Friday, February 1, 2013

Does it Really Matter?


           Well once again Major League Baseball took a blow to the chin as another list of players has emerged from the depths of PED Hell.

           Now those of you that know me and speak to me on a regular basis know my stance on PED's and their usage in baseball. I don't have an issue with players that were taking PED's before certain substances were banned by Major League Baseball. Baseball is a game, but a game of competition, one that grown men get paid a lot of money to play. In order to get paid that top dollar you must be one of the best players, put up gaudy stats, set records, and bring in attendance for your team. So players took it upon themselves to find ways, beyond just weight training to give themselves an advantage over the competition.

          Was this such a bad thing? Were you not standing up and cheering when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa put on the amazing home run display in 1998? Were you not enamored when Jose Canseco hit a ball into the upper deck in Skydome, when nobody else even thought it was possible? Were you not caught up in the feel good story of a catcher drafted in the 62nd round by the Los Angeles Dodgers, becoming a 12-time All-Star and ending his career with 427 home runs? Now there is no proof or evidence that we know of that Mike Piazza used PED's, but unfortunately he is linked to that time period along with 2013 Hall of Fame candidates Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, and one of my favorite pitchers of all time, Roger Clemens. So my point is the players knew this was going on, the agents knew this was going on, the owners knew this was going on, and the general managers knew this was going on but baseball was still trying to win the fans back from the 94-95 strike and everyone was making money on "The Long Ball" so everything was great.
            Then all of a sudden the home run totals weren't the only thing going up, as players salaries started to skyrocket due to the inflated power numbers. All of a sudden little leads start to leak out that maybe Jose Canseco was doing steroids because he is so muscular. Mark McGwire must be on something because he hits the ball so far. Barry Bonds' head grew 3 sizes in the off-season, he must be on steroids. Suddenly Jose Canseco can't find a job in Major League Baseball so he claims he is being "blackballed" by the MLB and wrote a book. This tell all book speaks of how Canseco did do steroids for the reasons that I spoke of earlier (money and fame) but also how he brought them into the locker room for other players to try. Many players named in this book denied any wrong doing, they said Canseco was just bitter and making these stories up for the sake of writing the book. Canseco took a lot of heat for writing this book and was written off as a liar. Then the truth started coming out, and guys like McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Jason Giambi started getting questioned, and baseball started digging into their pasts. And the rest of the story you know...

              That brings us to today. Major League Baseball has implemented strict testing for PED's. Now pretty much any substance that you put into your body that is not food is a banned substance resulting in a suspension. Ok, great I am on board now, lets clean it up and play fair. But with the emergence of a new list of players possibly linked to a now closed down company that produced anti-aging substances, comes questions of should the penalties for being caught be stronger?
               Now, these were not positive tests, this was just a list of athletes names, that have had some sort of contact with this clinic. And we cannot persecute these players without a positive test, because their is no proof that these players took any product that was purchased from this clinic. One of the players on the list was Toronto Blue Jays outfielder, Melky Cabrera who was suspended last season 50 games and missed his chance at a World Series because of a positive test for Testosterone. Yet, The Toronto Blue Jays signed Cabrera to a 2 year $16 million contract this off-season once the suspension was lifted. So what lesson was learned? Ya he missed the World Series and the money that came with it. Big deal, these players make so much money now that a fine or suspension doesn't hurt that much unless it is a substantial amount.

               My final thought on this subject is this....I don't believe PED's help you hit the ball. I don't believe PED's make you a better baseball player. There are a lot of great players that have never been linked to PED's for example Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey Jr., and Albert Pujols with Hall of Fame caliber careers. What I do believe is that they provide strength, sustained energy and health to make it through a full season without wear and tear. But I will say this, if I was educated about PED's when I was in high school, I would have taken them in a heart beat. That is how much I love the game of baseball and would have loved to have made a living playing the game that I love.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Major League Baseball Salary Cap

Should Major League Baseball have a salary cap? In one word, "YES". But this is a blog, and it is my opinion so I will not leave you with a one word answer.

A salary cap, is a rule put in place to keep large market teams from constantly signing all of the top free agents, by limiting the amount of money that a team can spend on it's roster. The New York Yankees are well known for opening the check book come the off-season, while a team like the Kansas City Royals sit back and contemplate whether or not they want to sign one of the lower tier free agents.

Would a salary cap create more parity in baseball? Not necessarily. All it takes is that owner that takes his $120mil salary cap and spends $75mil on his team and puts the remainder of that money into his pocket. Now, if the cap was designed so that owners had to spend a certain percentage of that money on players it would, A) keep one team from signing everyone, B) allow smaller market teams to be competitive in bidding for top free agents and C) if a team has a good young core similar to what the Nationals have, the hard cap would allow them to sign some of their young players long term if they felt that they did not need a top free agent. 

We watched the Miami Marlins last season, bump their payroll from $56,944,000 in 2011 to $111,598,000 in 2012 only to end up in last place and dismantle the team this off season. This is the downside to signing big dollar free agents, but it also sucks for the fans that did go out and support the team. The fans that love baseball and want to see a talented team on the field. Now they will get a team full of journeymen and prospects who may play hard but will most likely end up with 100+ losses.  If here was a salary cap the team may have thought twice about who they were signing, knowing that a trading partner may not be there if things go south.
Yankee fans are stunned this off season as they sit and wonder where the spending went. The team has decided to attempt to get under the luxury tax cap next season so they have been frugal this off season. An off season when they actually need help around the diamond. If there was a cap, the team and fans alike would know where they were salary wise and what the off-season may bring.

