Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Closer Look: My First Draft of 2009, Rounds 11-21

Sorry for the delay with this post but you know how it is during the week. I also appear to have completely spaced on my annual AL preview, maybe I'll get to it tomorrow if I have the motivation. Anyway, we left off last time after I'd snatched up what I believe to have been my best value pick, Hunter Pence, in the 10th round. With my offense mostly complete, I now needed to look into finding some value for my pitching staff.

Round 11
121. Ryan Dempster
122. Jonathan Broxton
123. Andre Ethier
124. Zack Greinke
125. B.J. Ryan
126. Matt Capps
127. Matt Cain
128. Brian Fuentes
129. Justin Verlander
130. Francisco Cordero
131. David Price
132. Kerry Wood

I began my own little run on closers here in this round. Broxton is locked into closer's role in L.A. and while he's certainly had his control issues, I love the fact that Rotoworld has him getting 91 Ks in 75 innings this year with a solid 31 saves. Of course, saves are a very volatile category and someone like Broxton could earn much more or much fewer saves than that regardless of what he does in the ratios. Anyway, he'll be closing for a good team and I can't complain if he lives up to his potential.

Round 12
133. Brad Hawpe
134. Adam Wainwright
135. Jorge Cantu
136. Rick Nolasco
137. Huston Street
138. Heath Bell
139. Mike Lowell
140. Frank Francisco
141. Raul Ibanez
142. Matt Garza
143. Chris Iannetta
144. Aubrey Huff

I was pretty pissed to see Garza go off the board just before my pick. I've been taking him in all my mock drafts because I think he's being undervalued. He's a strikeout pitcher playing on an excellent team and he appears to have moved past his Minnesota growing pains. Anyway, with this pick my starting offense is now complete. I sometimes like taking a catcher early, usually Martin or Mauer, but I elected to wait this time. Iannetta should get most of the playing time in Colorado and given the thin air he could drop over 20 bombs. This should be the last year Iannetta will be drafted outside the first 10 rounds. I certainly think he's a safer 2009 bet than Matt Wieters at this point.

Round 13
145. Milton Bradley
146. Trevor Hoffman
147. Jayson Werth
148. Conor Jackson
149. Mike Gonzalez
150. Brian Wilson
151. Torii Hunter
152. Carlos Delgado
153. Chris Young
154. Derek Lowe
155. Jorge Posada
156. Brandon Morrow

OK, I definitely don't love this pick. The all-time saves king isn't even close to what he used to be, and the Brewers will have to limit his innings throughout the year. But with almost every other #2 closer option off the board, Hoffman was actually the safest of them all. If you look at the other closers taken in this round, Gonzalez has had health issues and Wilson had a HUGE ERA last year. I'm also not sure if Morrow will start or close for the M's. Either way, Hoffman made the most sense for my purposes here. At this point I'm starting to get a little worried because I've only got two starting pitchers on my roster 13 rounds in. I've got my work cut out for me going forward.

Round 14
157. Patt Burrell
158. Brett Myers
159. Johnny Cueto
160. Aaron Harang
161. Chad Qualls
162. Adrian Beltre
163. Erik Bedard
164. Ben Sheets
165. George Sherrill
166. Ted Lilly
167. John Danks
168. Xavier Nady

I'd probably have taken Lilly if he didn't go right in front of me. There's been some mixed opinions on Danks this winter, but Rotoworld thinks enough of him to rank him 27th overall for starting pitchers. He's always had great stuff, and didn't get hurt last year, so I have every expectation he'll maintain his standing as the ChiSox's #2 hurler. And because I've waited so long at this point to draft starting pitching, I really can't complain about snagging Danks at this spot.

Round 15
169. Brad Ziegler
170. Matt Lindstrom
171. Shin-Soo Choo
172. Chien-Ming Wang
173. Nelson Cruz
174. Joey Devine
175. Justin Upton
176. Max Scherzer
177. Joel Hanrahan
178. Gavin Floyd
179. Josh Johnson
180. Jered Weaver

Matt Lindstrom is no Jonathan Papelbon. But he's got no other competition for saves in Florida, so I can hope has an efficient year at the very least. I've now managed to complete my bullpen. I never draft more than three closers for a team just because I believe in maintaining advantages in wins and K's are much easier to control than ratios.

