31 March 2005

The Walking Wounded - National League

Spanning the globe, to give you a constant variety of...actually, not much. This is Boy of Summer. We do baseball here. If you want Variety, go buy a magazine.

Continuing my two-part series on Important Injury Issues, let's look at the Senior Circuit.

Arizona Diamondbads

Diamondbacks. Sorry, force of habit. Actually, Arizona's not in terrible shape injury-wise. Two potential closers in Jose Valverde and Greg Aquino are dealing with shoulder and elbow troubles, respectively, with the former recently placed on the 15-day DL.

Alex Cintron's nursing a hamstring pull, which might not be so bad for the D-Backs, as his 665 OPS was better than only Craig Counsell among qualified the 21 MLB shortstops who got more than 502 plate appearances last year. What's that? You say Counsell is Cintron's replacement? No, the Diamondbacks couldn't be that stupid, could they?

Atlanta Braves

Newly-aquired OF Raul Mondesi is day-to-day nursing a hammy, and probably won't be very good even with two halthy wheels. Far be it from me to argue with something that John Schuerholz and/or Bobby Cox dreamed up, since they've been right about almost everything for nearly a decade and a half, but isn't relying on Raul Mondesi to supply offense a little like relying on Venezuela to supply oil? I mean, it's great when you can get it, but the situation is so unstable that only a fool would bank on it long-term. Tune in this October when Mondesi wins the "Comeback Player of the Year" Award and Travis wins another "Would You Like Some Fries With Those Words?" Award.

Chicago Cubs

Pick your poison. You want a former NL Rookie of the Year who led the majors in strikeouts in 2003 with shoulder problems? Meet Kerry Wood, who should start Opening Day, but who knows when thereafter. You want a perennial Cy Young candidate with elbow problems? Meet Mark Prior, who will pitch for the first time in nearly a month this Saturday, albeit against minor-leaguers. A closer hit in the hand with a line drive? Joe Borowski is expected to miss six weeks with a broken bone in that hand. Speaking of closers and former Rookies of the Year, Scott Williamson's elbow troubles continue to haunt him and the fans of whichever team he's playing for. This team's hopes hinge on its pitching staff, especially Wood and Prior, and thisngs aren't exactly starting out well.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds don't have any big injuries currently, but it's early yet, and Ken Griffey's still on the roster.

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies/Rookies aren't expected to do much this year. Shawn Chacon is apparently coming back from a hamstring injury and pitched well in an exhibition game last week, although you would almost think that the fact that he pitched well is an indication that he's still not healthy. Chacon provided the ultimate proof of how silly the save rule is, racking up 35 "Show Up In the 9th"s while going 1-9 with an ERA of 7.11. Thank you, come again! As long as him hamstring heals properly, Chacon will return to surrendering game-winning homers as a starter rather than a reliever.

Florida Marlins

Florida's offense depends on Juan Pierre, and Juan Pierre depends on his speed, which could be severely compromised if his calf strain turns out to be any kind of long-term concern. He's day-to-day.

Thankfully, Florida's pitching does not depend on Ismael Valdez, who is a (very distant) 5th starter on this team, and therefore will have a few weeks to get over some kind of virus that kept him on the sidelines at the start of spring training.

Houston Astros

Lance Berkman tore his ACL playing flag football this winter, but should be back in mid to late April. Jeff Bagwell's shoulder still isn't right, requiring a cortisone shot last week. It probably will plague him, and the 'Stros' playoff hopes, for most of the season. Roger Clemens may be the best pitcher of his generation, but the dude is 42 years old, and 42-year old hamstrings don't usually heal very quickly. This team is getting old and injury-prone quickly, and I haven't even mentioned Andy Pettitte's perpetually gimpy left elbow.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Pitching has typically been the Dodgers' bread and butter, and their notable injuries are naturally mostly to pitchers. Odalis Perez is making progress with his tendinitis, as is swingman Wilson Alvarez*. Brad Penny, with his own biceps injury, is somewhat farther behind in his progress, but is headed in the right direction. Scott Erickson, who has less cartilige in his pitching elbow than I have in my coffee cup right now (I hope), has won the 5th starter's job, but don't expect that to last long. Erickson hasn't pitched a full, healthy season since 1999.

