Sometimes it seems baseball can’t win for losing. Hot on the heels of the most exciting September and last day of the season, perhaps ever, and a nail-biting World series; fresh off the signing of a new labour deal ensuring labour peace for another five years while the NBA miss still more scheduled dates due to their feud; with all this, Major League Baseball finds itself with another scandal on its hands. Thanks a lot, Ryan Braun!
Sometimes referred to as the best player under the age of 30, a 2005 first round draft pick sporting a .311 lifetime average and and an average of some 39 homers per 162 games played, Braun is a poster child for all that baseball wants to be. Young, photogenic, skills improving constantly, happily signed on to a long term deal with a small market team, and last month, the winner of the NL MVP award. What could go wrong with that?
Well, of course, a failed drug test could. What started as rumours only days ago now appear confirmed; Braun failed a drug test during the NLDS against Arizona. Braun’s spokesman doesn’t even particularly contradict that fact, he just notes that “there are highly unusual circumstances” and that there was “absolutely no intentional violation of the program” by his client. Which sounds uncomfortably close to a lawyer trying to explain away his client’s DUI by saying that he didn’t know the ten drinks he quoffed were doubles rather than singles.
Insiders say not only did Braun fail, he failed spectacularly. Richard Griffin , long time baseball scribe for the Toronto star claims that Braun’s sample was tested a failed by two different labs although that a test three weeks later was clear. The New York Daily News reports that the level of artificial testosterone was “twice the level of the highest test” previously.
He is appealing his forthcoming 50 game suspension, but should he win, it would be a first. No player has successfully appealed a failed drug test in the sport.
The question which I asked right away is being repeated throuhout the baseball world: if he indeed failed a drug test during playoff games , only days after voting for the MVP Award closed, should he be stripped of the award? Alas the answer seems clear. Hello Mr MVP by default, Matt Kemp.
It was bad enough when Alex Rodriguez admitted years after the fact that he had taken steroids while playing with the Rangers . Jays fans fumed about the 2003 award and petitioned to get then Toronto first baseman Carlos Delgado (that years runner-up) named the winner. But Rodriguez never failed any test at that time and was playing in a situtation where rules were laxer in 03. Braun is well aware of the new, stringent rules and one has to believe, if he was guilty in the first week of the post-season, he was in all likelihood guilty during at least some weeks of the regular season. He doesn’t deserve to be awarded , particularly in a season when the vote was fairly close anyway.
The sad part of the spectacle is that MLB is being bashed again. People turn a blind eye to the unnatural behemoths found in pseudo-sports like the UFC and “ rasslin’ “ , sweep under the carpet comments from retired NHL-ers like George Larocque who tell of rampant performance-enhancing AND illegal street drug abuse in the NHL and wag their fingers at baseball.
Fact is, baseball is the only sport really trying to combat the problem and set a good example for kids. The very fact that Braun, a superstar playing for the team formerly run by the Commish, was outed when he failed a test shows that they are serious about cleaning up the problem. So did the public admission of one-time superstar Manny Ramirez’ two failed tests . The game isn’t trying to hide superstar cheats in order to continue to sell tickets based on individual players’ charisma.
The failed drug test of Ryan Braun should be viewed as a failure, a major error, by a talented young player. But it should also be seen as a victory for the sport itself. It’s policies are working.
I suppose we need to wait til spring training to see the roster the Blue Jays take down to Dunedin, but it’s getting harder and harder to get behind Alex Anthopolous’ vision for the team. No one really expected him to go on a drunken sailor spree like the Marlins and Angels have this off-season, but given late season comments from Paul Beeston on behalf of the owner, most had hoped for something. Something to show the Jays were serious about getting better, fixing the holes which sunk them in 2011 and taking advantage of both the extra wildcard spot and turmoil in the Red Sox nation. Instead we have nada.
Miami fans have a new superstar shortstop, the second best #2 starter in the game (conceding that Cliff Lee would be the best second best) and a shiny new All-star closer. The Angels bolstered their spotty hitting with one of the best ever hitters and supplemented their great pitching with yet another great pitcher, at the same time kicking sand in the face of their divisional rivals, Texas, that he bolted from. Even our small spending divisional rivals, Tampa , have a nice new catcher—err, yeah, Jose Molina formerly of Toronto. The Jays have to show for it Sergio Santos, to be our closer (a guy who was a shortstop in our own minor league system four years back) and now Ben Francisco—a backup outfielder.
It’s not that the Jays gave up an adequately promising young lefty pitcher, Frank Gailey, to land Francisco. Gailey is at least a couple of years away from the Bigs, and as Anthopolous himself told reporters last week “you can look at Baseball America Top 30 list (of prospects) and know not all 30 will make the majors”. Nor is it that they in turn took another young pitcher, jesse Chavez, off the 40 man roster to make room for the veteran bench warming Francisco. The problem is that there seemed no need at all for a player of his ilk in the Jays organization- and if there is a need, it merely confirms what fans like me have been suggesting. That we are being duped as to the talent level of the existing roster.
Francisco, the team tells us, is an outfielder “who’s hit left handers pretty well in the past” and he “gives us flexibility against tough left-handers.” Well, one can argue over that but can’t argue that Rajai Davis, Eric Thames, Colby Rasmus, Travis Snider and hot prospect Athony Gose was already an excess of outfielders vying to share the terrain with Jose Bautista. Why in the world do we need to add yet another ?
Of course, maybe it is just setting up another trade. But Alex A denies that. He instead points to Francisco’s hitting prowess- a .261 career average against southpaws, including a .245 clip last year. In 2011 overall he hit .244 with six homers in 250 AB. Pretty marginal numbers, unless you compare them to those of Rasmus and Snider, both of whom hit .225 last year, Snider with only a .348 slugging pct. Those two lefties , managed to hit all of .215 and .116 against left handed pitchers respectively. Even everyday playing Eric Thames failed to match Ben’s meager numbers against lefties. Which all suggests perhaps not so much that the team needed Ben Francisco, but rather they need to jettison Rasmus and Snider- and fast!
It’s looking like it will indeed be a Blue Christmas for jays fans this year. Compared to the All-star game roster, the Jays are now undeniably a weaker, less competitive team. Jeff mathis replaces Jose Molina; a defensive tradeoff but significant drop-off in hitting; Kelly Johnson has replaced Aaron Hill, approximately an equal value move but Mark Teahen is no John McDonald as a backup infielder nor fan favourite. Teahen at over $5 million is a boat anchor for the team.
Ben Francisco and Colby Rasmus might equal Corey Patterson and Adam Loewen, but i’m not convinced of it. The everyday starting rotation is the same, but future prospects are not as bright with the loss of Nestor Molina and Zach Stewart. But the real crime is the already lacklustre bullpen. Since the All star game, the Jays have waved ‘bye bye’ to jason Frasor, Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel, Jesse Carlson and Mark Rzepcynski. They’ve added sergio Santos to the mix. Anyone else see how this is going to cut the number of blown saves in 2012?
Bob Elliott of the Sun noted this weekend that no matter what the merits of the Jays current system, the “problem Anthopolous faces is getting fans on his timetable.” Indeed. I’m starting to think that the thing most Jays are going to hope for under their tree is not Prince Fielder nor Yu Darvish in a stylish new Jays jersey, but a brand new GM to run the team in time for April.