Friday, July 31, 2009

'Roid Rage?

Big Papi was ridin' the 'roid train.

Am I disappointed in David Ortiz? No.

First, I don't know what he did, why he did it, when he did it, or what effect it had on his performance.

Second, I don't care.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am opposed to the use of steroids by any professional athlete. I believe the current MLB policies are slightly less draconian than they should be, but overall I think those policies are correct.

I do not, however, consider the Steroid Era as the greatest black-eye on the game. Nor do I consider the players who cheated (and I do acknowledge that these players are cheaters) the lowest form of life.

Instead, I view the Steroid Era in the broader context of a sport where cheating has always been a part of the game. After being enshrined in the Hall of Fame, Rollie Fingers marketed a movie where he demonstrated how he cheated by doctoring the baseball. Legions of baseball beat writers from ages of yore have written about the rampant drug usage (particularly speed) during the '50s and '60s.

None of this was acceptable, but it has always been part of the game, and in loving the game I accept these things as part of it. I want these things eliminated moving forward, but I'm not willing to begin a witch hunt for the perpetrators, nor am I willing to start dishing out asterisks to every record from the past 15 years.

By design, professional athletes go through a brutal selective process of elimination that produces a group of people who will do virtually anything to gain the smallest advantage because that tiniest of advantages might make the difference between making the varsity squad or not, or being dropped from the Single A team or not, or being added to the Major League roster or not. Consequently, those who actually make it to the highest levels of the game have been surviving hundreds (if not thousands) of evaluations by an incredibly coarse, harsh group of critics.

It's not an accident that the people who survive this process are likely to do anything (including breaking the rules) to gain an advantage. The entire system is set up to guarantee that ONLY those people are willing to do so (and those incredibly rare individuals born with an innate gift) survive.

So, yeah, apparently, maybe, I think, according to reports from people who violated the law to release this "vital" information Big Papi was using substances that have subsequently been banned by Major League Baseball.

Does that reduce my respect for what David Ortiz accomplished during those four or five years when he was the most feared hitter in the American League? No. Of course not.

Do I want Major League Baseball to punish ANYONE who is found to have violated the new policy? Absolutely.

Do I want those punishments to be severe? Oh, yeah. Really bad. 50-game suspension for a first violation is good, 162 games would be better.

Do I want any investigation of past offenses/continued revelations and investigations? No. I don't care.

What Big Papi did was wrong (if he actually did what he's alleged to have done). What all of those people did was wrong. But although there were laws against their actions, there were no policies by Major League Baseball against those actions. And in that type of environment, I can't claim to be too holier-than-thou about this situation.

I wanted my team to win. And if I knew that one of my team's players was breaking the law to help improve his performance (and hence my team's chances of winning) I wouldn't be saying anything unless the violation was also so enormously egregious that I couldn't tolerate it.

Using performance enhancing drugs? No, that violation doesn't cross the line I'm talking about.

It is wrong.

It was wrong when it was running rampant throughout clubhouses.

But the reason it's such a big issue has nothing to do with the players violating the policy. The real reason it's so horrible is about all of the people, especially the children, who don't become an All-Star but who are forced to use drugs that will irreparably damage their lives to pursue a dream of becoming a professional athlete.

I love sports, in particular baseball, but I'm not willing to accept a situation where we set up children to ruin their lives by forcing them to use drugs.

That crosses the line.

That's why I want the use of steroids or any other performance enhancing drugs banned with very harsh penalties for those convicted of violating the rules. But as a baseball fan, I don't want to even discuss whether Big Papi (or Manny Ramirez or Alex Rodriguez or Mark McGwire) used steroids.

It doesn't matter. It's over. Let's move on... to this year's World Series, where a drug-free Ryan Howard hits a grand slam off a drug-free Jonathan Papelbon in Game 4 to win the Series for the Phillies.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Next Deal

The Cliff Lee trade leaves the Phillies with an embarrassment of riches.