Outfielder Jayson Werth had a broken wrist but is getting back to hitting and should be back soon after Opening Day.

Milwaukee Brewers

No major injuries, just day-to-day bumps and bruises for Junior Spivey and Dan=main Miller.

New York Mets

Pedro martinez may be a future Cooperstown enshrinee, but he's also the riskiest $54 million spent this winter. No other player has as much upside or as much downside associated with his contract, and Pedro's lower back strain this spring may be a harbinger of disaster for the Mets and their new management team. The ill-advised aquisition of Victor Zambrano continues to haunt this team as well, though Zambrano did OK last week in an intrasquad game. Now if he can just keep from walking 6 batters per game in the regular season...

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phils phace a touph phight with a pitching staph that's not phrequently both phit and ephective. OK, enouph with that.

Vicente Padilla's on the DL with tendinitis in his pitching triceps, which currently stands as Philadelphia's biggest injury concern. Both center field candidates, Kenny Lofton and Marlon Byrd, are dealing with minor leg injuries, and 1B Jim Thome has a sometimes stiff back, which would quickly become the team's greatest concern if it turns out to be more phrequent. Sorry, frequent.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates had a stroke of luck getting Jason Bay and his sweet stroke from the Padres for Brian Giles, providing them their first Rookie of the Year ever. Bay hurt his wrist this winter, but seems to be returning from that injury fine. Relief man Salomon Torres has some neck issues, but unlike Ryan Vogelsong, it's not whiplash from watching all those home runs he surrenders.

San Diego Padres

The Fathers hope to show the rest of the NL who it's Daddy is this year, but they need centerfielder and leadoff man Dave Roberts to be healthy. To that end, they'll let him start the season on the DL to rehab his groin injury and make sure he can run full speed upon his return. Roberts' only asset is his speed, so it's best for all involved to make sure he has it when he returns. They have a name for .250 hitters with no power and no speed: Coach.

San Francisco Giants

You know about Barry Bonds and his third knee surgery. (That must be a side effect of steroids, as most people I know only have two knees...) Bonds may be out a month, or two, of three, or all season, or he may be done entirely. In all likelihood, he'll be back by the end of May at the latest. If he takes any longer than that, the Giants have no chance in the NL West.

Leadoff man and 2B Ray Durham is also returning from a groin injury (What is it with NL leadoff men and their groins?), but should be OK, having gotten back into the lineup this week.

St. Louis Cardinals

Matt Morris anchored perhaps the least spectacular starting rotation ever for a team that won 105 games last year, but if his sore shoulder doesn't heal soon, his consistency will be missed. With Mulder, Suppan, Carpenter and Marquis, Morris will have a few weeks before they need a 5th starter.

Washington Nationals

For a guy who's only 26, it sure seems like Tony Armas has been injured a long time, doesn't it? He hasn't ever pitched 200 innings in a season, and he hasn't qualified for and ERA title (162 IP) since 2002, and just barely at that. A groin injury this spring has him back on the DL, suggesting that 2005 will not be the year he snaps out of that funk.

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29 March 2005

The Walking Wounded - American League

Spring is in the air.

Unfortunately, so are rumours of steroid use, allegations of falsehood and conspiracy, and bitterness from players, fans, writers and administrators alike. At a time when we should be hearing the relative merits of players and teams entering a new season, all anyone can talk about is Congressional hearings. We should be arguing about whether or not Tony Womack (TONY WOMACK!?)will actually hit .490 this year, or if Eric Bedard will actually put up a 2.11 ERA in the 2005 regular season, but instead all we can do is debate the month in which Barry Bonds might return, and the over/under on how many more times he might drag his family down with him in press conferences. (My money's on eleventeen.)

