Sports Illustrated used to run television commercials at this time of year touting the magazine as the “gift that keeps on giving.” That description, at least as far as baseball writers are concerned during this holiday season, applies to the Mitchell Report. Though 10 days have passed since the former Senate Majority Leader released his report, commissioned by Major League Baseball, on the use of performance-enhancing drugs, it is still generating plenty of copy.
Now that names have been named and everyone in the game has had the opportunity to read the report, one of the bigger questions is if teams will shy away from trying to acquire players who were named by Mitchell. The answer to that question, to this point, appears to be no. The Dodgers signed backup catcher Gary Bennett to a one-year, $825,000 contract as a free agent this past week. Bennett thus becomes the first player to break the “Mitchell barrier.”
Bennett admitted to using human growth hormone while playing for San Diego in 2003. He thought the drug might help in the healing of a persistent knee injury. “I was just frustrated with the way I was feeling and the way my knee was feeling,” Bennett told the Los Angeles Daily News. “I was just hoping it would help me heal. There were rumors that it was a wonder drug, that it helped injuries go away a lot quicker.” To this day, Bennett is not sure if HGH helped him. “There is no way for me to say,” Bennett said. “Eventually, my knee did start to feel better. It wasn’t as achy, and some of the pain subsided, but who is to say it wouldn’t have done that anyway? I made a mistake. I made a stupid decision. If, in fact, I couldn’t get a job because of that, there would have been no one to blame but myself, and I would have had to deal with that.”
Bennett did reach out to Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti and assistant GM Kim Ng to take responsibility for his actions and to assure them that he hadn’t used HGH since ’03. “I’m thankful and relieved that this is something that hopefully won’t be held against me,” Bennett said.
That Brian Roberts’ name was also mentioned by Mitchell, which was one of the few surprises in the report, hasn’t deterred the Cubs from trying to trade for the Orioles‘ second baseman. The Cubs began their pursuit earlier this month at the Winter Meetings, and before the release of the report. “We’re reviewing all the players (in the report) on a case-by-case basis and certainly there have already been some rumors that some of the players mentioned are targets for us,” Cubs Chairman Crane Kenney told the Chicago Tribune. “We’re not going to make any judgments globally. If you read the report, players range from quite grand speculation to real hard evidence and we’re going to look at the same things that commissioner and everyone else looks at.”
Closer Eric Gagné was mentioned in the report just three days after he signed a one-year, $10 million contract with Milwaukee as a free agent. While the Brewers say they don’t regret signing Gagné, GM Doug Melvin has talked to agent Scott Boras about having the reliever address the situation publicly. “I think eventually they will,” Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “There is a lot of legal stuff involved in this. These players have individual counsel and they want to go through that first. They want to be careful.”
If a player admits to using HGH, whose use is allowed only with a prescription, he could be subject to possible prosecution. The player also might face the possibility of his club attempting to void the contract for violating the terms concerning illegal drug use.
One former player named in the report who has been willing to talk about the use of illegal performance enhancers is Dan Naulty, who pitched for the Twins and Yankees from 1996-99. Naulty told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he often gets misty-eyed when he thinks about the day late in spring training in 1996 when he made the Twins’ final roster over Mike Trombley. “I stole people’s jobs,” Naulty said. “That’s the part for me that was so wrong. I have to explain to my boys that I took people’s jobs by cheating, and that penetrated my soul a number of years ago and still haunts me today-the poor choice I made for the chance of being a major league baseball player.”
Carlos Silva has become the poster child for this winter’s weak free agent market and the ever-increasing price tags for starting pitchers. Seattle signed the right-hander to a four-year, $44 million contract this past week. That might seem a pretty steep price, but to his credit, the pitcher posted 5.0 SNLVAR for Minnesota last season, good for 39th in the major leagues.
The Mariners feel that is the going rate in their attempt to hang with the Angels in the AL West. “Going into this, I made a list of all the free agent starters who were available,” Mariners pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre told the Seattle Times. “And to be honest with you, he was at the top of my list because of his background and the type of pitcher that he is.”