Round 16
181. Jair Jurrens
182. Fernando Rodney
183. Mark DeRosa
184. Troy Percival
185. A.J. Pierzynski
186. Clayton Kershaw
187. Cameron Maybin
188. John Maine
189. Placido Polanco
190. Kevin Slowey
191. Scott Baker
192. Troy Glaus

I don't remember which year it was, it may have been 2006, when I thought Scott Baker was the sleeper of the year. I drafted him on every team and expected huge things. Well, he sucked. And he sucked all the time until last year, when he finally hit some of his potential. He won't run up huge numbers, but he's definitely a strong #4 starter for a mixed league fantasy squad. I've now rounded out my entire starting team. I'll begin now to look for some bargains for my bench.

Round 17
193. Mike Pelfrey
194. Alex Gordon
195. Randy Winn
196. Hideki Matsui
197. Edwin Encarnacion
198. Justin Duchscherer
199. Randy Johnson
200. Carlos Guillen
201. Lastings Milledge
202. Chris B. Young
203. Miguel Tejada
204. Fausto Carmona

I've had an unhealthy man-crush on Gordon since his days at Nebraska. He hasn't lived up to his young superstar billing just yet, but maybe at 25 this will be the year. If he does finally break out, he's a contributor in every category. Plus, he's a great guy for much bench considering Chipper Jones' penchant for getting hurt. I feel extremely confident in my corner infield situation given the apprehensive nature of both my Jones and Youkilis selections.

Round 18
205. Ryan Theroit
206. James Loney
207. Dioner Navarro
208. Kelly Johnson
209. Chris Carpenter
210. Adam Jones
211. Jim Thome
212. Travis Hafner
213. Joe Saunders
214. Adam LaRoche
215. Mark Buehrle
216. Mike Napoli

Buehrle doesn't give you a ton in fantasy. However, at this spot in the draft I think he's a solid option. He won't strike out many people, but he goes deep into games, gets a lot of decisions, and as long as his ratios don't inflate too much, I don't mind grabbing him here. The purpose of these later rounds as far as starting pitchers go is to either draft for upside or draft for solid contributors. Buehrle, who's thrown at least 200 innings each of the last eight seasons, qualifies as the latter. Also, note the selection of Adam Jones at pick #210. I'll be discussing that shortly.

Round 19
217. Oliver Perez
218. Rickie Weeks
219. David DeJesus
220. Melvin Mora
221. Chris Perez
222. Elvis Andrus
223. Alexi Casilla
224. Jeff Francoeur
225. Denard Span
226. Tim Hudson
227. Rick Ankiel
228. Willy Taveras

Weeks has spent a lot of time on the DL over the last few years. Otherwise, I'd like to think he could be a top-5 fantasy second baseman. He gives me steals off the bench and he's got some pop in his bat, too. Should something happen to Phillips, I'd feel confident running Weeks out there for and extended period. I have to hope he's put his injury woes behind him for now. I'd been taking Andrus frequently as my backup MI, but Weeks is a better player now and I'm less worried about SS (Hanley) than I am about 2B (Phillips).

Round 20
229. Jose Guillen
230. Kazuo Matsui
231. Ryan Garko
232. Khalil Greene
233. Armando Galarraga
234. Gil Meche
235. Juan Pierre
236. Hank Blalock
237. Yadier Molina
238. Taylor Teagarden
239. J.D. Drew
240. Akinori Iwamura

I'm well aware of how Drew tends to hit the DL from time to time. Well aware. But I needed an outfielder, and when he is healthy and locked in, look out. This is where that earlier Adam Jones pick comes in. The owner who drafted Jones inexplicably decided to dump him as soon as add/drops were available. I'd taken Jones as early as 17th round in one of my mocks, so I decided to throw in a waiver claim to add Jones and drop Drew. I won't know the outcome until tomorrow. Jones has miles of upside and will likely be a 20/20 guy as soon as this year. That's a pick I like more than Drew. But if I get stuck with J.D. I'll be fine. If he gets hurt there's plenty of other outfielders.

