July 22, 2005
Friday EditionCleveland Indians: On July 8, 2005, Tribe reliever Rafael Betancourt joined Alex Sanchez, Jorge Piedra, Agustin Montero, Jamal Strong, and Juan Rincon on the the list of Major League steroid suspendees. Because Betancourt was on the 15-day DL with shoulder inflammation at the time he tested positive, the Indians only lost three days of his services (although Betancourt did get to miss out on two weeks' wages).
Looking at the steroid suspension list--Sanchez, Piedra, Montero, Strong, even Rincon--one can't help but think that it possesses nowhere near the drama of another list containing Eddie Cicotte, Lefty Williams, Chick Gandil, and Joe Jackson, nor has it inspired the ire dedicated to a list including Keith Hernandez, Jeff Leonard, Dave Parker and Lonnie Smith. So where is the outrage? On an issue so important that the House of Representatives thought to hold public hearings, you'd expect to see Betancourt hung or burned in effigy in front of the Jake, and booed every moment he sat in the bullpen. You'd think neighborhood waifs would approach GM Mark Shapiro and tearfully surrender their #63 jerseys, unable to stand the thought of idolizing a cheat any longer.
But there is no indication that any of this has happened. Some of it is understandable: neither Betancourt nor any of the above men could reasonably be blamed for the offensive explosion of the mid-90's through early 00's. Betancourt and Rincon, for example, have only allowed 32 homers in 387 major league innings, not a single one of them to Barry Bonds. Sanchez, Piedra, and Strong only have 10 career home runs combined on the Major League level.
How's anyone to know when a steroid suspension is a big deal, and when it should be dismissed with a yawn and a wave? Luckily, we have devised a not-terribly-scientific system by which you, the fan, can know when you should give a damn about a player being suspended for performance-enhancers.
There! With this system, you should be able to properly determine whether it's worth your trouble to protest against a player's performance enhancing drug usage. For example, any guy scoring under 250, you shouldn't even bother with. Between 250 and 500 points, those Sportscenter highlights of the guy freaking out on the field better be pretty good, or it's a one-day story. Between 500 and 1,000 points, you might see a tersely-worded letter to the editor of your local paper. Between 1,000 and 2,000, it's time to ask Congress for immediate intervention--for the children's sake--because obviously MLB's drug policy isn't doing the job. Over 2,000 points, you're talking about riots in the streets, boycotts of the World Series, and hardened baseball men crying on live TV. Remember to keep this guide handy to see how you should react to any given steroid suspension.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Welcome to Wade Boggs weekend in Tampa Bay. The Devil Rays will pay tribute to the Hall of Fame third-basemen this weekend. Why do we mention this? Well, we're looking for positives. Just past the halfway mark, the D-Rays have little to look forward to in the second half of the season. Why? It's simple. The Rays…can't…get…good…pitching. Looking at AEqR and AEqRA, statistics that adjust runs scored and runs allowed for not only strength of schedule but also for quality of opponent's pitching and hitting, the D-Rays have the 8th most potent lineup in baseball this year. Unfortunately, that is paired with the 29th best pitching staff.
Pitchers, more than any other player, need real development plans in order to have success. As has been pointed to on several occasions, this is an area where the D-Rays have never fared well. Still, all hope is not lost. Scott Kazmir, Danys Baez, and Chad Orvella are pitchers the team can build around, and Casey Fossum seems to be worth keeping around, at least in the short term. This is only four guys, however. What's the solution? It would be to come up with a development plan and sticking to it, but we'll try to keep it simple for the time being.
As has been bandied about, trading Aubrey Huff next week could solve some problems on the pitching side. Jorge Cantu, B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Joey Gathright, and Jonny Gomes, give the D-Rays about as good a young nucleus of hitters as can be put together. Therefore, the D-Rays should be looking for pitching, pitching, and more pitching in a trade.
Several teams have been mentioned as either having interest in a "big bat," or specifically interested in Huff, among them Cleveland, Houston, Minnesota, San Diego, and Texas. The most attractive option of course would be Huff dusting off his third basemen's mitt in exchange for a bushel of Twins pitching prospects, but the other teams here do have pitchers to trade, whether in prospects or prospects who have recently graduated to the Show. Another route would be going after a more established veteran. Huff is not enough juice to land an A.J. Burnett or Jason Schmidt, but perhaps Kip Wells could be in the cards.
This may all be a moot point however. The D-Rays may be looking to deal players, but whether that actually happens is another story. Sweet Lou has expressed his doubts that anything will get done and one AL executive said that dealing with Tampa is like "a root canal without the nerve gas." In any event, leveraging Huff and Julio Lugo for pitching help makes a lot of sense. Flipping Baez just because teams are hard up for relievers does not. Baez is young, valuable and, most importantly, likes pitching in Tampa. These are exactly the kind of pitchers that Tampa needs to find, not discard.