At Mariners GM Bill Bavasi’s behest, Stottlemyre called Silva to make a recruiting pitch a week before he signed. “We just talked about the ballpark, the city, our coaching staff,” Stottlemyre said. “We talked about the ability we have to provide a winner if we get the pieces we want. And he was one of those.”
Stottlemyre says Silva, a sinkerballer, will help the Mariners because of his ability to pitch deep into games. Silva pitched at least seven innings in 12 starts for the Twins in 2007. That equaled Felix Hernandez‘s team-leading figure for the Mariners and, at least in Stottlemyre’s mind, offsets the fact Silva struck out fewer than four batters per nine innings last season. “I think Safeco is a pretty good field for him,” Stottlemyre said. “He’s a very good ground-ball pitcher and our defense can help him.” Mariners manger John McLaren observed, “He looks like a real good strike-thrower for us. We hope that he does what Miguel Batista did for us last year.” Batista’s 4.2 SNLVAR ranked 29th in the AL in his first season of a three-year, $25 million contract he signed as a free agent.
BP’s Jay Jaffe has done an outstanding job of breaking down the infielders and the outfielders on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot from a statistical standpoint. I found his observations very instructive, and they’ve given me yet another source to study while filling out my ballot. However, I don’t have nearly the brain power or mathematical ability of my esteemed colleague, so in addition to the statistical research, I also fall back on a very unscientific rule of thumb when pondering my vote, asking myself this question: “Is he a Hall of Famer?”
I realize that is simple as it gets but it does help break ties when deciding to put a check in the box next to a player’s name. I wound using that tiebreaker in a few cases this year while other players were easier to vote for. In the end, here are the nine names I checked. I readily admit that I’m a more liberal elector than almost all of the 500-plus members who have the requisite 10 years in the Baseball Writers Association of America to receive voting privileges:
- Bert Blyleven: The biggest no-brainer on the list with 287 wins, 3,701 strikeouts, 60 shutouts, and a fine 3.31 ERA. That he has not really close to gaining election baffles me more with each passing year.
- Andre Dawson: While the .323 on base percentage gives reason for a long pause, the counting stats of 438 home runs, 314 stolen bases, and 2,774 hits tip the scales. Even the BP influence hasn’t completely detoxified the counting-stat mentality from my brain.
- Rich Gossage: The most feared closer in history from an era when real men closed out the game, sometimes pitching three innings to get the save, the Goose still survives on the ballot and gets closer to Cooperstown each year. His numbers translate in any era, and one wonders how many saves he would have had if limited to one inning at a time.
- Tommy John: I’ve always waffled on him since it did take 25 seasons for him to amass his 288 wins. However, he was a pioneer in the fact that he was the first player to have reconstructive elbow surgery, which in 1975 was completely experimental. I’ve never heard anyone returning from Joel Horlen surgery.
- Mark McGwire: Overwhelming circumstantial evidence suggest chemicals helped him hit those 588 home runs, including a then-record 70 in 1998. Yet, he did have a .394 OBP and a .588 SLG for his career, and that can’t be ignored. As I wrote last week in this space, and then on SI.com, I am no longer in the business of determining who did and didn’t cheat. It’s strictly a numbers game now, and Big Mac has them.
- Jack Morris: I am voting for him for the first time, as time has given me more perspective and a greater appreciation to a player who was extremely rude to me in my one and only attempt to interview him. He won 254 games in the five-man rotation era and played a large part in three different franchises-the Tigers, Twins, and Blue Jays-winning the World Series. Throw in his 10-inning shutout in Game Seven of the 1991 World Series for the Twins, and it’s an impressive resumé.
- Dave Parker: I had the chance to watch Parker play often during my teenage years while growing up in Western Pennsylvania in the late 1970s, when he was clearly the best player in the game and the epitome of a five-tool player. His numbers might be a tad short of Cooperstown-worthy and he nearly ruined his career with cocaine use, but the guy was a treat to watch.
