Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Breaking Down the Mitchell Report

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the Mitchell Report leading up to its release. I didn’t know much about George Mitchell (other than he was a former senator with ties to the Red Sox), but I knew plenty about our good friend Bud Selig. Mr. Selig’s track record in dealing with steroids has been less than stellar in the past, so my expectations for the report were fairly low. I don’t think many people were expecting a lot of new information or any big names to end up in the final draft; who had Mitchell been talking to with that kind of information? The inclusion of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Miguel Tejada, and others seemed to catch everyone off-guard and has been the main attraction thus far (more on that later).

On the New Drug Policy

I watched Mitchell’s press conference live and came away impressed with what was outlined by the lead author of the report. In his speech, Mitchell presented the keystones of the new drug policy he created for Major League Baseball. I’ve highlighted the ideas behind the proposed drug policy found in the report:

1.) The Commissioner’s Office should place a higher priority on investigations based on “non-testing” evidence. This means following up on those warning signs and rumors of use that were ignored by baseball executives, staff, and players in the past. These investigations could be discreet and anonymous, but the knowledge that a player could be reported by his peers for cheating may act as a strong deterrent to many would-be dopers. At the very least, illegal substances would be pushed out of Major League clubhouses, which is a positive step in preventing their use from spreading amongst players.

Mitchell suggested a Department of Investigations within MLB, the formation of an anonymous tip hotline, increased cooperation with law enforcement officials investigating illegal drug use, and an improvement of the communication of each MLB club’s drug policy to its players.

2.) MLB should improve their anti-doping educational programs. A better educational program on the damaging effects and risks of doping to a player’s health and career could prevent players on the brink from making a poor decision. Many players are tempted to cheat, but could also choose to forgo illegal substances if they were properly informed. The educational program would be expanded to reach young athletes outside of MLB, as well.

It is suggested that clubs present the risks of doping to their players during spring training through testimonials. MLB currently uses player and expert testimonials to discourage gambling by its players and could use a similar program for doping. In the report, Dr. Jay Hoffman (PED expert) proposes a program that provides players with effective alternatives to PED use through safe and legal supplements, nutrition, and training. Players may not always respond to the negative health warnings, since they may not know anyone who has experienced these effects first-hand. This stubborn attitude makes knowledge of other options important for young players. Ethical and moral consequences should also be paired with the potentially devastating effects PEDs may have on a player's reputation and career.

3.) MLB’s drug testing policy should be executed by an independent testing agency. The best way enforce a world-class drug testing policy is to hand over the administrative work and actual testing to a professional organization. Independent testing would also add an efficiency, legitimacy, and parity to the results that MLB has not had before. The program should also be transparent to the public in the form of reports and audits, while maintaining the players’ privacy.

It is recommended that the new policy be active year round and employ “best practices as they develop” to keep up with the constantly evolving market for illegal performance enhancing substances.

The above information can be found under the Recommendations section starting on page 285 of the Mitchell Report (pg. 333 of the PDF file).

As I said, I came away satisfied with the new drug policy Mitchell proposed. The primary elements of the policy are based on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) current code. WADA oversees the anti-doping policy administered for the Olympic Games and is viewed as the international standard for monitoring and preventing illegal substance use among athletes.

If the Commissioner’s Office and the Players’ Association can find a way to embrace Mitchell’s recommendations, baseball will have one of the premier anti-doping policies in professional sports. That would be quite a legacy for Bud Selig to leave behind and I think he is aware of how such a policy could dull his current public image as the Commissioner of the Steroid Era. The proposed policy would also place a definitive barrier in baseball history between the past era and the future.

I think the significance of the Mitchell Report has been understated thus far; people seem to forget who ordered the investigation in the first place. I know the release of the report is only the first step, but the fact that Selig has officially endorsed the report and stated on the public record that there is/was significant steroid use in baseball is a big deal. Selig may have been prodded by Congress and he still runs for cover every time a question about asterisks is tossed his way, but you can’t fix a problem without admitting it exists first. If you can buy the comparison, consider the Mitchell Report that first step towards baseball’s rehab.

