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December 16, 2007

Every Given Sunday

The Official Response

by John Perrotto

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It has been three days since every serious baseball fan with an internet connection downloaded the 409-page Mitchell Report. Though the report certainly isn't light reading, enough time has passed to at least digest what was in the document, sort through the list of 89 current or former players linked to performance-enhancing drugs, and try to figure out what it all means. As George Mitchell, the former Senate Majority Leader who spearheaded the investigation into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, said, the game should use his report to look forward rather than retroactively punish players accused of cheating.

"People have different ideas about what happened a decade or two decades ago," Selig said. "Hindsight is wonderful. But George Mitchell is right: it's time to move on."

Selig made sure to dance around any questions about whether he should shoulder some of the blame for the rampant steroid use of the past 10-15 years, but did say the report was a "call to action" and vowed to act swiftly. Selig said he would act upon each of the 20 recommendations Mitchell made in the report, which are not covered in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and also broadly hinted he will go against Mitchell's advice and punish players linked to steroid and human growth hormone use.

"Anybody who knows me well has to know that this is not something I wish had happened, but it has," Selig said. "And I have to do something about it. I cannot say it any more plainly. I have to do something."

One thing high on Selig's to-do list is to arrange a summit of top doctors and researchers in an attempt to find a better way to detect human growth hormone. HGH is impossible to detect in urine tests, and the Major League Baseball Players Association has not granted permission for baseball officials to conduct blood tests on players.

"So long as there might be potential cheaters in the game, we have to constantly update what we do to catch them," Selig said. "That's exactly what I intend to do. We will not rest."

MLBPA Executive Director Donald Fehr only received a copy of the Mitchell Report a few hours before it was made public, and was said to have been privately dismayed that many players were accused despite the lack of strong evidence. Publicly, he has spoken in more measured tones, though he isn't willing to change baseball's current drug testing policies.

"Many players are named," Fehr said. "Their reputations have been adversely affected, probably forever, even if it turns out down the road that they should not have been. The program in place today is a strong and effective one, and has been improved even in the last two years. The report does not suggest that the program is failing to pick up steroid use which it is possible to detect."

Fehr also made it clear the union is not about to give in on the subject of blood testing, believing it is a violation of a fundamental right to privacy. "When a valid urine test is developed for human growth hormone, we'll adopt it," he said.

Meanwhile, Capitol Hill seems to be gearing up for another round of Congressional hearings into baseball and PEDs. The last time baseball went in front of Congress in 2005, it was a most memorable and contentious day, with a tearful Mark McGwire refusing to talk about the past to the House Committee on Government Reform, Sammy Sosa claiming he didn't speak much English, and Rafael Palmeiro wagging a finger at the assembled committee and saying he never used steroids, less than 4 months before he was suspended for failing a steroids test.

After the Mitchell Report was released, Henry A. Waxman, the chairman of the committee, invited Mitchell, Selig, and Fehr to come to Washington and testify. "The Mitchell report is sobering," Waxman and Tom Davis, the ranking minority member, said in a statement. "It shows the use of steroids and human growth hormone has been and is a significant problem in Major League Baseball. And it shows that everyone involved in Major League Baseball bears some responsibility for this scandal. We look forward to their testimony on whether the Mitchell report's recommendations will be adopted and whether additional measures are needed."

---

No player took a bigger hit in the Mitchell Report than Roger Clemens, who figured to be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame until former Toronto and New York Yankees strength coach Brian McNamee told Mitchell that he injected the big right-hander with PEDs on at least 16 occasions. Based on the way Hall voters rejected McGwire's candidacy last year in his first year on the Baseball Writers Association of America ballot and the general consensus that home run king Barry Bonds has no chance of getting to Cooperstown, it would stand to reason that Clemens' Hall chances died on the pages of the Mitchell Report. However, an informal survey of some long-time BBWAA members found split opinions on Clemens' Hall chances.

Toronto Sun baseball columnist Bob Elliott, who covered Clemens with the Blue Jays, says he will vote yes. "He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer five years ago, he's the same today, and he'll be the same five years from now," Elliott said.