Round 21
241. Grant Balfour
242. Ubaldo Jimenez
243. Chris Volstad
244. Phil Hughes
245. Gary Sheffield
246. John Smoltz
247. Jeff Clement
248. Aaron Hill
249. Nick Swisher
250. Kevin Gregg
251. Elijah Dukes
252. Mike Cameron

If Buehrle represented a safe late-round pick, taking Jimenez here was the risky pick with upside. I don't know exactly what to expect considering he's young, wild, and pitches in Colorado, but strikes guys out left and right and if he sucks I'll just get someone else. As my last pick, it's not like I'm really attached to him. With that, my team is complete. Take a look (with Rotoworld projections and round taken in parentheses):

Yahoo 34148 - 2/15
C Chris Ianetta (12)
0.263 16 68 63 1
1B Kevin Youkilis (5)
0.288 21 99 97 3
2B Brandon Phillips (3)
0.281 25 92 91 27
3B Chipper Jones (7)
0.318 23 81 84 3
SS Hanley Ramirez (1)
0.314 30 83 114 37
OF Carlos Beltran (2)
0.277 28 106 104 22
OF Nick Markakis (4)
0.308 26 100 106 12
OF Hunter Pence (10)
0.280 28 99 81 14
UT Carlos Pena (9)
0.252 32 108 93 2
BN Alex Gordon (17)
0.272 22 77 72 10
BN Rickie Weeks (19)
0.261 17 51 93 23
BN JD Drew (20)
0.286 17 73 82 3

SP Chad Billingsley (6)
15 3.43 1.28 200 0
SP Ervin Santana (8)
14 3.73 1.22 188 0
RP Jonathon Broxton (11)
4 2.88 1.13 91 31
RP Trevor Hoffman (13)
2 3.57 1.15 44 32
P John Danks (14)
13 3.53 1.24 160 0
P Scott Baker (16)
13 3.83 1.26 159 0
P Matt Lindstrom (15)
3 3.36 1.30 63 29
BN Mark Buehrle (18)
15 3.92 1.30 122 0
BN Ubaldo Jimenez (21)
12 4.14 1.37 168 0

Overall I'm really pleased with this team. Often times, my decision to overlook pitching early hurts me in the ratio categories, and I expect this year will probably be no different. However, I really, really like my balanced offense and I don't see how I'm lower than 3rd in the league in all five categories. Every player on my team has at least 20 homer power. My top two starters should improve from last year. My closers are solid and provide value based on where I took them. I expect my forumla to lead to another championship.

I hope you enjoyed this. No, really, I do. Later.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A Closer Look: My First Draft of 2009, Rounds 1-10

When I started this blog two years ago I had the intention of using it to discuss fantasy baseball. It hasn't really happened, so I figured with my dad off today I'd use a blog post to dissect my first (real) draft of this year. Yesterday afternoon I took part in a Yahoo Public league draft and I believe I came out of it with an excellent team. I'd done three complete drafts for this style of 5x5, 12-team league over at Mock Draft Central, and I felt pretty prepared going in.

I purchased the Rotoworld Draft Guide for the third straight year, and my membership at MDC allowed me to look over their Average Draft Position (ADP) data. Basically, they take all the qualifying drafts and average where players are being taken. I use that to gauge what kind of value I can get by taking certain players at certain positions. As for the Draft Guide, they do a bang-up job with projections and the comments they've generated for each player are very helpful while drafting. Those are the two points of reference I use for these Yahoo drafts.

I'll run through the roster requirements for Yahoo Public leagues: C 1B 2B 3B SS OF OF OF Util SP SP RP RP P P P BN BN BN BN BN. I typically like to draft three relievers, use a bench spot each for an outfielder, a middle infielder and a corner infielder, and use the last two bench spots for starting pitchers. It's a formula that's won be championships every year I've played in Yahoo leagues.

I've honed my philosophy in drafts through the years, and I find my strategies to be pretty solid. I strive for balanced offense in my position players, guys who will contribute in all five categories (AVE, HR, RBI, R, SB). You won't see guys like Adam Dunn or Juan Pierre on my team. I try not to look too heavily on last year's performance; I want to know what they'll do this year. That means drafting for upside, especially late in drafts. I also try hard not to draft guys out of positional necessity (like taking a guy a couple rounds too early just because you need someone at that position), but that's easier said than done, as you'll see.

