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June 6, 2013

On the Beat

Potential PED Fallout

by John Perrotto

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What if Major League Baseball gets its way and is able to suspend those players whose names have been linked to rogue doctor Tony Bosch and the now-defunct Biogenesis anti-aging clinic? Will the suspensions hurt many teams? Will they impact many pennant races?

So far, 20 players have been identified by ESPN as having ties to Biogenesis, but just nine are jus currently on major-league rosters and the Tigers, a team with aspiration of returning to the World Series, would be the team most hurt by suspensions if they lost shortstop Jhonny Peralta for 50 games. While such players as third baseman Miguel Cabrera and first baseman Prince Fielder garner most of the headlines, Peralta went into Wednesday’s action hitting .338/.385/.495 in 233 plate appearances with six home runs and a .307 True Average. That is a far cry better than last season’s slash line of .239/.305/.384 with 13 homers and a .244 TAv.

After barely playing above replacement level with 0.8 WARP last season, has been worth 2.3 WARP so far in 2013. The Tigers could plug utility infielder Ramon Santiago in at shortstop, but he would be a massive downgrade offensively.

Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera’s name appears on the list, and he is in the midst of a breakout season. The 26-year-old already has contributed 2.3 WARP while hitting .278/.362/.396 with 24 stolen bases in 29 attempts. Another young Padres player, catcher Yasmani Grandal, just finished a 50-game suspension for PED use and would be facing a 100-game ban for a second offense. The Padres could try the National League version of Jose Altuve, Alexi Amarista, at shortstop. However, Amarista might come up, ahem, short as an everyday player. The Padres have catching depth with Nick Hundley in the major leagues and John Baker at Triple-A Tucson, but neither is as talented as Grandal.

The Brewers aren’t going anywhere this season, but it is frightening to think how bad they would be if left fielder Ryan Braun was out of the lineup for 50 games. Even though Braun is having somewhat of a down year by his lofty standards, he is still hitting .292/.368/.510 with nine home runs in 228 plate appearances with 1.7 WARP. The Brewers have options on the major-league club in Logan Schafer and Juan Francisco and at Triple-A Nashville in Khris Davis and Caleb Gindl, but none of them are remotely close to Braun in ability level.

Right fielder Nelson Cruz and his boomstick have played a large role in the Rangers becoming one of the top teams in the game in this second decade of the millennium. Through 226 plate appearances, he is hitting .268/.323/.512 with 14 home runs, yet his WARP is surprisingly low at 0.8. The WARP indicates the Rangers might not miss Cruz all that much for 50 games, especially since it would give them a reason to plug top prospect Jurickson Profar into the lineup on an everyday basis, even if he would be learning to play the outfield on the fly.

If Athletics right-hander Bartolo Colon would be suspended, it would be for 100 games because he also got popped last August. The Athletics survived without Colon after he was suspended last season, winning the American League West while employing an all-rookie starting rotation in a pennant race. Colon had a 3.33 ERA and 3.39 FIP through his first 11 starts and has again proved to be a stabilizing veteran presence on the pitching staff. However, there is no reason to think the Athletics can’t survive without him again, especially if left-hander Brett Anderson can overcome the stress fracture in his foot.

The Yankees could lose third baseman Alex Rodriguez and catcher Francisco Cervelli. Rodriguez, of course, has yet to play this season after undergoing hip surgery in January and, deep down, owner Hall Steinbrenner, general manager Brian Cashman, and manager Joe Girardi would love a scenario in which the ground suddenly swallows A-Rod whole and is never heard from again. As far as Cervelli, he contributed 0.7 WARP while hitting a surprisingly .269/.377/.500 in 61 plate appearances before breaking his hand, but the Yankees are getting by with a combination of Chris Stewart and Austin Romine behind the plate.

Finally, there is Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera, who was suspended last August while with the Giants while leading the National League in hitting. The Blue Jays gambled two years and $16 million that the Melkman could replicate good numbers without juicing. However, he has suffered a power outage, hitting .285/.328./.375 with two homers in 251 plate appearance while adding just 0.5 WARP to his new team. If he gets suspended, Cabrera will be gone for 100 games, but it shouldn’t hurt the Blue Jays too much as Anthony Gose or Rajai Davis could replicate the post-testosterone production.

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Speaking of banned drugs, it was revealed this week that Oklahoma University pitcher Jonathan Gray tested positive for the stimulant Adderall in MLB’s drug testing of top college players in advance of the First-Year Player Draft. The test, though, isn’t expected to hurt Gray’s draft stock, and the Astros could take him with the first overall pick tonight.