They now have seven starting pitchers projected to pitch in the majors in August: Lee, Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, JA Happ, Jamie Moyer, Rodrigo Lopez, and the still-rehabbing Pedro Martinez.

Since there's never been a surplus of pitching in Major League Baseball, it's virtually guaranteed that Lopez, a journeyman who's pitched well since replacing the best-named pitcher in baseball, Antonio Bastardo, who also pitched well until he was injured after replacing the still-injured Brett Myers (Yeah, the fifth spot in the Phillies rotation has seen more occupants than a seen on Septa's El during rush hour.) that Lopez will be shipped out of town.

So, the irony can't be missed that despite all of this chaos--which itself is an incomplete picture of all of the moves the Phillies have had to make with their rotation (anybody remember Andrew Carpenter's spot start?)--the Phillies nonetheless find themselves in the position of being able to be a seller in the trade market before Friday's trade deadline. And they're offering up that most elusive quantity...a proven, healthy starting pitcher with Major League experience and in the midst of a career year.

Farewell, Rodrigo Lopez!

We barely got to know you. Your 3.09 ERA is almost a half run better than your previous career-best of 3.57 with the Orioles in 2002. And it's hard to ask more of an ace (let alone a fifth starter) than to go 3-0 in four starts.

What more could you have done?

Nothing. But that's beside the point.

You re-established your career, and you're about to receive a reward for that. You're about to become the centerpiece of a trade deadline deal that will send you to someone direly in need of a fifth starter (last I checked that was about 29 of the 30 teams in baseball) who have an expendable Triple A catchier because that's the one area that yesterday's trade opened up in the Phillies system.

And it truly says something about the changes to the Phillies organization that a blockbuster trade at the deadline to acquire the previous year's Cy Young award winner, said trade including two top pitching prospects, that that type of deal doesn't leave the Phillies light in pitching depth. Instead, it was the loss of Lou Marson, who appears likely to inherit Victor Martinez's spot behind the dish in Cleveland, that is going to have the greatest ramifications for the Phillies.

While Chooch Ruiz and Paul Bako are fine for now with the major league team, you can't expect Ruben Amaro, Jr. to go into a penant run with no back-up at Triple A for the second-most precarious position in baseball (second only to starting pitching).

So, goodbye, Lopez. I wish you well, and I'm really anxious to see how highly other teams view you. Tonight's start will almost certainly be your last for the Phillies, but that doesn't mean it's your last contribution to this year's team.

The catcher you bring in return could easily wind up playing a crucial role in what's turning into the most exciting Phillies season since...well, since last year.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Deal

Let me preface this post by being one of the only bloggers to admit that I have no clue what actually happened between the Phillies, Blue Jays, and Indians in the past few days or weeks.

One way or another, the Phillies today announced a trade to acquire the Indians' Cliff Lee in return for Single A pitcher Jason Knapp, Triple A pitcher Carlos Carrasco, Triple A shortstop Jason Donald, and Triple A catcher Lou Marson.

Providing context, the Phillies have been for viewed by all major media outlets (and rumormongering bloggers like me) as the heavy favorite to add Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays ever since Toronto GM Ricciardi announced his willingness to trade Halladay a few weeks ago.

Whether the Phillies were ever serious contenders for Halladay, whether Ricciardi ever truly intended to trade Halladay, whether the Indians were lucky to get as much as they got or could have gotten far, far more....these are fascinating questions for baseball geeks like me. I'd gladly read a large book about these things. But these are also very complicated questions about negotiations and baseball evaluations and priorities and human emotions of fear and desire and the dreams of millions of fans (including me) for another parade down Broad Street.

So, for the moment (until that very large book is written), you and I have to content ourselves with this very uninformed, and short blog post.

And I feel obligated to limit this post to a discussion of what actually happened.

What happened is phenomenal.

Ruben Amaro, Jr. is a genius.

He managed to address the Phillies' two primary gaps: a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher and a right-handed bat off the bench without giving up a single player from the current major league ballclub or even giving up the one of the top "untouchable" prospects from the minors.