Drafting pitchers early is overrated. I'm not averse to taking a starter with my first six picks, but I won't take more than two in my first ten. And I never, ever take a closer in my first ten picks. Paying for saves is the biggest mistake fantasy players make. You can pick up saves off the waiver wire no sweat when the season begins. I say take those first ten picks to address your offense, which is much harder to come by during the season.

Anyway, let's hop into it. I was awarded the 2nd pick in the draft, which I hate because it means you have to wait forever for your next pick (the 23rd). I will bold the players I take because I don't feel like writing out the names of the other owners.

Round 1
1. Albert Pujols
2. Hanley Ramirez
3. David Wright
4. Alex Rodriguez
5. Jose Reyes
6. Grady Sizemore
7. Ryan Braun
8. Josh Hamilton
9. Miguel Cabrera
10. Mark Teixeira
11. Ryan Howard
12. Jimmy Rollins

Hanley's been going #1 in most drafts, and picking #2, I thought I'd be "stuck" with A-Rod. I only say it that way because who knows what kind of effect all the steroids crap will have on him. So to my surprise, Pujols went #1, and I snatched up Hanley at what I think is a fantastic spot. It will be interesting to see how hitting 3rd in the Marlins' order effects his SB production, but it should help Hanley in all the other categories, especially RBI. He's the ultimate five-category contributor. And to think just four years ago I saw him play in Portland. Elsewhere in this round, the guy who ended up with Miguel Cabrera at #9 was pretty lucky. I think one can make a legitimate argument he should go as high as #6.

Round 2
13. Tim Lincecum
14. Ian Kinsler
15. Evan Longoria
16. B.J. Upton
17. Chase Utley
18. Johan Santana
19. Dustin Pedroia
20. Alfonso Soriano
21. Brian Roberts
22. Lance Berkman
23. Carlos Beltran
24. Manny Ramirez

Before I get to my pick, I have to say taking Lincecum that high is a mistake. I understand that guy wouldn't pick again until #36 but that's still a total reach. Also, way too high on Roberts. Anyway, I don't love taking outfielders so early, but Beltran is a perfect example of my love for five-category contributors. He's one of the most solid performers every year and he's shown no signs of slowing down. There's chance I would have taken Berkman at that spot, however.

Round 3
25. Jason Bay
26. Brandon Phillips
27. Brandon Webb
28. Carlos Lee
29. Carlos Quentin
30. Prince Fielder
31. Matt Holliday
32. Justin Morneau
33. CC Sabathia
34. Ichiro Suzuki
35. Carl Crawford
36. Roy Halladay

I really struggled with this pick. I was hoping for Pedroia, but he was gone before I had the chance to take Beltran. It was basically between the balance guy in Phillips and the power guys in Fielder and Morneau. In the end I went with the balance guy. If I wind up losing the power categories by slim margains, I'll look back at this pick and grimace. Hopefully Phillips will keep up his production from the last two years and not hurt me too badly with his mediocre batting average. Also, notice the guy who took Lincecum also took Halladay. Go figure.

Round 4
37. Aramis Ramirez
38. Vladimir Guerrero
39. Cole Hamels
40. David Ortiz
41. Matt Kemp
42. Brian McCann
43. Dan Haren
44. Jake Peavy
45. Daisuke Matsuzaka
46. Joe Mauer
47. Nick Markakis
48. Jonathan Papelbon

I was really hoping to take a pitcher here. I'd have been satisified with Hamels, Haren or Peavy, especially Haren because he's so rock solid. But all those guys went, and after the guy in front of me took Mauer, there sat Markakis. According to Rotoworld, he's the 8th-best outfielder for '09 (projection: .308-26-100-106-12), just below Beltran, and his ADP is 34.37. Even though I could have waited for another outfielder, I couldn't pass up Markakis at that spot with that kind of value. I would have been an idiot to reach for someone like Beckett or Lackey instead. At this point, I'm more than happy about all my picks.

