Two major stories broke within 20 minutes of one another Monday afternoon. First, the Cubs finally finished trading Matt Garza, getting in return three prospects and a player (or two) to be named later from the Texas Rangers. Essentially as that story was breaking, though, a press release from MLB came down and banished the deal to page 2, as Ryan Braun accepted a suspension for the rest of the season.
For me, it was a day of people acting exactly the way they have grown accustomed to acting, and an informative experience in microcosm. Here’s what I mean:
The Cubs Have a Type
Or not so much a type, I guess, as a system. A philosophy. A paradigm. Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod and the rest of the front office that took over about 20 months ago have spent those 20 months engaged in a very systematic, very consistent rebuilding effort.
In the trade a year and a half in the making, the Cubs got Mike Olt, C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm and one or two players to be named later in return for Matt Garza. It’s a handsome return, although not an outrageous one, but what interests me is how it reflects the framework Epstein and Hoyer have embraced in almost all their efforts to acquire young, long-term assets.
Olt is the centerpiece of the deal, and the only position player. This is not a coincidence. The Cubs’ philosophy of talent aggregation during this rebuilding phase, reduced to two bullet points, is this:
- Use renewable resources (cash, low-value trade chips and non-premium draft picks) to acquire quality minor-league pitching, and buy said pitching in bulk.
- Focus on positional talent when spending non-renewable resources (high-caliber trade targets and first-round draft selections, plus allocated amateur free-agent pool money), and seek quality over quantity.
To me, this deal perfectly executes those principles. Olt had eye problems that have set him back as a prospect, but even after his stock slipped a bit late last season, he ranked 30th on Baseball Prospectus’s list of the top 100 prospects in baseball over the winter. He’s a slugging third baseman with a solid glove and good plate discipline, and although strikeouts will always be too large a part of his game to permit superstardom, he’s a very fine headliner piece in a deal for a pitcher who was only a Cub for two more months.
Edwards is in Low Class A, and although he throws in the mid-90s with a solid curveball-changeup mix, he may not ever have the deception, command and consistency to dominate in the rotation. The Cubs acknowledge that risk. That’s why Edwards isn’t the chief asset in the return. It’s also why Chicago gets Justin Grimm, a back-end starter who might be a bit more, and who is on the cusp of big-league readiness.
They’ll also add to the haul within the next six months, when they get to choose between Neil Ramirez, a hurler in the upper minors whose stuff is terrific but whose mechanics and command may not be repeatable enough to allow him to reach his mid-rotation ceiling, or a pair of others in an unspecified group. This is where the bulk comes in. The Cubs are carefully and thoroughly diversifying their portfolio when it comes to arms on the farm.
Getting three or four pitchers in this trade, without paying a premium for any of them, accords nicely with the thinking behind drafting pitchers with 80 percent of their picks between the second and 15th rounds over the past two years. Making Olt the centerpiece accords with the philosophy that led to trading Andrew Cashner for Anthony Rizzo, and with having spent the last two first-round picks on hitters, and with having paid top dollar for the two hitters at the top of the amateur talent market this summer. Microcosm.
Baseball’s War on Drugs Claims More Casualties
The Braun suspension runs for the rest of the season, effectively 65 games. It completes the vilification of a man who has finished first and fourth in NL MVP voting the past two seasons (despite the fact that he was initially called onto the carpet in this regard between the two), and that vilification is well-earned. Braun rolled a man who was just doing his job under the bus, in an effort to obfuscate and evade the straightforward terms of the Joint Drug Agreement with regard to analytic positives.
Still, we need to look at why people are really angry at Braun, and understand what that implies about how baseball is treating its PED users. Because as much righteous hand-wringing as there has been over the banished tester, Dino Laurenzi, in the public sphere, the anger coming out of baseball’s main office is centered mostly on Braun’s actual use, and then his deception.
Jeff Passan tweeted Monday evening that a source explained Braun’s 65-game ban as 50 for the actual offense, and 15 as an “asshole tax.” This is where we are now. The actual guidelines, the actual rules and regulations, are no longer considered enough. The league is being institutionally and officially vindictive, even judgmental. Like drug users in the United States at-large, PED users are unable to rehabilitate themselves, unable to pay their due and move forward. There is a sanctioned stigma that permanently stains these people, a stink that no penance can scrub off or even mask.
That’s not right. There are rules; there are mechanisms in place for detecting rule breakers; and there are consequences for being caught breaking the rules. Like the judicial and prison systems for addicts and abusers, Major League Baseball has gotten into the business of shaming users, of going beyond the framework of those structures that are in place. That is both dangerous and counterproductive, and it comes from an ugly place: Guilt.
Like the United States throughout the middle of the 20th century, baseball ignored (and tacitly legitimized) its growing problem of drug use during the late 1980s and into the 1990s. Their vigor and aggression in tracking down and punishing cheaters now is unearned self-righteousness, an attempt to wash away complicity in the scope of the problem by making the products of a system, even of a generation, the villains. Braun is merely the most recent and salient example of the problem.
Bud Selig Gets His Way
There’s an exchange during an early episode of ‘The West Wing,’ my favorite television show of all time, that bears relevance here. It’s between Martin Sheen’s President Josiah Bartlet and his most zealous, earnest and bull-headed aide, Richard Schiff’s Toby Ziegler. The exact context is not terribly important, so I won’t recap the whole episode for you. The words will suffice:
BARTLET: Do I look like Joseph McCarthy to you, Toby?
