Browsing Archive January, 2011

Mike Piazza and the Steroid Issue

If you missed it, loyal MetsToday commenter “Walnutz15” unearthed a New York Times article from 2002 that collected responses from New York baseball players regarding the then-recently published Sports Illustrated story focused on Ken Caminiti and steroids in MLB.

To refresh your memory (or add to it, depending on your age), SI published a controversial story about steroids in baseball (written by Tom Verducci), based primarily on conversations with Caminiti, Jose Canseco, and other admitted steroid users. If you haven’t read it, you should — and you should read it once a year, right around this time, while considering whether certain players from a certain era should or shouldn’t be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Why? Because it paints a very clear picture of what was happening in baseball (MLB, minors, college, and yes, high school) at that time. I can confidently support the article because I speak from personal experience; I played with and against young men who “juiced” — at the high school, college, semipro and pro levels — and I can tell you that at least a few of them went from marginal amateur prospects to #1 draft picks and/or MLB players as a direct result of taking steroids. No, I’m not naming names; but as an example, I watched one individual go from throwing 84 MPH as a high school senior to 97 MPH as a college junior — and not because he hit a natural growth spurt or learned better mechanics. So anyone who claims that steroids can’t artificially improve a baseball player’s skill set, probably has never stepped foot on a regulation baseball field and seen the effects first-hand (and that would account for about 90% of all beat writers/bloggers/broadcasters/pundits and 99% of all BBWAA HOF voters).

Now, back to the NY Times article, which is still compelling as we review it almost ten years later. Among the players quoted — who expressed their anger over Caminiti’s expose and steadfastly denied using steroids themselves — included (among others) Jason Giambi, Mo Vaughn, Mike Stanton, and Mike Piazza. Interesting group, eh?

Just for kicks, let’s look at a few of those quotes.

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Chris Carter Signs with Rays

In case you haven’t yet heard, “The Animal” has gone south for the winter (and spring) — Chris Carter has signed a minor-league deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, who extended an invitation to spring training.

The 28-year-old Carter was non-tendered by the Mets in November. He hit .263 with four home runs and 24 RBI in 100 games for the Mets in 2010, splitting time between right field and left field and coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter.

He was let go by the Mets because the new regime didn’t see him as a sure thing to make the 25-man roster, and because he spent as much he did on it last year, he would have been guaranteed to make at least $200,000 (60% of last year’s salary) even if he were to spend all of 2011 in AAA.

It was a somewhat surprising move by General Anderson and Co., since we assumed they valued players like Carter — who can hit, hit with power, and show an affinity to get on base. But I guess the move came down to saving a few extra dollars for the cash-strapped Wilpons. Hopefully they can pay the peanut vendors at Citi Field come April.

I’ll miss Carter, but once he was non-tendered, the writing was on the wall: the Mets’ future did not include his bat and hard work ethic. It always stunned me that Jerry Manuel had no problem making left field a platoon of Fernando Tatis / Dan Murphy, but avoided at all costs putting Carter in the lineup more than once a month. It also baffled me that Manuel never let Carter hit against lefthanded pitchers, since he tore them up in AAA. On the one hand I’m disappointed to see him go, but on the other, I’m happy for him and hope he gets a legitimate shot to make the Rays.

Considering his defensive deficiencies, one would think that Carter will be looked at in a DH role. However, the Rays already have lefthanded-hitting Matt Joyce penciled into that role. They also have a lefthanded-hitting first baseman in Dan Johnson. Though, Joyce also plays the outfield, and depending on where Ben Zobrist ends up, Carter does have an outside shot at making Tampa Bay’s big-league club. If nothing else, he’s likely to be the first corner man called up if he starts the year in AAA.

Good luck, Animal.

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Would Mets Bid for Albert Pujols?

According to the St. Louis Dispatch, the Cardinals have begun discussing a contract extension with Albert Pujols. Per most reports, Pujols wants to get something done before spring training begins, and if nothing gets done before ST, he prefers not to talk contract at all until after the 2011 season — when he has the opportunity to become a free agent.

Though it appears that the Cards and Pujols will indeed get something done before Valentine’s Day, one never knows — as of this moment, his contract ends at the conclusion of the ’11 season. And if Albert Pujols became a free agent, would the Mets be in the bidding?

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Brian Bannister Goes to Japan

According to a tweet by Ken Rosenthal, former Met Brian Bannister is headed to Japan to pitch for the Yomiuri Giants

Have to agree with Ed at MetsFever: huh?

Granted, Bannister is not nearly as awesome as some Mets fans seem to have believed (as Ed astutely points out in his post), but he’s still a decent, low-cost, #5 NL starter under the age of 30 — which in this day and age, is in demand. Hard to believe he had to cross the Pacific to pitch in 2011.

But, maybe this is entirely his decision. Perhaps he has a genuine interest in experiencing Japanese culture, their way of playing baseball, and sees it as an opportunity either to grow as an individual or improve himself for another shot at MLB.