USA Today's Bob Nightengale and Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News also plan to put a checkmark in the box next to Clemens' name when he first appears on the ballot. "There have been widespread rumors for years on Clemens, and the Mitchell Report does not change my view that he is a Hall of Famer," Nightengale said. Ringolsby noted, ""I think what this report shows is that baseball, like other sports, went through a period of time that will be forever blemished, but it also shows this was an industry-wide situation, not isolated cases. During his career Clemens was as dominate, if not the most dominate, of any pitcher in the game. Hopefully lessons will be learned from what happened, in that, we have a tendency in all phases of life, to try and find an edge on our competition and often that edge is used without a full understanding of the long-term implications."

The St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin is also inclined to vote for Clemens, though he will do so in pencil for now. "Based on what I know now, Roger Clemens would have my vote for the Hall of Fame," Topkin said. "But I reserve the right to change my mind."

Two Hall voters who are definitely opposed to Clemens' enshrinement are the Dayton Daily News' Hal McCoy and Newark Star-Ledger's Dan Graziano, who covered Clemens with the Yankees. "I won't vote for cheaters," McCoy said. "I said that about Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds. So I have to say it about Roger Clemens, too. He cheated and he wasn't participating on a level playing field with guys who chose to play the game the right way."

Said Graziano, "My personal feeling on this is that the Hall of Fame is a reward, and I don't intend to reward people who cheated in an effort to get there. I did not vote for Mark McGwire last year and have no plans to vote for him in the future. Similarly, I have no plans to vote for Barry Bonds. As to the argument that he was a Hall of Famer before he took the stuff, I submit that (a) we don't know that for sure and (b) I don't care. If Clemens or Bonds wasn't satisfied with simply being great, and decided he needed to cheat in order to become immortal, my feeling is that I should not reward him for that."

As a matter of full disclosure, I have been a BBWAA member for 20 years and will be filling out my 11th Hall ballot before the end of the month. Despite many conflicted feelings, I would vote yes on Clemens if forced to make a decision today. I have reached the point where I am no longer certain that any player has been drug free in the past 15 years. Being that I have not been blessed with psychic powers, I have no way of knowing who has played by the rules and who has cheated.

Therefore, I can only go by the numbers, and Clemens has 354 wins, 4,672 strikeouts, and a most impressive 3.12 ERA during a career in which the league average has been 4.38. To me, those numbers clearly say Hall of Fame.

---

Believe it or not, there was actually baseball news beyond the Mitchell Report this past week. The deadline to tender contracts came and went and a total of 43 more players were dumped into the free-agent pool. While Chicago Cubs right-hander Mark Prior was the biggest name on the list, here are the top five non-tender free agents in terms of 2007 VORP:

  • Chad Durbin (13.5)--The right-hander certainly has some value on a pitching staff with his ability to be a touch above replacement level both as a starter and reliever. He made 19 starts and 17 relief appearances for Detroit last season, logging 127 1/3 innings and posting a 4.72 ERA. Pittsburgh had interest in trading for him before he was non-tendered and is trying to sign him as a free agent.
  • Akinori Otsuka (11.8)--The former closer is a health risk, as he did not pitch after July 1 for Texas last season because of a sore elbow. He worked just 32 1/3 innings in 2007, posting a fine 2.51 ERA. Otsuka is on a throwing program in his native Japan this winter. Philadelphia and San Diego are among the teams interested. It was the Padres who brought Otsuka to the United States in 2004.
  • Johnny Estrada (7.7)--That the New York Mets non-tendered him less than a month after trading for him only adds to his growing resume as a journeyman. He has played for three teams in the past three seasons, hitting .278/.296/.403 in 464 plate appearances for Milwaukee in 2007. Estrada is running out of options for a starting job after Washington opted to sign Paul Lo Duca as a free agent.
  • Brendan Donnelly (5.9)--Another health risk, Donnelly's final appearance out of the bullpen for Boston last season before he underwent reconstructive elbow surgery came on June 10. That surgery ended a season in which Donnelly posted a 3.05 ERA in 20 2/3 innings. Any team signing Donnelly will likely want to include a club option for 2009, as he figures to miss at least half of the 2008 season and perhaps longer.
  • Matt Wise (5.3)--He was swept out in Milwaukee after four quietly effective seasons in the bullpen during which he posted a 3.94 ERA in 215 innings. However, he slipped in 2007, as his ERA was 4.19 in 53 2/3 innings. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh reportedly have interest.