Round 5
49. Alexei Ramirez
50. Kevin Youkilis
51. Jermaine Dye
52. Adrian Gonzalez
53. Russell Martin
54. Joe Nathan
55. Alex Rios
56. Garrett Atkins
57. Curtis Granderson
58. Nate McClouth
59. Shane Victorino
60. Geovany Soto

Here's where things get a little tricky. It definitely wasn't a reach for me to take Youkilis here (ADP: 38.03), but Rotoworld isn't terribly high on him (.288-21-99-97-3) and he doesn't steal much. What made him more attractive to me is his 3B eligibility, and that, for whatever reason, is a pretty weak position this year. I'm hoping his numbers wind up somewhere closer his output from last season, but he is a bit more of a risk than Gonzalez. Again, this is not a reach as far as value, but perhaps I did draft him a bit out of position necessity. I'll be fine with that as long as he produces.

Round 6
61. Chris Davis
62. Jacoby Ellsbury
63. Francisco Liriano
64. Corey Hart
65. John Lackey
66. Josh Beckett
67. Magglio Ordonez
68. Victor Martinez
69. Ryan Doumit
70. Jon Lester
71. Chad Billingsley
72. Mariano Rivera

The top-tier starters were going fast, and I decided I needed to do something. I may have taken Lester had he been available, but I feel pretty confident about Billingsley's ability to grow into a #1 starter. He's coming off a bizarre winter broken leg, but by all accounts he's fine and will be ready to go from Opening Day. Rotoworld expects about a strikeout per inning, which is really what you want from a top fantasy starter. It may have been a reach (ADP: 89.16) but I could take the chance given the strength of my top five picks. And as you'll see starting with my next pick, I won't be making anymore reaches for a while.

Round 7
73. A.J. Burnett
74. Chipper Jones
75. Dan Uggla
76. Brad Lidge
77. Roy Oswalt
78. Francisco Rodriguez
79. Felix Hernandez
80. Michael Young
81. Rafael Furcal
82. Jay Bruce
83. Troy Tulowitzki
84. Robinson Cano

This was by far my least favorite pick in this draft. As I mentioned above, third base is a very weak spot this year. Once you get past Aramis Ramirez, it's a steep drop-off to the next group, which includes Jones. I would have really liked to take Chris Davis here, but the lid has been completely blown off his sleeper-ness and he went early in the sixth round. Also, my computer decided to start sucking and slow way down (it also inexplicably closed all the tabs I had open with Rotoworld and MDC information), and I had to make a snap decision. Rotoworld is only projecting 434 ABs for Jones this year, and odds are he'll get hurt again. This was an excellent value pick (ADP: 51.28) but I'd just like to have certainty about what I'll get out of a player at such a key position. At this point I knew I had to ensure the rest of my CI picks would be solid ones.

Round 8
85. Ryan Ludwick
86. Ryan Zimmermann
87. J.J. Hardy
88. Adam Dunn
89. James Shields
90. Derek Jeter
91. Stephen Drew
92. Chone Figgins
93. Yunel Escobar
94. Jose Valverde
95. Ervin Santana
96. Carlos Zambrano

I've now filled my quota for pitchers in the first ten rounds. I believe Santana provides excellent value here (ADP: 78.43) and the best may be yet to come from him after a spectacular 2008. With my top two pitchers, I've taken two one K per inning young guys with low ratios with upside to improve, and they'll also be playing for winning teams. While Lackey might get more of the hype, Santana has really emerged as the Angels' ace and I'm excited to see what he'll do for my team this year.

Round 9
97. Cliff Lee
98. Carlos Pena
99. Jhonny Peralta
100. Scott Kazmir
101. Rich Harden
102. Edinson Volquez
103. Joey Votto
104. Yovani Gallardo
105. Howie Kendrick
106. Jose Lopez
107. Joakim Soria
108. Vernon Wells

I know what you're thinking: how could I have taken a guy who won't give me much in AVE and SB in my first ten picks? Well, grabbing Pena here (ADP: 67.88) made a lot of sense for me in part to make up for the lost power from the Phillips pick and to give me excellent insurance should Jones miss a prolonged period of time. For now, Pena will take up residence as my Util but he gives me flexibility to move other people around as well. And just maybe he'll outperform the .252 Rotoworld has him slated to hit this year.