On the Players Named

Just to be clear, I do not feel any pity for the large majority of players named in the report (Brian Roberts is one of the few that causes me to question his inclusion; ed. until he admitted to actually using steroids on Tuesday). What they (allegedly) did was wrong and often illegal and they knew better going in. Every player named in the report also had the opportunity to talk with Mitchell and his people well before any information was publicly released; most declined. Therefore, I don’t really give a damn what Roger Clemens and his lawyer have to say. With allegations this serious, why didn’t he discuss the matter with Mitchell beforehand? Did he think he would never get caught? Clemens is certainly entitled to try and clear his name, but I’d like to know where he was during the investigation. Other players have also attempted to backtrack on past statements or actions to counter their inclusion in the Mitchell Report.

That said, I think the media has been irresponsible in their handling of the players named in the report. During his initial press conference, Mitchell emphasized (perhaps more than any other point) that the players named in the report should not be the focus of his work. Mitchell pleaded with the public and the press to keep the names in context and focus on the most important part of the report: the new anti-doping policies. The amount of coverage devoted to the policy recommendations has made up just a fraction of the overall coverage surrounding the Mitchell Report (and that’s being generous).

It’s unfortunate no one is heeding Mitchell’s advice to move forward and stop dredging the past. I understand the public’s fascination with the players named, but I feel like they’re missing the point. Mitchell included the names to achieve full disclosure with his report. He stated one of his early goals was to be as open and honest as possible with the information presented to him and he would have fallen short by withholding the player’s names. The names also act as evidence to reinforce the purported activities of the Steroid Era. Attaching actual names to these acts gives leverage to those who must negotiate with the Player’s Association in the future and provides a degree of closure to the investigation.

There’s a good chance that the media would have dug up the names anyway, so at least this way Mitchell was able to offer the players involved a chance to set the record straight before publication. I can’t emphasize this fact enough; every player involved had a chance to speak with Mitchell well before the report was published. They declined.

If the number of players using PEDs was actually in the 50-70% range, it would have been impossible to name even half of those players. Does it make any difference who was named? Would certain people still be outraged if super-stars like Clemens and Pettitte were excluded from the list? They may be the whipping boys right now, but someone had to take the fall. The risk of getting caught was there for everyone; some guys just got unlucky.

The fact that they were discovered and named in the report does not change the fact that what they did was wrong. The circumstances of discovery do not change the crime. I almost feel like the individual names listed are irrelevant; they would have served the same purpose no matter what players happened to be caught at the end of the day. PED use was rampant in baseball, from elite players like Clemens and Tejada to bench players that no one has given a second thought to. It’s interesting to think what the report’s impact may have been if it just listed mediocre, no-name players.

Mitchell encouraged the Commissioner to forego discipline of players who used PEDs before baseball had a punishable drug policy in place. Mitchell placed a stern emphasis on baseball moving forward by heeding his policy recommendations. Even the law states an employer can not discipline an employee for past infractions if the rule did not exist at the time.

Selig chose to ignore Mitchell’s advice as soon as he took the podium. Selig made it very clear that he would be taking action against active players who were named in the report. I feel the best way for baseball to respond to the Mitchell Report would be to embrace the anti-doping policy outlined and continue to distance itself from the past. The damage has already been done to the players’ reputations; dragging out the process through disciplinary action would be a poor choice at this point.


Tribe pitcher Paul Byrd met with MLB officials on Monday to discuss his HGH use. Byrd's use of HGH was apparently under a prescription for a pre-existing medical condition and was known to the Indians before they activated Byrd's contract option for 2008. MLB has given Byrd a chance to talk before an official decision is made, due to his openness on the issue and medical records. Tribe fans should know the final decision on Byrd soon.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Memphis Blues

The annual GM meetings have come and gone, but not before altering the balance of power in the AL Central. Detroit sold the farm (literally) to acquire two guaranteed years each of Miguel Cabrera, Edgar Renteria and Dontrelle Willis. This deal has been analyzed to death by now, but I guess I should throw my hat in the ring for you, the esteemed reader.

