in five seasons.

Yet, over that five-year span, he still averaged 199 innings per year.

The reason for the innings dip was because Dempster spent time on the disabled list twice last season; he missed time early in the season with a strained right quadriceps, and was sidelined for 19 games in mid-June with a strained lat muscle.

Over the last five seasons, Dempster posted ERAs of 2.96 ('08), 3.65 ('09), 3.85 ('10), 4.80 ('11) and 3.38 ('12). That's a five-year average of 3.73. Though 2011 was an off year in terms of ERA, Dempster still led the NL with 34 starts that season.

There is some reason for concern for the Red Sox, and they surely took everything into account. Though Dempster posted a nifty 2.25 ERA for the Cubs last season — which made him a hot commodity at the trade deadline — he proceeded to get knocked around by AL lineups upon joining the Rangers.

Dempster's ERA more than doubled to 5.09 when he arrived in the American League. The Angels (three times), Yankees and A's all pounded Dempster last season. The righty surrendered 39 runs in 69 innings as a Ranger, including 10 home runs.

Despite his struggles against AL clubs, Dempster still wound up with 70 strikeouts in 69 innings with the Rangers, and his 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings with Texas were the most of his big league career.

However, Dempster's fastball velocity has been dropping consistently for three years. Last year, his fastball averaged 89.7 mph, down from 90.3 in 2011 and 91 in 2010. Prior to that, he had regularly been throwing in the 91-92 mph range.

Yet, as he's aged, Dempster has learned to pitch more than just throw, incorporating a split-fingered fastball and a cutter into his repertoire in recent years.

Last season, Dempster had a career-best 2.7 walks per nine innings. This is indicative of a pitcher with good control who shouldn't issue a lot of free passes.

Dempster will be 36 on May 3, meaning he will pitch the duration of this pact on the other side of 35. That's why the Sox were so determined to have him under contract for just two years.

To be clear, Dempster is not a game-changer. Though he is a two-time All Star (2000, 2008), he is not a star or a stud. Hopefully, he will give the Sox at least 30 starts, and eat at least 200 innings, in each of the next two seasons. But it should be remembered that Dempster has a 4.33 career ERA and 1.43 WHIP. All expectations should be modest.

If you're looking for more upside, there's this: Dempster has posted at least 170 innings and at least 7.7 K/9 innings in each of the last five years. The only other pitchers to do that were Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez and Cole Hamels. That’s pretty good company.

Because he was traded mid-season in 2012, Dempter will not cost the Red Sox a draft pick, which was a major consideration in this signing. That's a bonus. The Red Sox have not had to part with any of their prized prospects this offseason, which will benefit them in coming years.

Dempster is also a good clubhouse guy, known for being really playful and fun. He's quite the jokester; if you've ever seen/heard his fantastic Harry Caray impression, you know what I mean. It's spot on.

Dempster will keep things loose in the Red Sox clubhouse and dugout. He's a high character guy and, along with the likes of Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino, should have a positive impact on the culture of baseball in Boston.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Red Sox Weighing Cody Ross vs. Nick Swisher


The Red Sox are widely reported to have interest in free agent outfielders Cody Ross and Nick Swisher. To follow is an analysis of both players, based on games/dependability, offense, defense, personality/character and price.

The 31-year-old Ross, of course, played on a one-year, $3 million contract for the Sox last season. He performed quite well, posting a .267/.326/.481/.807 line, to go along with 22 homers and 81 RBI.

The 32-year-old Swisher wrapped-up a five-year contract last season, playing out a club option with the Yankees for $10.25 million. He had another terrific season, posting a .272/.364/.473/.837 line, to go along with 24 homers and 93 RBI.

Ross became an everyday player in 2006, Swisher in 2005. So we'll compare the two since the 2006 season.

Since that time, Ross has averaged 124 games per season, peaking at 153 in 2010 after 151 in 2009.

Since 2006, Swisher has averaged 151 games per season, going six straight years playing in at least 150, before dropping to 148 last season.

Advantage: Swisher.

Ross has a career line of .262/.324/.460/.783, with 122 homers, 186 doubles and 452 RBI.

Swisher has a career line of .256/.361/.467/.828, with 209 homers, 251 doubles and 672 RBI.

SPLITS

Ross, career against righties: .253/.312/.415/.727, 64 HR, 278 RBI
Ross, career against lefties: .284/.353/.575/.928, 58 HR, 174 RBI

Swisher, career against righties: .250/.342/.478/.820, 162 HR, 502 RBI
Swisher, career against lefties: .270/.402/.441/.842, 47 HR, 171 RBI

Swisher is switch-hitter.

Advantage: Swisher

Ross can play all three outfield positions and is a solid defender.

Swisher can play left and right field, but is not a great defender. He can also play first base.

Advantage: Ross in the outfield; Swisher for his infield/outfield versatility.

Both players are known as great clubhouse guys with positive, outgoing personalities. Ross endeared himself to Red Sox fans last season with his ready smile and amiable charm. Swisher is a similar sort of guy.

"I think he brought a lot to the Yankees as far as just a free spirit, a little bit of an edge," said ESPN's Tim Kurkjian of Swisher. "And I think he would be good in Boston. I think he would be good in the clubhouse. If I were the Red Sox I would look long and hard at him... I think he's very much on the radar there for the Red Sox, and I think he should be."

Advantage: even

Ross wants a three-year, $24 million deal.

Swisher is looking for a five- or six-year deal. But odds are that he’ll have to settle for four, perhaps at the same $13 million per year that Napoli just got from the Red Sox.

Advantage: Ross

The addition of Swisher would give the Red Sox even more flexibility after adding catcher-first baseman Mike Napoli. Napoli will likely play first base most of the time, but when he catches, Swisher could move to first, which is probably his best position. Swisher would presumably start in right field the rest of the time. That flexibility also works in Swisher's favor.

The Red Sox have plenty of money to play with this winter. The cost of each player is not prohibitive. If money is not a concern, then Swisher seems to be the better choice, largely because of his durability, consistency, greater offensive production, his switch-hitting ability and his capacity to play both corner outfield spots, as well as first base. If Swisher could handle playing in New York, there is little doubt that he can also handle the Boston market.

The advantage of Ross is that he will cost less and be under contract for a shorter term. He is also a better outfielder. Most importantly, perhaps, the Sox know exactly what they have and what they'll be getting with Ross because he spent last season with the team.

The case for Ross is also made stronger by the fact that signing Swisher would cost the Sox their second-round pick (around 40th - 45th) next year. Such compensation is required because Swisher rejected the Yankees one-year qualifying offer. The Red Sox top-ten, first-round pick is protected, however.

The Sox really can't go wrong here. Should they end up with either player, they will be well-served because of it.

The shame is that the Sox won't end up with both Ross and Swisher. The team has the financial capacity to sign both players to fill their corner outfield spots. Instead, they gave Jonny Gomes a two-year, $10 million deal. That seems like an inferior choice and a poor decision.

Who would you rather have — Ross or Swisher?