---

Spending big money to build a bullpen often doesn't pay. Baltimore found that out last winter when it signed free-agent relievers Danys Baez, Jamie Walker, Chad Bradford and Scott Williamson for a combined $42.4 million. The Orioles' 5.75 relief ERA in 2007 ranked 29th out of 30 major-league clubs, ahead of only Tampa Bay (6.16).

However, that has not deterred Milwaukee General Manager Doug Melvin from adding $29.4 million worth of relief pitchers so far this offseason. The Brewers have signed closer Eric Gagne for one year and $10 million and set-up man David Riske for three years and $13 million as free agents while trading for a pair of relievers who will make $3.2 million in 2008, the Mets' Guillermo Mota and Pittsburgh's Salomon Torres.

The big deal with Gagne raised some eyebrows throughout baseball, as he had a -1.635 WXRL in 18 2/3 innings for Boston in the final two months of last season after being acquired from Texas in a trade. Melvin never envisioned going that high, but also didn't want be on the hook for multiple years for Gagne as Cincinnati is with Francisco Cordero, the Brewers' closer last season, after signing him to a four-year, $46-million contract as a free agent.

"That's what it took to do a one-year deal," Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "All we wanted to go is one year."

Melvin also hopes the bullpen depth he has acquired will last the Brewers for the entire season. Last July, he wound up trading three pitching prospects to San Diego for set-up man Scott Linebrink. However, Linebrink was the Brewers' version of Gagne, as he had a -0.294 WXRL in 25 2/3 innings. Regardless, the Chicago White Sox signed Linebrink to a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last month.

"I told (Brewers owner) Mark Attanasio I don't want to have to trade more prospects next July for another relief pitcher," Melvin said. "Hopefully, we won't need bullpen help." Seeing what his former relievers got on the open market makes Melvin believe he is ahead of the game. "Cordero and Linebrink are getting $65 million," he said. "We paid $23 million to sign Riske and Gagne."

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay used a unique negotiating approach to strengthen its beleaguered bullpen, as it lured veteran Troy Percival as a free agent by adding the offer to buy him a vintage automobile to a two-year, $8 million contract. Percival is leaning toward a black restored 1970 four-speed Chevrolet Chevelle SS 454, which carries a price tag of $40,000.

---

Rumors and rumblings: While Minnesota has put trade talks concerning Johan Santana on the back burner, it still appears likely the Twins will deal the left-hander to Boston sometime before spring training for a package centered around center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury. Even after acquiring Jim Edmonds from St. Louis, San Diego is looking for another outfielder, and has targeted Pittsburgh's Jason Bay, Xavier Nady and Nate McLouth. However, the Pirates want third-base prospect Chase Headley in any trade, and the Padres won't give up last season's Player of the Year in the Double-A Texas League. Kosuke Fukudome, the Japanese outfielder signed by the Cubs for four years and $48 million as a free agent this past week, will likely play right field. However, center field is a possibility if one of two young players, Felix Pie or Sam Fuld, fail to seize the starting job in spring training. Rookie Jayson Nix will get first crack at being Colorado's second baseman after the Rockies failed to sign Tadahito Iguchi as a free agent to replace Kazuo Matsui, who left the Rockies for Houston via free agency. Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki will likely move into Matsui's No. 2 spot in the batting order. The Los Angeles Dodgers are considering bringing back Mike Lieberthal as their backup catcher, but are also talking to free agents Gary Bennett and Damian Miller. Look for an announcement this week that the major league season will open the night of March 30 with Washington hosting Atlanta in the first game at Nationals Park.

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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Premium Article Prospectus Q&A: John F... (12/16)
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Premium Article Every Given Sunday: Th... (12/09)
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The Week in Quotes: De... (12/17)

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