Round 10
109. Javier Vazquez
110. Joba Chamberlain
111. Bengie Molina
112. Matt Wieters
113. Bobby Abreu
114. Carlos Marmol
115. Pablo Sandoval
116. Derek Lee
117. Johnny Damon
118. Bobby Jenks
119. Hunter Pence
120. Mike Aviles

I could have waited to take my 3rd outfielder. I needed a catcher in this round much worse, but several of them went off the board before I had the chance to make this pick. Pence was very frustrating to own for most of last year, but he's still very young and just need to cut down on his K's to be one of the top fantasy OFs and a five-category contributor. But most of all, this guy was just sitting out there to be taken when he should have been gone three rounds earlier. It's that kind of value I just couldn't pass up. I mean, really, .280-28-99-81-14 in the 10th round? Where do I sign up? Now that my top 10 picks were over, I could begin to concentrate on finding the best guys for my pitching staff. All the top closers are off the board at this point, but I'm not remotely worried. I begin to address the saves issue at pick #122, which I'll discuss next time.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Era of False Outrage - A-Rod and the Juice

I know I said I'd wait until the weekend to comment on the Alex Rodriguez situation, but I have so many thoughts I feel I need to get them out now. I've typically refrained from talking about steroids in my blogs, but I did when the Rafael Palmiero bombshell broke in '05 and then last year when the Mitchell Report was made public. So I'll do it again now, but if I had my druthers, I'd never take the time to write anything pertaining to steroids again.

I say this not just because steroids discussions are almost always centered in the past as opposed to the present and future (which I believe are more important than anything that happened 8 or 10 years ago), but because there's a ton of false outrage out there about steroids.

We live in the Era of False Outrage. Twice in the course of a week, we got to see this era at its best (or worst), first with the Michael Phelps bong hit and now with A-Rod's revelation. In this Era of False Outrage, TV talking heads, radio wingnuts, high-flaunting bloggers and message board wackos get to spend hours on end going completely berserk when their favorite celebrities/athletes/politicians/anyone in the public eye at all does something stupid, and these reactions typically don't look beyond the surface of what that indiscretion was. Within a few days, it's often forgotten. It's not likely to be the case here, but the speed at which we move on from things purported to be so awful makes the Era of False Outrage that much more infuriating.

Admittedly, the Phelps and A-Rod situations are different. Phelps put himself in a bad place and was caught in the act. To me, his biggest offense wasn't smoking pot; his biggest offense was getting caught. What percentage of white bread American 23-year-old dudes over the last 40 years has smoked pot? And what percentage of the people spewing False Outrage over this hit the bong when they were 23? Of course, when they were 23, cell phone cameras never existed. You mean to tell me Bill Walton wasn't puffing the magic dragon with his Portland teammates when he was a rookie in 1975, and also happened to be 23? We'll never know, because no one was there snapping pictures to sell to tabloids. So does this mean that what Phelps did was OK? Well...maybe I'm the wrong person to ask, since I think pot should be legal. (Before you call me a pothead, I have a clear argument for why I feel this way. But that's for another day.)

Anyway, A-Rod's case is different, like I mentioned. For two seasons and part of a third (at least long enough for there to be a positive test, if A-Rod is to be believed) one of the most talented men ever to step on a baseball field polluted his body with illegal substances because he felt "enormous pressure to perform" after signing the biggest contract in history (only to be trumped seven years later by...himself). A-Rod said he hasn't taken illegal substances since spring training of 2003 (we only have his word to go on, although he hasn't tested positive since then).

If not for four sources breaking the law and telling SI that A-Rod was on the government-protected list of 104 positive tests from the initial 2003 testing period, we'd almost certainly never know A-Rod did steroids. That makes his admission seem all the more pompous and self-centered. Rob Neyer feels A-Rod is most sorry about getting caught, and probably doesn't feel like he himself did anything wrong (sounds Blago-esque, almost). That's not going to keep him from telling kids not to do steroids, as we're almost guaranteed to see an A-Rod PSA within the next six weeks or so.