“I’m not saying what he did was right, but it’s not like he is some criminal or a druggie,” said a scouting director from a major-league club. “He’s a good kid with a good reputation who made a mistake. It’s common for college kids to take Adderall so they can stay up all night to study or write papers. He’s not the first college player to test positive, just the first one that became public knowledge.”

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The Phillies finally got back to .500 on Wednesday, raising their record to 30-30 by beating the Marlins. It is the first time the Phillies have been at the breakeven point since being 6-6. However, most front-office types feel the Phillies are too short on talent to make the playoffs this season and should at least retool, if not rebuild. The player seemingly everyone thinks the Phillies should trade to get the retooling started is left-hander Cliff Lee.

“He is the guy who would get the greatest return in young major-league-ready talent and prospects,” one FOT type said. “I’m sure a number of teams would line up to take a shot at him, even with a high price tag, because he can be a difference-maker in a pennant race and still help you beyond this season.”

The Phillies would likely need to eat at least part of Lee’s contract to maximize their return. Lee is due $25 million in both 2014 and 2015, and there is a $27.5-millon club option in his contract for 2016 that has a $12.5-million buyout. Lee also has a partial no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to 20 teams but has broadly hinted he would be willing to waive in the right deal.

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A name from the past just might wind up surfacing as a potential boost to some club’s offense during the pennant race. Free-agent outfielder Grady Sizemore has been working out as he continues to recover from the microfracture knee surgery that caused him to miss last season with the Indians and is hoping to be ready to play after the All-Star break.

Sizemore has appeared in just 104 major-league games since the start of the 2010 season and hasn’t stayed healthy for a full year since 2008. However, he is still only 30 years old and averaged 5.0 WARP a season from 2005-08.

“I’d take a shot on him, let him try to work his way up through the minor leagues, see if he has anything left,” said an FOT from a contending team. “His talent was undeniable when he was healthy. “

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Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg left his start last Friday after two innings because of soreness in his right side. However, he wasn’t placed on the disabled list until Wednesday. That led to a few wisecracks from FOTs who felt the Nationals cost themselves a shot at winning the World Series last season by shutting down Strasburg in September because of an innings limit, then losing to the Cardinals in the NLDS.

“Last year, he was the boy in the bubble, but this year they debated five days before putting him on the DL,” one FOT said. “That’s kind of a contradiction, don’t you think?”

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Scouts’ views:

Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig: “I hate to overhype a young player but… goodness gracious, it’s hard not to get excited about him. He has all five tools and is just a physical specimen. He reminds me of Bo Jackson, he’s that athletic. He’s still so raw, too. He’s just learning the professional game in this country.”

Pirates catcher Russell Martin: “He’s been a great signing. He has taken control of that pitching staff, played well behind the plate, and given them a little pop in the lineup. I don’t think people understand how athletic he is. Not too many catchers can play third base and right field, too.”

Braves catcher Brian McCann: “I know the Braves can get cheaper and young by letting him walk at the end of the year, but I think he’ll have plenty of teams interested in signing him as a free agent. For me, he looks healthy again and he can make an impact.”

Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman: “It’s taken him a while, but he’s started to find his footing in the major leagues. He’s a lot more consistent. I’m not sure he’s going to be a No. 1 or a No. 2 starter, but he could be a good No. 3 for a long time.”

Diamondbacks right-hander Josh Collmenter: “He’s become a very effective long reliever. It’s not an easy role because you can’t anticipate coming into a game, but he does a really nice job.”

Mets right-hander Jeremy Hefner: “I didn’t think he had the stuff to be a major-league starter, but I’m starting to rethink that. He’s never going to be a frontline guy, but he’s a solid No. 5, maybe a No. 4 if he keeps improving.”

Twins right-hander Samuel Deduno: “I’m not a big advocate of the WBC, but I do think it helped this guy. He had a chance to pitch in some big games for the Dominican and it helped his confidence. He looks a lot surer of himself than he did last year.”

Mariners closer Tom Wilhelmsen: “He’s not a guy I’d ever feel really comfortable with as my closer. He is always walking a tightrope, his control comes and goes. I want a closer who consistently throws strikes.”

Tigers outfielder Avisail Garcia: “I love this kid. He doesn’t get as much publicity as some other prospects but, for me, he’s a future star.”

Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew: “It took him awhile to heat up after the concussion, but he’s helping that club now. He plays a steady shortstop, and he tends to come up with a lot of big hits. Plus, he gives them time to find out if (Jose) Iglesias is the answer long-term at shortstop.”

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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