First of all, this is a pretty obvious "win now" approach by Detroit. In one offseason, Detroit shipped out Jair Jurrjens, Andrew Miller, Cameron Maybin and a mess of other lesser prospects. I'm not sure what the Tiger's front office thought of Jurrjens, but I know Atlanta must have thought pretty highly of him to trade Renteria with two years left on his contract. Tribe fans may remember Jurrjens from his 2-1 win against Carmona in late August; a game where I came away very frustrated (read, impressed) with the rookie. Miller and Maybin were the undisputed crown jewels of Detroit's farm system for the immediate future. The Tigers sacrificed long-term organizational depth for short-term dividends.

Many fans have been quick to point out Detroit's aging roster as motivation to make the blockbuster trade now and I agree with this point. Miguel Cabrera (24) and Curtis Granderson (26) are the only starters on Detroit's roster below the age of 30. In that regard, I at least understand where Detroit is coming from, although I don't entirely agree with the move from a philosophical standpoint. Such a sweeping trade is better suited to an aging team like Detroit than a youthful contender like Cleveland, so maybe that's where my bias lies. Some of their key players, like Rodriguez and Sheffield, have already shown a decline in performance or an increasing risk of injury. They may stink in a few years, but the Tigers are going for the throat the next few seasons.

The interesting thing is that even if Detroit suddenly emerges as this Divisional monster and blocks Cleveland from the playoffs (/knocks on wood), they'll still have to contend with Boston (who may have Santana in a year) and New York (who may just purchase the Dominican Republic at some point), in addition to the Tribe. Not exactly a guaranteed Series appearance, is it ESPN? Meanwhile, Cleveland has a much younger team with their core players under contract longer than Cabrera, Renteria, or those other geezers will be (productive) in the Motor City. That's all too far down the road to predict, but it's something to think about in terms of Detroit's much ballyhooed "win now" approach.

Second, just how much will Cabrera and Renteria actually help Detroit next season? Let's take a look at the production from the positions they will be replacing (stats cited from Baseball Reference and Baseball Prospectus):

Player Position EQA OPS+ WARP2
C. Guillen SS (old) .282 123 7.0
E. Renteria SS (new) .298 125 7.4

B. Inge 3B (old) .238 80 6.0
M. Cabrera 3B (new) .319 150 11.2

S. Casey 1B (old) .254 96 2.4
C. Guillen 1B (new) .282 123 7.0

With Guillen moving from SS to 1B in 2008, Detroit essentially traded for Renteria to upgrade 1B. In that sense, the Tigers made a significant upgrade, but only at one position. Guillen and Renteria were similar players in 2007. Renteria may be overrated going into next season though, since he has posted an OPS+ over 115 only one other time in his career (2003). I don't think it's realistic to expect him to do nearly as well as he did in '07, given the disparity between the NL West and AL Central.

Now before you start stressing out about how ridiculous Cabrera's numbers are, put them in context. Several key members of the Tigers' offense will not be as hot as they were last season. I would be shocked if Ordonez is able to duplicate his MVP caliber season next year. Sheffield has health and age issues, while Renteria's been discussed above. Even Placido Polanco had a career year in 2007, so fat chance of him repeating a performance he's done only once before in his career (notice the trend yet?). Granted, it's not a stretch for several of these guys to perform at a high level in 2008, but it's not as bad as it sounds for the rest of the Central (except for the White Sox because they are going to be horrible. Don't choke Ozzie!).

I think the problem is people are acting like Cabrera will be plugged into Detroit's lineup circa 2007, which just isn't true. Baseball rarely works in a linear fashion like that; player and team performance evolves annually. Granted, offensive production is not as volatile as bullpen pitching for example, but I still don't feel too far off the mark given the makeup of the Tiger's lineup. Cabrera will bring some heavy-duty offense to Detroit, but at the same time, many aspects of Detroit's lineup should regress back to their normal numbers.