TOBY: (with a coarse chuckle) No, sir. No. No one ever looks like McCarthy. That’s how they get through the door in the first place.
That’s Bud Selig. He doesn’t look like Joe McCarthy. He looks like your goofy grandfather. Larry Granillo pointed this out on Twitter once, but I don’t want to ruin it with a link or a splashed picture. Do yourself the favor. Go Google image-search Bud Selig. I’ll wait.
Alan Selig is his real name, but he goes by Bud. Selig, by the way, comes from the German for ‘blessed,’ or in one translation, ‘happy-go-lucky.’ This is Selig’s image, or it was, back when his image mattered. He worked hard to be the back-slapper. He was friends with Henry Aaron. He saved baseball for Milwaukee, brought it back after it abandoned the city. He nobly accepted leadership of the owners’ cartel during the chaos after Fay Vincent’s ouster, but steadfastly refused the Commissioner’s chair for six years. He was relentlessly optimistic and in a hurry to tell you how blessed he really and truly was.
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled isn’t convincing the world he didn’t exist. That’s just a neat line. No, the devil’s greatest trick was convincing Eve he was on her side. Manipulative, deceitful, power-hungry people never look like villains. If they did, they couldn’t deceive, couldn’t manipulate and would never be entrusted with power.
Selig is, I’m sure, a good guy. He seems to be a family man. He earned respect both within and outside baseball long before he began ascending to real power, and he did it by being a decent and friendly businessman.
But Selig has another side. Selig can be a monster. Selig has been terrible for baseball, and terrible to baseball players and fans. Selig used to call writers who criticized the league and chastise, even intimidate them. Selig tried to contract the Minnesota Twins. Selig took baseball from Montreal by force in a fit of profit-hungry pique, rather than creating a more viable revenue-sharing model—then rapidly began to build a more viable revenue-sharing model, too late for the Franch Canadian contingency.
Selig black-listed Barry Bonds, and artificially ended his career, and don’t you dare try to tell me he didn’t. Selig presided over the strike in 1994, engineered it really. Selig did what owners tried to do for two decades before him, but couldn’t: He broke the players. He didn’t do it by force, so much, as by slowly winning over their representation. He beat the union by befriending it, and thereby cutting out its knees.
Selig capitalized on steroid users for as long as he possibly could. He marketed the crap out of McGwire and Sosa and Bonds. He rebuilt baseball’s image after the strike using players he would later denigrate in public, on-the-record comments. Then, once steroid use became a publicly-acknowledged problem, he used it as a bat with which to beat his friend the union into submission. Owners have never had it better. Their leverage has never been better. Selig systematically destroyed the reputations of a generation of heroes because it made it much easier for teams to milk their municipalities for hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks, land grants and even construction costs, to build palaces for baseball.
Selig has ensured that every fan can see every team in baseball at their leisure—so long as they have the juice. You can’t see any more baseball on TV in 2013 than you could in 1973, unless you have cable, or live in Chicagoland and get WGN. Selig has monetized the game. He sold its soul. He oversaw a haphazard expansion into an untenable market because the expansion fees helped the owners recoup losses from their collusion in 1987—in which Selig, owner of the Brewers, had a hand—and from the strike that he had used to stop the players’ forward momentum on so many issues. He added not one Wild Card, but two, stripping the long season of its meaning in the name of creating bastard-child playoff series that end up on TBS at 4:30 PM. I have read interviews with Selig as much as 25 and 20 years old, and in them, he appears to like baseball, and baseball players. The last available evidence of his affection for either, though, is perhaps 20 years old now.
Bud Selig got his way. He sent thugs into South Florida with cash for bribes. He threatened Tony Bosch with frivolous lawsuits against which Bosch was unable to defend himself. He leaned on the news outlets who reported the story early on in an attempt to obtain the evidence they had obtained, and he leaned on the federal government to re-engage in the failed witch hunt that led to protracted and empty trials of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. He did what was necessary to reach the end he determined to be desirable, without much regard for the ethical implications of his actions. None of which should surprise anyone.
Right now, Alex Rodriguez’s career is in limbo, as he waits out another (potentially phony) leg injury, and the apparently impending investigation of his case with Biogenesis. I’m not quite wearing the tin-foil hat, but I suspect foul play when it comes to Rodriguez’s inability to regain the field and the implications thereof. (If he doesn’t play this year, there’s a good chance the Yankees can recoup his salary through their insurance policy on him.)
Buster Olney has made the astute point that the Yankees would be committing insurance fraud if that turned out to be the case, and that it requires two large leaps of faith to buy into that:
- That the Yankees are willing to commit said fraud just to keep their best potential third-base option off the field for hazy PR reasons, and
- That the company being defrauded would somehow be either unable to detect that fraud, or willing to fork over a settlement anyway.
I take his point, but respond: What if the Yankees had help? Look at the list of things above. Look at the last 20 years of Bud Selig’s life. Look at all of that, and tell me Selig is incapable of this, and I’ll drop the subject. I bet you can’t.Next post: Nationals’ Long Nightmare Continues, and It’s the Damned Lefties!
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