This brings me to my larger point, which also ties back to the Era of False Outrage. People forget that in 2001, the same year Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs, Major League Baseball had fostered a rich drug culture that allowed every player to experiment with performance enhancers free of penalty (unless, of course, the authorities caught them. Anyone else remember this little incident?). Steroids were actually illegal in baseball starting in 1991, but there was no way for the rules to be enforced.

From the late 1980s until 2002, MLB essentially told its players, "We know these drugs are illegal, and can have adverse health effects. But we also know it will help you perform better on the field, attract more fans, and make all of us more money. So we'll let you keep doing it, as long as everyone plays by the what-happens-in-the-clubhouse-stays-there rules." For a long time, it worked. After the strike, two juiced-up sluggers helped revitalize the game with a home run race for the ages. Attendance soared, revenues skyrocketed, and people cared about the game just as much as they had before 1994.

And then, Ken Caminiti broke ranks, and became the prime source for Tom Verducci's earth-shattering June 2002 SI cover story that changed baseball (and my life, for reasons pertaining to the power of journalism) forever. This quote from the late Caminiti highlights the zeitgeist of an time when players saw steroids as not just a choice, but a necessity to get by:

"If a young player were to ask me what to do," Caminiti continued, "I'm not going to tell him it's bad. Look at all the money in the game: You have a chance to set your family up, to get your daughter into a better school.... So I can't say, 'Don't do it,' not when the guy next to you is as big as a house and he's going to take your job and make the money."

Athletes, in particular professional ones, are the most competitive people on the planet. That competitiveness presents a double-edged sword for people like me who live for sports. On one hand, if athletes weren't highly-competitive, we'd have no reason to watch. If they don't care, why should we? At the same time, hyper-competitive athletes can tend to have darker sides. That includes doing whatever it takes to get ahead, to be the best, to beat your opponents and even your teammates to get to the pinnacle of sport. Many will resort to Machiavellian tactics, as a large percentage of players in baseball's steroids era did.

So when Texas gave a 25-year-old $252 million during what could only be described as the height of the performance-enhancement era of baseball, and as a 25-year-old felt pressure from all sides to live up to this contract, and the sport he played had enabled an entire culture of chemical advantages that could turn a skinny outfielder into a 70+ homer behemoth in just a few years and could make average players into All-Stars without consequences, I'm supposed to be outraged when I find out that 25-year-old decided to give steroids a whack? Are you kidding me? Like A-Rod, because he's such a great player, is just a saint among men, and would never ever do such a thing. I wasn't born yesterday, or at least, was born before the Verducci article came out.

So when I hear the False Outrage machine blaring about A-Rod, and steroids, and how "these guys are role models" and "trashing the history of the game," I can't do anything but laugh. I don't think athletes should be role models for kids beyond what they do on the field. When you watch A-Rod he always plays hard, he never dogs it on the basepaths or in the field, and his approach at the plate is among the best in history. That's the type of role model he should be: this is how you play the game. Beyond that, asking these pro athletes to lead squeaky clean lives is too much. The guys like Mike Lowell, Nick Lidstrom and Steve Nash are harder to come by than you'd think.

The "trashing of history" is equally hilarious. I have a profound love and respect for the history of baseball that will never, ever, ever be shaken. But I don't expect everyone to feel the same way (there may have been a time when I did, but I've grown up since then), and I especially don't think most of these cut-throat millionaire primadonnas who willingly shrank the size of their gonads just to get an edge really cared about what they did to history. All they were thinking about was being the best and striking it big on their next contract. If they thought that little of their own well-being, why should they care at all about their place among guys who did it right like Christy Mathewson, Lou Gehrig, and Stan Musial?

So am I saying it's OK that A-Rod did steroids? No. Unlike pot, I think anabolic steroids and other dangerous chemicals used for such purposes are rightfully illegal. Yet MLB CREATED AN ATMOSPHERE WHERE IT WAS ACCEPTED AND EVEN EXPECTED FOR STEROIDS TO BE DONE. Why should any of us be outraged that A-Rod, one of the most narcassitic players of his generation, did steroids when baseball wasn't going to penalize him?