Now, as far as Dontrelle Willis goes, Tribe fans have nothing to worry about. Show me that beautiful table:

2005 34 236.3 2.63 .352 .42 1.13 3.09
2006 34 223.3 3.87 .397 .85 1.42 1.92
2007 35 205.3 5.17 .477 1.27 1.60 1.67

Willis has been in free fall the past two seasons. Not only has his strikeout to walk ratio crashed, but he's been getting hit hard. Poor control and an opposition slugging .477 against is a dangerous combination. Willis' decline wasn't particularly gradual either; a 22 win ace in 2005 and a 5.17 ERA two years later?

Part of the D-Train's decline can be attributed to his change in mechanics over the years; the reasons behind these changes are less clear. Carlos Gomez breaks down Willis' mechanics in a great article at THT here. Whatever the problem, Detroit is going to have to fix it if Willis is going to survive pitching in the American League. I'm guessing the Tigers are confident in their ability to resuscitate Willis' past performance as an ace because right now he doesn't appear to be much of an upgrade over the potential stud they gave up in Andrew Miller, or even the promising Jurrjens.

I may be in the minority on this, but I just don't see Detroit surpassing Cleveland in overall talent with this trade. They certainly pulled a lot closer, but I can't believe people are calling the division already, give me a break.

The worst thing Cleveland could have done was to make a knee-jerk reaction to Detroit's trades. Jason Bay? Really? I was against the idea of trading for Bay. I don't see him bouncing back from such a huge decline in performance and I think he is done as an elite hitter. If Bay's reported knee issues are the root of the problem, that's just another reason not to invest a boatload of talent in him via trade. It seems someone's not telling the whole truth here because 28 year old athletes don't usually crash and burn for an entire season like that. No one seems to know the reason why he appears to have suddenly hit a wall, which is suspicious in its own right. I'm not going to go there though, since it would be pure speculation. The fact is, Cleveland avoided a foolish reactionary trade and they are better off for it.

The best thing Cleveland could do to "respond" to Detroit is to extend Sabathia this offseason. As much as I would like to see left field upgraded, Sabathia is still the Tribe's priority at the negotiating table right now.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Heir to the Bench

John McDonald. Lou Merloni. Joe Inglett. Mike Rouse. The Tribe has had a long line of distinguished, yet fleeting, utility infielders over the years. Who will be honored with the title of Defensive Specialist this season?

Apparently, it's former Colorado second baseman Jamey Carroll. Cleveland traded for Carroll on Saturday in exchange for a minor league player to be named. Carroll is 33 and saw the majority of his time at second and third base over 109 appearances, with 55 starts in 2007. According to Cot's, he will be paid $2.15 million in 2008 and has a $2.5 million club option for 2009 with a $.15 million buyout. Carroll will be replacing Chris Gomez, who was picked up off waivers from Baltimore last season. Gomez signed with Pittsburgh for $1 million this offseason.

Gomez's offense was never anything to write home about, even for a utility guy (.325 OBP, 83 OPS+ in 240 PA for 2007). In that sense, Carroll's poor numbers at the plate should not be a burden, since what he's replacing isn't significant and he won't be asked to start many games anyway. Carroll's best season came in 2006 when he posted a .377 OBP and 94 OPS+ in 534 PA (he was Colorado's starting second baseman in '06). 2007 saw a precipitous drop-off in offense for Carroll, with a .317 OBP and 56 OPS+ in 268 PA. Considering he played in an extreme hitters park (Coors Field) and the National League, this is a pretty dramatic trend. Again, don't expect any production offensively; we didn't pick this guy up for his splits.

Below is a comparison between Carroll and a league average second baseman in 2007 (RFg = range factor):

Carroll: .992 FP -- 4.08 RFg
AL Avg.: .986 FP -- 4.54 RFg
NL Avg.: .984 FP -- 4.23 RFg

Carroll's defense seems solid enough and he has a reputation for good range at his natural position. I don't anticipate any problems out of second this season (Cabrera is rumored to be the starter with Barfield in AAA), which is good because I don't have any faith in Carroll as a starter for any stretch due to his offense. The Tribe's depth/insurance at second base consists of Cabrera and Barfield. Carroll's just a part-time infielder and possible pinch runner.