I'm not trying to diminish what the Indians have received. I think they got one hell of a haul. I've always been suspicious of pitchers who are head cases (among the classic examples for the Phillies are Vicente Padilla and Brett Myers) and Carrasco is allegedly another one. Sometimes, they come through, but most often, their physical skills are overwhelmed by their mental deficits.

So, I'm willing to watch Carrasco go, and maybe he turns out to be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but we get last year's Cy Young winner in return.

Lou Marson? Well, as I said in a previous post, I'm convinced that Marson is ready for the bigs.

Jason Knapp? I'm just not willing to project guys that far out. Veteran baseball guys get paid the big bucks to do that. To me, Knapp is a hope and a prayer.

Jason Donald? By all accounts, this was a journeyman kinda guy for a long time who seemed to catch fire last year at Double A and hasn't done much at Triple A. Maybe he's a regular in the big leagues. Or maybe not.

By any reasonable assessment, that's a lot that the Indians received.

But the Phillies got




They also go a right-handed bat off the bench.

This is baseball, so nothing guarantees nothing. I don't know whether the Phillies will win the World Series this year (but this atheist is praying hard for it). What I do know is that Ruben Amaro, Jr. has significantly improved his team's chances for doing so.

And in doing so, he did not sacrifice any of the pieces (see yesterday's post) that everybody thought he'd have to give up to do so.

I like this team. After today, I like this General Manager even more.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Roy Halladay

The name says it all. Fans drool uncontrollably at the prospect of adding Doc Halladay to the top of the Phillies rotation.

And I admit that I'm as excited by the idea as everyone else, but I'm not willing to ignore the cost completely.

Trade Kyle Drabek? Sure.

Sorry, but I'm interested in another trophy, and 20 years from now, when we're looking at the third trophy in the Phillies case, we'll talk about how tough it was to give away the future Hall-of-Famer Drabek, but that it was the right decision to shore up an unreliable rotation.

I don't doubt that Drabek is as good as the press and Phillies staff seem to think he is. I do, however, think that when you're projecting the future of a prospect with a Tommy John surgery under his belt, you have to be cautious. Doc Halladay is the closest thing to a sure-thing there is. For him, I'd trade Drabek.

Trade Dominic Brown? Sure.

Five tools at Single A have a habit of turning into one or two tools in the bigs, if they ever make it. Again, I'm accepting all of the evaluations as accurate, I'm just not willing to give up on Halladay to keep a possibility that far from the starting line-up.

Trade J.A. Happ? No way.

I understand Happ's value as an older player is significantly lower than Drabek's to baseball professionals, but this guy is having a phenomenal season. Adding Halladay to a rotation that features last year's World Series MVP and this season's Rookie of the Year candidate, comes as close to making another parade down Broad Street a reality a surething as you can get.

I also keep coming back to the differential. What's the added value of Halladay over Happ in the rotation?

During the regular season, you're talking maybe one or two aditional wins. And given how pathetic the rest of the division is, that's not likely to make difference in winning the division or affect seeding for the postseason.

So, the trade is solely for the postseason.

OK, then let's copare the rotations. In the postseason, you're only going to roll out four starters barring injury. So we're comparing

Halladay, Hamels, Blanton, Happ
Halladay, Hamels, Blanton, Moyer/Martinez

I love Jamie Moyer, think he's been an amazing player. He adds real value in the clubhouse and in the dugout. And lately there have been glimers of him regaining some of the form he had last year.

But no pitcher in baseball is more reliant on the umpire behind the plate. Give Jamie an extra inch inside and out, and he's a completely different pitcher. I'm actually surprised that Charlie hasn't started juggling his rotation precisely to align Moyer with certain umps.

You can't rely on that.

Will Pedro Martinez return to the majors with a chip on his shoulder and an extra five miles an hour on his fastball? Not likely.

I see a significant difference between Moyer and Happ come postseason. So, if the Phillies can add Halladay without giving up Happ, do it. Ship Drabek, Brown, and a few additional bodies north of the border. Just bring back a horse who's willing to sit at the front of the parade.