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Alomar, Bagwell, and HOF Hypocrisy

In case you didn’t hear, Bert Blyleven and Roberto Alomar were voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, while Jeff Bagwell — among others — was not.

Cast Blyleven aside for a moment, and let’s focus on Alomar.

Personally, I was ambivalent about Roberto Alomar until he spit in the face of John Hirschbeck. Then, I despised him for disrespecting Hirschbeck, baseball fans, and the game itself.

Despite this, I still was able to appreciate the fact that Alomar was — hands down — the best fielding second baseman in MLB during the 1990s and first two years of the 21st century. And for that reason alone, he, to me, deserves consideration for the Hall of Fame.

However, there is the little matter of the “Steroids Era”, in which Alomar participated. Further to the point, there were many BBWAA voters who chose not to cast a vote for Jeff Bagwell because they suspected that he might have been a PEDs user — but DID vote for Alomar. What’s the problem with this? It’s hypocrisy; how could a writer not vote for Bagwell because of PEDs suspicion but DO vote for Alomar, who played during the same period of time?

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Solution for Hall of Fame – PEDs Dilemma

The Baseball Hall of Fame voting results will be announced at some point today. No doubt there will be some people disappointed by the news, since the voting process makes it very difficult for a player to “enter” the Hall.

More to the point, there is the major dilemma of the PEDs issue — specifically in regard to Rafael Palmeiro, who failed a test, and Jeff Bagwell, who some feel was a PEDs user. The “can of worms” was opened a few years ago when Mark McGwire appeared on a ballot, but as the years go by it becomes more and more of an issue that can no longer be ignored. With each new year, and new ballot, more and more players from the “Steroids Era” are eligible. Who knows whether Bagwell cheated … or Roberto Alomar, for that matter? For all we know, some players already voted in were cheaters … we have absolutely no idea for sure.

This dilemma makes the voting incredibly difficult — and will continue to be more and more difficult for the next ten years at least. But what to do?

I have a solution:

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Mets Get Buchholz, Capuano

No, not Clay Buchholz (unfortunately), but TAYLOR Buchholz, who happens to be Clay’s “distant” cousin … though, I’m not sure what that means nor if it helps him pitch. The Mets signed the 29-year-oldTaylor Buchholz to a one-year, non-guaranteed, $600,000 contract. I like this signing, a lot.

At the same time, the Mets announced the signing of LHP Chris Capuano to a one-year, $1.5M deal. For me that seems a little hefty in price for someone who is both a huge question mark due to health and at best a so-so innings eather, but, again, I like acquisition. Heck, it’s guaranteed to be more fruitful than the $1.5M handed to Kelvim Escobar last year, based on the theory that Capuano can grip an object heavier than the pen he used to sign the contract.

All half-kidding aside, Capuano is a solid risk/reward signing (you can choose the levels of risk and reward; I’m going with high/low), and mentioned as much in a post about risky pitchers back in November. I also suggested Capuano last winter, and the winter before — so clearly, I have some kind of positive feeling for the crafty lefthander.

It’s true: I genuinely like Capuano, and I like rolling the dice on him with a fairly inexpensive, one-year contract. Why? Because he found decent success as a soft-tossing, crafty, workhorse starter before Tommy John surgery, and upon his return has discovered a hint more “giddyup” on his fastball than he had before. Capuano didn’t pitch at all in 2008, accumulated only 9 minor-league innings in 2009, and another 40 minor-league innings in 2010 before appearing in 24 MLB games (9 starts) and hurling 66 innings. He’s healthy, he still has his control, his nasty changeup, decent slider, and his lethal pickoff move; only now, he has a fastball that occasionally tops out at 92-93 (but generally rides in the 87-88 range). Personally, I think Capuano is a safe bet to be better than Jeff Francis or Chris Young in 2011; you heard it here first.

As for Buchholz, again, I like the signing and again, it’s a gamble on a guy who is still recovering from Tommy John surgery. There was a time that Taylor — not Clay — Buchholz was one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, sporting a 97-MPH fastball and a biting 12-6 curve. I always thought he had enough stuff to be a starter, but he was quickly moved into a bullpen role to take advantage of his velocity and swing-and-miss stuff. He had an outstanding year out of the Rockies ‘pen in 2008 before missing all of ’09 due to the elbow surgery. According to most reports, he was still building back his strength last year when he appeared in 33 innings of Major and Minor league ball. Once a power arm who zipped in the upper-90s, Buchholz returned last year at 92-93 — which isn’t bad, but isn’t enough for someone who relied on velocity to overpower hitters. One of two things can happen with Buchholz: either he regains his 95-97 MPH form, or he find a way to get outs with less velocity. Either way, I still believe he is worth the risk, and mildly surprised the Mets were able to sign him for only $600K.

Both signings may be ho-hum on the surface, but either (or both) could turn out to be huge — not unlike the similarly hum-drum signing of R.A. Dickey last winter.

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