Monthly archives: December 2007
A Book Far From Closed
Holding baseball players to a higher moral standard is akin to, in Cub terms, expecting Kosuke Fukudome to win an MVP award with the Cubs. They are both ridiculous propositions that will ultimately leave you disappointed, should you foolishly believe in them.
JC Bradbury says it best:
And yet, we are outraged when a baseball player violates the supposed sanctity of his sport and does what men have done and always will do -- attempt to gain an upper hand on their competition through means fair and unfair, in the venues of business, sport or, at the most basic level, survival -- as if their fame puts them above such petty human follies as cheating or poor decision making. These people are famous because they have extraordinary abilities -- they can do things the average person cannot. If fame happens to coincide with virtue, then it is just that: happenstance. Neither one is a function of the other.
Steroid use, then, should come as no surprise, especially when the baseball world so blatantly turned a blind eye to the subject. Players are always looking for an edge, be it a result of diet, exercise or chemistry. Performance-enhancing drugs are a means to that end. That is not to say that all players are or were users -- far from it -- but that many turned to PEDs, as chronicled in the Mitchell Report, like many among the common folk turn to a new diet.
Famous athletes are, in general, no more immune to the allure of cheating than a student writing a paper. With steroids, the athletes, however, had only the associated health risks to worry about, if they were informed at all, before testing was instituted. Whereas penalties help to reinforce the moral judgment of the student, no such penalties burdened the ballplayer. A player can make a poor decision, just like a student -- the difference is in the penalty, not superior morality.
Of course, just like that new fad diet, steroid and other modern-day PED use have a questionable impact on performance. Sabernomics has a large archive of material on the subject. How much of the performance gains are due to the rigorous training programs that so often accompany and are prescribed for steroid use?
But that is really beside the point. MLB is trying to wipe out a form of cheating, no matter the effectiveness of that form, acting shocked and ashamed that its players would stoop so low, forgetting its own failings. It's a noble cause, to be sure, but with one fundamental problem: Identifying users. I'm no chemist, but surely it must be difficult to develop tests for drugs and masking agents known only to those who made them. The creators are always a step ahead -- by the time a test is developed for one PED, another variant is already in production -- as Game of Shadows makes clear. For all the rhetoric about the testing program being "flexible enough to employ best practices as they develop" (Mitchell Report, pg. 305), it's unreasonable to expect MLB to root out PED use through tests alone. They may weed out the less-sophisticated juicers, but eradication will remain elusive.
Plans I've seen range from testing to education to player policing to Pigouvian taxes. I doubt education will be enough to stop the Quadruple-A players of the world from turning to steroids and PEDs in hopes of achieving their dreams of making it in the majors, and player policing would be disastrous. How long before it devolves into finger-pointing and unfounded claims based on grudges? I can only think of the potential for a devastating witch hunt. A Pigouvian tax, which would take money from users and distribute it to non-users, is again at the hands of testing. Unable to determine, beyond a doubt, who the users and non-users are, MLB could easily end up taking money from cheaters and handing it back to their undiscovered kin.
* * * *
What people want is closure, to say definitively that the Steroid Era is over. It's the same desire that drove so many up the wall after the Sopranos finale, the need to sit back and say, It's over.
The whole thing is enough to make anyone's head hurt, and it's becoming increasingly possible that steroid use will not die out by MLB's hand, but by the next big performance booster. Everyone must accept that, unless some clever and radical new mechanism is created and put in place, there will always be something out there, and there will always be players, like any average person, looking for a leg up.
For over a week now, Cubs blogs have been buzzing, stirred into a mild frenzy by the Fukudome updates trickling out of Japan. He's coming, then he's not sure, then he'll make a decision soon, and then he really is coming -- but to which team?
It ended tonight, and the Cubs have a new right fielder.
Most of the projections I've seen agree on a few points: He won't be an incredible player, but will be, at very least, above average. His defensive skills are well-regarded, and though his power will wane, Fukudome will get on base at a good clip.
I've also seen -- in comments sections more than posts themselves -- much angst about the fate of Matt Murton, regarded by many as a slower, right-handed version of Fukudome. The argument being made is that Murton can provide nearly the same production -- itself an iffy proposition; do we really know how either one will perform? -- at a fraction of the cost.