As far as I'm concerned, the whole era is completely tainted. No one is above suspicion who played in that era. Not one player. I'd like to believe Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Frank Thomas, Derek Jeter, Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Ken Griffey, Jr. never took steriods, but I can't be 100% sure. At the same time, I believe Sammy Sosa, Bret Boone, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Albert Belle and Nomar Garciaparra among others did take steroids, but I can't be 100% sure (H/T to Buster Olney, he's the proprietor of this idea).

A-Rod did the smart thing by saying he did steroids and will likely be better off in the long run because of it, even if most people don't realize he probably would have just kept lying about it had his privacy not been breached in the first place (which Doug Glanville covers marvelously in this NY Times op-ed).

Anyway, I'm not sure if any of what I've just written makes sense. It's late and I have to get up to write a story about ice dams, maybe. But I'm ready for the Era of False Outrage to end. You know what we really ought to be outraged about? The economy, that's what.


Saturday, February 7, 2009

Winter's Almost Done

I haven't checked in for a while, and we're getting pretty close to the start of spring training, so I thought now was a good time to post. I've been working full-time in Newburyport for the past few weeks so it's one of those things where writing for fun hasn't carried the same significance. It's been fantastic so far, and finally getting paid to write stuff is awesome.

Also, the Bruins' stretch of excellence has awakened my love for hockey that's mostly been dormant since junior high, so I can honestly say I've paid less attention to the hot stove this winter than any in the last few years (that doesn't mean I'm not obsessive about it, just not as obsessive). I've seriously considered starting a hockey blog, and I'm also getting to the point where I'll be consciously shutting out most sports chatter from my life besides baseball and hockey. Well, at least until football comes back.

Next weekend I'll be back with my annual American League preview, starting as always with the AL East sans Red Sox. And I won't be commenting on the A-Rod situation in this format until then at the earliest.

Pitchers and catchers will be reporting to Fort Myers in just a few days. With the signing of Jason Varitek to what amounts to a two-year, $8 million deal, the Sox will head into spring training with a club with several big questions, including but not limited to:

Will J.D. Drew, David Ortiz and Mike Lowell be healthy enough to play all year? Which Josh Beckett will we get this season, the 2007 or 2008 version? Can Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jon Papelbon improve on their '08 successes? Who will be the fifth starter? What will be the breakdown in playing time between Varitek and Josh Bard? Does Varitek really have anything left? Who starts at shortstop on Opening Day, Julio Lugo or Jed Lowrie? Can Jacoby Ellsbury handle being the undisputed #1 center fielder for the Sox? How long will Mark Kotsay be out, and will Brad Wilkerson step up in his absence? Which of the Sox low-risk signings (John Smoltz, Brad Penny, Rocco Baldelli, Takashi Saito, Bard) will pan out? Which will bust? Who's going to contribute in the bullpen, and who'll drop off?

That's more questions than I expected to have when I started writing that paragraph. If the answers to all those pan out in club's favor, there's no reason why they won't finish first in the AL East regardless of what kind of seasons are had in Tampa and New York. And I believe most of them will. I'm most concerned about the trio of veteran hitters.

But Theo Epstein has set the Red Sox up very well for 2009. They failed in pursuit of Mark Teixeira, but wound up with the aforementioned five-some of free agents plus Mark Kotsay for a total of $14 million in guaranteed money (remember that Bard's $1.7 million is part of a non-guaranteed deal), which is $6 million less than what the Yankees will pay Teixeira this year.

Epstein knows of the risks carried by Drew, Lowell and Ortiz. Epstein knows the economic climate of baseball will cause poorer teams to shed high-salaried stars by the spring and summer if their attendance plummets. So the Red Sox are in a great position to pick up these players should they have needs to address during the season.

Teams like Colorado, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Detroit, Houston, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Texas come to mind as potential salary-dumpers. And don't expect many of them to wait until July 31 to make a move. If these teams are sagging in attendance, don't feel they can be competitive, and are just in general hemorrhaging money come as early as May, their respective ownerships will push to move players to cut costs.

The Red Sox are one of the fortunate teams that will be able to pick up the pieces, and Epstein knows it.

That's all for now.