When I first thought about the MLB having a salary cap, I thought, well it may limit trading because teams were having to work under a cap. But the National Basketball Association has a soft cap* that works for them and the league still makes plenty of trades. The National Football League has a salary cap, and though trades happen far less often, the creative general managers find ways to make deals happen. 

Why is there not a salary cap in baseball you ask? Unlike football and basketball, the MLBPA or Major League Baseball Players Association* has a lot more power than the players associations in the other organizations. In 1994, Major League Baseball lost its World Series due to a players strike, brought about by the owners and Major League Baseball asking for a salary cap to help the small market clubs. The players believe that a salary cap would decrease their salary, further showing me that winning comes second to getting paid.

Will we ever see a salary cap in baseball? Probably, but do not expect it to be in the near future. As long as Bud Selig is the Commissioner of baseball and the Players Association continues to throw their weight around Baseball will continue to see salaries soar and the big markets get richer.

*NBA Soft Cap - This salary cap is referred to as the "soft cap" because teams can go over the cap due to the veterans exemption rule. This allows teams to sign veterans that have been with the team for a long period of time (i.e. Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones) without it affecting the cap.

*Major League Baseball Players Association - This group was formed as the union for Major League Baseball Players.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Why the Angels Should Sign Kyle Lohse

With the signing of outfielder Josh Hamilton, relievers Sean Burnett and Ryan Madson and Starting Pitcher Joe Blanton, and the trade for starting pitchers Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas, do the Angels have enough, not just to take the American League West but to win the World Series?

Lets take a closer look at the starting pitching talent that the Angels added this off season...
With #2 starter Dan Haren taking his innings and strikeouts to Washington (Non-Tendered Free Agent) and #4 starter Ervin Santana traded to Kansas City for a minor league reliever, the Angels pitching staff was in need of a face lift. To replace Haren and Santana, the Angels traded for talented but often injured Braves starter Tommy Hanson and signed former Philly and Dodger Joe Blanton. Lets dive into the 3 year averages for these 4 pitchers.

                                   AGE       IP     ERA    WHIP    K's    W    GS
Ervin Santana                  30       178   4.08     1.263    160    12    32     
Dan Haren                      32       216   3.74     1.182    183    13    33
                                                  197   3.91     1.222    171    12    32

                                  AGE       IP     ERA    WHIP    K's    W    GS
Joe Blanton                    31       136   4.76     1.346    111    6     22
Tommy Hanson              26       169   3.78     1.265    158    11   29
                                                152   4.27     1.305    134.5  8.5  25.5

So looking at the comparisons above, the numbers that stand out to me are the loss of innings pitched which go hand in hand with the number of games started.
Now, the Angels did add another starter via a trade with the Mariners that brought them starting pitcher Jason Vargas who has been a solid #2 starter for the Mariners over the past few seasons, but we will talk about him in a minute.
Back to the above 4 starters. Ervin Santana is coming off of a season that saw his ERA skyrocket as he just could not get on track all season. Haren had some back issues, and though he ended the season on a good note he was due $13 million for 2013 and the Angels just decided to buy out his contract. I am ok with the decision to let these two aging pitchers go and I like the Tommy Hanson trade.

A once highly touted prospect for the Braves, came up to the big leagues and showed everyone why he was so coveted going 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA. But shoulder problems have limited him the last few years. He is only 26 and hopefully he can bounce back. I would be ok with Hanson pitching to his 3 year average ERA and WHIP if he can get his innings up to 180.

Joe Blanton on the other hand has not shown me anything in his 9 year career. He has a lifetime 4.37 ERA and ended last season with a 4.71 ERA and an even worse 4.99 ERA after his late season trade to the Dodgers.

I mentioned above that the Angels acquired Jason Vargas from the Mariners. Vargas, the #2 starter for the Mariners was 14-11 with a 3.85 ERA last season for the last place Mariners. Vargas is a good innings eater as he averaged over 200+ innings over the last 3 years. My biggest concern with this acquisition is his home and away splits. In spacious Safeco Field, Vargas had a 2.74 ERA, but on the road he had an abysmal 4.78 ERA. Meaning we should expect something closer to 4.50 for 2013.

The starting pitching staff is not deep. Staff ace, Jared Weaver's strikeouts were down last season, a small cause for concern, CJ Wilson is coming off of off season elbow surgery (cleanup), Hanson, Vargas, and Blanton with crafty veteran Jerome Williams down in the bullpen for long relief and 2nd year youngster Garrett Richards.

This is where I see Kyle Lohse coming in and being the bigger boost that this pitching staff needs. Yes, he is represented by Scott Boris. Yes, he is 34, and yes he is looking for top dollar on no less than a 3 year contract.  Give it to him! Hand him a check for Anibal Sanchez money ($16mil/season) and get the stadium ready for the World Series. The last 2 seasons Lohse has averaged 15 wins, 3.125 ERA and big game experience.

The Angels have locked up Jared Weaver, CJ Wilson, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout (arbitration years), and a bullpen full of fireballers, what is 3 more years for a guy that can be a part of the cog that keeps this team in contention for AT LEAST the next 3 years? Open the wallet one more time this year Artie and bring Kyle and the championship home in 2013.