So, as Easter approaches, and Resurrection is perhaps on some of our minds, let me make an effort to resurrect baseball discussions. That is, discussions about baseball players and what we might get to see on the field this year. One of the saddest aspects of these distractions has been the other news lost in the noise of the steroid scandal. Did you know that there are a lot of big-name players dealing with potentially serious injuries this spring? One day last week, three of the best closers in baseball were all in the non-steroid headlines for the injuries they were dealing with, and I almost missed it. So, in my continuing quest to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go...wait a minute...that's Captain Kirk's quest. Sorry.

Mine is to be a public servant, to provide information and commentary on baseball for my fans. All three of you. So without further delay, herer are the most significant injury concerns for each team heading into the 2005 season.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Man, that's a stupid name. All other things being equal, the injury to the franchise with that name change might have been the biggest blow to this team's chances in 2005, but then what should we expect from a team that once listed "periwinkle" amongst its seven (7!) official team colors. In the non-PR department, the Angels' biggest concern is obviously that reigning AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero's gimpy back will flare up, as it already has this spring, but perhaps more serious is the apparent back stiffness and/or herniated disk that rookie 3B Dallas MacPherson suffers from. The Angels allowed Troy Glaus to leave thinking that MacPherson would be ready to take over the 3B job this year, and if he's not healthy, they'll be forced to play Chone Figgins and/or Robb Quinlan at the hot corner, neither of whom has MacPherson's talent.

Baltimore Orioles

While not your classic injury, Sidney Ponson took a page out of the David Wells Guide to Off-Season Public Relations Strategies by getting into a bar fight and wrote his own Appendix to the tome by assaulting a judge, although not in that order. If the judge ever lets him out, his hand apparently won't hinder his pitching, as no broken bones were detected. If the Orioles are to have any hope at all, and frankly, there wasn't much to begin with, Ponson must get his act together. At least he's not blaming the media or using his children as a shield.

Boston Red Sox

Perhaps the most famous red sock (as opposed to Red Sock) in history, Curt Schilling, isn't quite ready for the regular season, though it's possible that his ankle could be fully healed by mid-April, in time to start at Fenway against the Yankees. Wade Miller could be out much longer, and could effect a more forceful blow to Boston's hopes for success this year.

Chicago White Sox

The collective gasp you heard coming from the South Side of Chicago last week was not surprise that Billy McCoy killed Leroy Brown, but rather the fear that Pale Hose ace mark Buehrle might miss significant time this year with a "Stress reaction" in his leg, whatever that means. Thankfully, it now seems likely that he'll be ready for opening day. Frank Thomas, however, is still big hurtin', unable to run (a relative term, I suppose) and therefore unable to play. He hopes to be back in mid-April, but may take longer. The Sox will need both of them healthy and strong for most of the season if they are to wrest the division from the hands of the Twins.

Cleveland Indians

Tribe ace C.C. Sabathia has a strained oblique muscle and is currently rehabbing, having not yet thrown a live pitch this spring. Sabathia is yet another player on whom his team's hopes ride if they are to succeed in 2005. C.C. has missed some playing time pretty regularly over the past two years with minor injuries, including a strained hamstring, strained biceps, a sore shoulder and an elbow injury. Though he's only 24 and has made at least 30 starts in every season of his 4-year career, he's pitched over 200 innings only once (2002). Listed at 6'7" and 290 lbs, he would do well to slim down a bit and take better care of his body, his meal ticket.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers don't have anyone of real consequence experiencing serious injury problems right now, which is more a testament to the lack of name-brand talent on the roster than it is to any real ability on the part of the team's stars to stay healthy. Outfielder Craig Monroe, who's probably more famous for shoplifting a $30 belt last December than for anything he did from April to September, has a strained shoulder. No big deal.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals have several minor, day-to-day injuries on their staff, but nobody expected to miss serious time at this point. On the other hand, if you have to be worried about whether or not 79-year old Kevin Appier is going to make the rotation, your team has bigger concerns.