Trading for Carroll sounded like an odd thing to do. It just seemed excessive to give up a player and pay over $2 mil for a bench player on an already crowded roster. He probably makes about a million dollars more than your average utility guy and has a rapidly declining offense. I guess there's not much point in nitpicking though, since Carroll is adequate for the role he'll be given. There aren't any players in Buffalo that I'd be campaigning to fill out the bench either (not including Marte and Cabrera, who I hope to see with Cleveland regardless).

Carroll does have one thing going for him though. Before the trade was even made official he had already picked up the nickname of "Gritty Jesus," due to his very public religious preferences. I wish I could take credit, but the fine folks at LGT are responsible for that one. Best. Nickname. Ever.


The Cavs have lost 6 in a row, with their latest defeat coming at the hands of the Bobcats. LeBron hasn't played since November 28 because of a sprained left index finger. Coincidentally, Cleveland hasn't won since James left the lineup. The King, and Cleveland's only hope to ever win again, had this to say in Saturday's Plain Dealer:
Teams better get their wins now against us. They're talking trash against us now because we have guys out. But when we get our guys back, it's going to be a different story.
Hang in there Cavs fans.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

LeBron's Finger, Varejao's "Surprise," and Kidd's Man-Crush

The Cavs have been an elusive team thus far. Every time they give the fans something to get excited about (like an OT win over Boston), the injury bug finds a way to stifle their cheers. LeBron injured his left index finger against Detroit on Wednesday. The finger was sprained on an innocent looking foul in the second quarter, with James sitting out the second half. According to an ESPN article, “the team says James is day to day, [but] the Cavaliers likely will be overly cautious with the injury so he doesn't make it worse.”

Resting James is a no-brainer at this point in the season. Sprains have a tendency to get worse if you don’t give them enough time to heal, so the injury itself is frustrating. Given James’ aggressive playing style, even if he was able to favor his right hand in shooting and dribbling, his mobility and passing ability would be far from 100%. His aggressive playing style would just lead to a re-injury anyway.

The Cavaliers were coming off a four game winning streak before falling to Detroit and Toronto. Their next game is against Boston on Sunday and James is going to be game-time decision. If his finger isn’t close to a full recovery, I don’t think he should play yet. It’s good that the Cavs think they can beat Boston for the second time in a week, but the outlook doesn’t look good, even with James. Live to fight another day, I say.

On James’ Hot Start

Everybody knows LeBron has been at the top of his game this season. He leads the league in points per game with 30.7 (Kobe is second with 27.6) and is seventh in assists with 8.1. Just how impressive is that? James is currently the only player to be in the top 10 in the league in scoring and assists. Like Kobe Bryant in L.A., James has had to carry his team on his shoulders this season, but unlike Kobe, he has displayed a balanced attack that makes him even scarier to deal with.

Columnist Marc Stein on James:

A trip to the NBA Finals and a Team USA summer spent alongside the maniacally driven Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd appear to have tweaked James' approach. Throw out an Opening Night no-show against Dallas -- "It looked like he didn't want to play that night," one Mavs foe suggested, surmising that James still was upset Cleveland was starting the season with Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic unsigned -- and he has played at the highest possible level.

How high? With four triple-doubles (and two near-misses with nine assists) in a span of 12 games for a depth-challenged team that got no deeper in the offseason, James has put himself on pace to possibly join Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson as the only players in history to average 30 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in a season.

After witnessing the King of Akron decimate Detroit in the Conference Finals, it’s easy to see how James’ maturity and experience have helped him elevate his game lately. It’s almost crazy to think LeBron can get even better at this point, but he seems to be on the brink, if he’s not there already.