- Jim Rice: Jaffe makes a very valid point that Rice’s peak wasn’t as long as that of most Hall of Famers. However, his peak was tremendous and, with the exception of Parker, there was not a more-feared hitter in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
- Alan Trammell: Like fellow Tiger Morris, he gets my vote for the first time; perhaps I’m developing a mid-life desire to channel Tom Selleck. Regardless, Jaffe’s research has convinced me Trammell is indeed among the game’s greatest shortstops and worthy of Cooperstown.
However, Jay will need at least another year of stumping for Tim Raines before getting me to vote yes on the Rock. Raines did reach the stage of “is he a Hall of Famer?” before I decided to pass. Dave Concepcion, Don Mattingly, Dale Murphy, and Lee Smith also fell into that group. While not taking anything away from them, these 11 candidates didn’t get a second thought from me: Brady Anderson, Harold Baines, Rod Beck, Shawon Dunston, Chuck Finley, Travis Fryman, David Justice, Chuck Knoblauch, Rob Nen, Jose Rijo, and Todd Stottlemyre.
Rumors and rumblings: One of the offshoots of Oakland deciding to go into a rebuilding phase is that the Athletics no longer have interest in Barry Bonds as a free agent, which means the all-time home run king’s career could be over regardless of his legal situation. … Baltimore now seems unlikely to trade left-hander Erik Bedard, even though Cincinnati and Seattle have been making serious offers. … Houston is seemingly in the lead to sign Mark Prior as a free agent, but the right-hander might opt for less money from the Padres; he lives in San Diego. … Among the teams who watched free agent pitcher Kris Benson throw this past week in a showcase for scouts were the Astros, Mets, Yankees, Phillies, Pirates, Cardinals, Giants, and Nationals; Benson missed last season with Baltimore because of shoulder surgery. … Milwaukee would still like to add a third baseman and move Ryan Braun to left, but the Brewers’ chances of trading for St. Louis’ Scott Rolen or Texas’ Hank Blalock are fading. … Arizona’s insistence on infielder Chris Burke being included from Houston in the trade for closer Jose Valverde increases the possibility that second baseman Orlando Hudson will be allowed to leave as a free agent at the end of next season. … Pittsburgh is looking for a catcher to unseat or at least provide spring competition for Ronny Paulino, and have inquired about free agents Johnny Estrada and Miguel Olivo while having trade talks with San Diego about Michael Barrett. … Baltimore is lining up as the team most likely to move into Dodgertown after the Dodgers hold their last spring training in Vero Beach in 2008. The Orioles currently train in outdated facilities in Fort Lauderdale.
With this being the last edition of Every Given Sunday for 2007 (and I’ll be taking a holiday break next week), I ask that you be so kind as to indulge me for a moment. I would like to thank everyone here at Baseball Prospectus for bringing me aboard this year. I have quickly found out that the people at BP are progressive thinkers who are always looking to improve the site, the books, and the company. They took a gamble in alienating some of their readership by deciding to hire a member of the “mainstream media.”
I have been covering the Pittsburgh Pirates and baseball in general at the Beaver County Times, a darn good small-circulation newspaper located 25 miles north of the Steel City, for 20 years, and covering such a woeful organization had started wearing on me. Having the chance to write for BP, where the outstanding staff of editors and writers care so much about the game, really reignited my love for writing about the game this year. For that, I am most thankful.
Also, I apologize if I have been slow to respond to e-mails at times. E-mail issues cost me a lot of contact with readers until recently, but I appreciate the positive feedback I have received. I also appreciate the constructive criticism, and have tried to learn from it. I also welcome your input about changes that might make Every Given Sunday better in 2008. Also, the pace of the baseball season and the offseason gets more hectic each year. I read all your correspondence and I will try my best to eventually get back to you.
To all of you, Merry Christmas, happy new year, and happy holidays.