But I have no problem with the signing. Think back to your childhood for a moment: You have two, nearly identical trading cards, each filling the same role in almost the same manner. What do you do with them? Clearly, you trade one to a pal for something you don't have; you don't really need two of the same. And so Matt Murton hits the trading block. His name has already come up in talks with the Orioles involving Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts and Erik Bedard. Had Fukudome not signed with the Cubs, the likelihood of a trade involving Murton would have declined mightily -- the Cubs would have needed him.
But luckily, such is not the case. Murton, like a tooth in the jaw of a shark, can be lost without fear -- the Cubs have another, at least as sharp and right behind, ready to replace it.
Simply put, trading Murton for Roberts, for instance, without Fukudome signed pales in comparison to the same scenario with Fukudome. The sum of Fukudome and whomever Murton's trade package garners is greater than the return from a Murton trade alone. Fukudome is key. If the Cubs had to overspend a bit, I care not; the signing makes possible moves to further improve the team.
Eggs: Safe. Basket: Secure.
For the third winter in a row, Jim Hendry made one player the crux of his offseason plans, and it appears that for the second consecutive year, he's delivered his man. According to various radio sources (Dave Kaplan at WGN seems to be getting credit for the scoop - hat tip to MLB Trade Rumors for the notice on the airwave info), and a parroted report on ESPN, Kosuke Fukudome will be a Cub for the next four years. Robothal also has confirmation.
Talk all you want about the risk in signing a man who's never seen a day in the Majors to a four year deal worth approximately $50M, but if the Cubs were going to have a shot at getting better in 2008, at competing beyond the NL Central, at getting off the mat in the playoffs, this was the guy they had to have - a left handed hitter who, while his power might not translate, has an excellent shot at giving the club the dose of OBP they so sorely need. And, hey, there's some speed and defense tossed in, just for kicks.
We'll see how I feel mid-summer, let alone in 2011, but right now - much like last year with the Soriano signing - I can't help but smile.
Filling Out A Lineup
As is, the Cub lineup is not overly impressive. Geovany Soto will catch, the infield corners are locked down by Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Theriot will again man their respective positions, and then it gets fuzzy. And that should be enough to give anyone pause. From the Trib:
The Cubs left baseball's winter meetings Thursday with two new relievers, walking away gingerly so as not to drop all those eggs they are putting in Kosuke Fukudome's basket.
If Fukudome (that name must give radio and TV execs nightmares; I'm sure producers will have their hands near that magic kill button every time the outfielder comes anywhere near the action) spurns the Cubs, where does that leave them? Soriano in left, Felix Pie and all the questions about his readiness in center, and ... Matt Murton? Sam Fuld? Hardly an imposing outfield. I would very much like to hear more about Hendry's fallback plans.
I'd be much less worried if the Cubs land, as rumored, second baseman Brian Roberts (112 OPS+), moving Mark DeRosa (102 OPS+) from second to, most likely, right field, where he is better than all current competitors. Of course, the ideal would be to both sign Fukudome and trade for Roberts, thus relegating DeRosa to a super-sub role. And if Pie proves incapable in center, Fukudome could move over from right, and DeRosa would fill in.
The Tribune story linked above says the Cubs would only have to give up Sean Marshall or Sean Gallagher, plus Ronny Cedeno or Eric Patterson. Gallagher and Patterson are the best of the bunch, but I would not call any of them untouchable, and it's a trade I would make.
But if Hendry can't manage to acquire either of them, he'll have some scrambling to do.
Light And Fluffy
Buried in a Tribune article about Brian Roberts (whom I'll talk about later) is this head-scratcher from Lou Piniella:
"Theriot is going to play shortstop," Piniella said. "He earned it. He played really, really well."
Sure, Lou, if by "well" you mean an OPS+ of 72, below-average defense, and ... oh, just see here. Consider: In 511 fewer at-bats, Carlos Zambrano had a higher VORP; even Jacque Jones finished 2007 with a higher VORP, and fans applauded his departure. The Cubs have very few other options at shortstop, so to say Theriot has "earned" the shortstop position is hardly accurate; sadly, it's his by default.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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Write Derek at drksmart @ gmail.com