I was curious how James’ outstanding start to ’07 compared to past seasons. Below are the splits for the first month of James’ first five NBA seasons:

Year G Min FG% 3PT% FT% R Ast PPG
2003 17 41:00 40.0 22.6 65.6 7 6.4 17.5
2004 14 41:00 51.5 35.7 77.1 7.8 6.1 26.3
2005 14 39:53 48.9 35.1 81.8 6 4.5 28.4
2006 15 40:36 47.0 36.1 71.2 6.8 6.7 27.5
2007 16 39:47 48.6 32.9 70.6 7.6 8.1 30.7

The numbers indicate LeBron really has gotten off to the best start of his career. His overall production in points per game, assists, and rebounds have all taken significant jumps, while his field goal and three point percentages are slightly better than his career averages. Whether James can sustain such outstanding production has yet to be determined with less than a quarter of the season under wraps. I don’t think many people would be surprised if he did post Oscar Robertson numbers though.

It’s interesting that such a spike in production has come this season, on one of the weaker teams James has played on. Has he just been getting more opportunities because some of his teammates (especially the bench) have been doing so poorly? Has the coaching staff reconfigured the offense to allow James more control over the court? Or has his game moved to the next level, as indicated above? It’s too early to tell, but at least the King is giving Cavs fans something to cheer about in what has the makings of a long winter.

On Varejao

Quite frankly, this situation got stupid a long time ago. And then this little gem came out on ESPN:

"I wanted to come back," [Varejao] said. "I love the fans and I really love my teammates. But there are others there that have made it very difficult. It's gotten to the point that I don't want to play there anymore. I'm just hoping for a sign-and-trade at this point."

Really? You don’t want to play in Cleveland anymore? Gee, I never would have guessed.

Based on the information presented, both sides screwed up royally during the negotiating period; trouble is, no one wants to admit they screwed up. The trouble started when the Cavs refused to offer Varejao a midlevel (starting at $5.356 million per season) salary. Varejao proceeded to reject the team’s five year, $32 million offer. That’s $6.4 million per year, which should have been more than enough (the language indicates the first contract year would have been below the requested midlevel salary). That’s just what the article says, I never said it made any sense. To make matters worse, Danny Ferry flew out to Brazil to try and spring a surprise negotiation on Varejao without his agent present. Terrible, terrible idea.

The Cavs can probably swing a sign-and-trade now that the teams that were scared off by Cleveland’s threat to match any offer for their restricted free agent are void. I’d be satisfied if the Cavs picked up a draft pick and a decent bench player. My expectations aren’t very optimistic though, as the whole situation stinks.

On Kidd

SI.com had an interesting article on Jason Kidd the other day. Apparently, he would be very open to playing in Cleveland with LeBron:

Kidd admits that he and James daydream about contending for championships together in Cleveland.

While Kidd maintained that he won't involve himself in publicly asking for a trade, he had no problem in spelling out his admiration for LeBron.

The article is basically one big love-fest between Kidd and James. Hanging out with a premier veteran player is great for a young superstar like LeBron. Especially if that player churns out points and assists like butter. Hmmm... One would hope the Cavs’ GM at least inquired about Kidd in the offseason. If not, it might not be a bad idea to give New Jersey a call.

There are some obvious problems in trying to trade for Kidd. First off, he’s 34 years old and has a fair share of nagging injuries to worry about. Second, his contract would be difficult to fit under the salary cap. Kidd is owed $19.7 million this year and $21.4 million next season before his current contract is up. He’d be worth the money, in my opinion, but I don’t see how the Cavs make the economics work without moving Larry Hughes first (please?). Finally, what do the Cavs have to offer to the Nets? Well, there’s Varejao. And….draft picks? The article surmises as much, but putting together a package for Jason Kidd would require some tough sacrifices by the Cavs that may not be in the best interests of the team.

The Cavs seem to be constantly walking the fine line between improving the team (and keeping LeBron happy) without crippling the franchise down the road (missing the draft for the second year in a row might not help in that department). The inability of the GM to deal with pressure from both ends of this spectrum may have cost the Cavs some opportunities lately. By the time the Cavs decide to make a move to acquire some heavy-duty help, it may end up as more of a band-aid than anything else.