Minnesota Twins

The #1 pick of the 2001 draft, Joe Mauer, was expected to contribute at the major league level last year, but got hurt in the second game of the season and hasn't quite been the same since. Mauer hit well in the approximately 100 at-bats he got upon his return, but the knee still isn't 100%, and the Twins' backups aren't going to push a team towards a division championship if pressed into daily service. This is one of the few teams that has enough supporting offense and pitching that they can get by with a catcher who hits .250/.320/.400 for half a season, but it sure would be nice to see Mauer's .300/.370/.550 instead.

New York Yankees

With Derek Jeter having returned from his bruised foot, and Bernie Williams effectively rehabbing his back, the Yankees' biggest injury concern isn't Steve "Recunstructive Surgery" Karsay, or even Randy Johnson. No, the Yankee's biggest injury concern is Tony Womack. Womack isn't injured, and that's the problem, because he's had an unbelieveable spring, is coming off a career year, and is 35 years old, which means that there's nowhere to go but down from here, and down he'll go. Baseball Prospectus projects Womack to "hit" .261/.303/.353 this year, and frankly I'll be surprised if he does that well. The best thing that can happen to the team is for Womack to sustain some kind of non-life threatening injury and miss most of the year, making the decision to play Andy Phillips at the keystone easy for Joe Torre.

Oakland Athletics

The A's apparently don't have any big injury issues, possibly becaus ethey're all so, well, athletic.

Seattle Mariners

Erstwhile "Everyday" Eddie Guardado hasn't pitched in the majors on any day starting in August of 2004, but expects to be ready to start the 2005 season with the team. An effective closer was one of the lowest concerns for a team that lost 99 games last season, but the mariners expect bigger things this year after spending eleventy million dollars on Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson, himself a perpetual injury concern. Nobody on the staff who pitched more than 140 innings had an ERA lower than Joel Piniero's 4.67, and Piniero may not be either healthy or good if his shoulder isn't as healed as he says it is. Even with a healthy Piniero and Guardado, Seattle's climb back to competitive respectability in the AL West will be all uphill. Like Mount Ranier.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Not that they're expected to do much, but the Devil Rays will miss Rocco Baldelli, currently on knee-hab and not expected back until mid-season. The D-Rays set franchise records last year in wins and division place finishing in 2004, but as they were only 70 wins and 4th place, I wouldn't get too excited yet.

Texas Rangers

Texas relies on its offense to succeed, and would like to rely on 2B Alfonso Soriano to leadoff that attack, his poor strike zone judgment notwithstanding, but his strained hamstring makes his one asset as a leadoff hitter, his speed, a non-entity. Closer Francisco Cordero is nursing a shoulder injury, but is making progress in his return, facing minor leaguers without pain. Relief pitcher Frank Francisco's sore elbow has him on the 15-day DL, but he should be able to throw folding chairs off flat ground in the next twoo weeks, and if that goes well, he's expected to start throwing chairs from a mound shortly thereafter.

Toronto Blue Jays

Perpetually gimpy Ted Lilly is making progress returning from his most recent shoulder injury, and should be back to facing major league hitters soon. Newly aquired 3B Corey Koskie is nursing his groin strain, which is not as much fun as it sounds. The Blue Jays' main concern is not finishing behind the Devil Rays again, which seems a pretty likely fate as long as Roy Halladay is healthy this year.

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17 March 2005

"Et tu, Bud?"

With the Ides of March still closer than they appear in the rear-view mirror of news days, yet another instance of Major League Baseball stabbing its fans in the back has been revealed.

"We had a problem, and we dealt with the problem. I regarded this as not only a health issue, but certainly you could say it was an integrity issue in this sport. We're acting today to help restore the confidence of our fans."

- Bud Selig, 13 January 2005

"Actually, we talked about it and decided that we don't really care about our fans. Or integrity."

- Bud Selig, yesterday (sort of)

Congress had subpoenaed documents from MLB about the new drug testing policy, then made their findings known a few days later. On the eve of Congressional hearings about steroid use in Major League Baseball, it was learned that the supposedly, newly improved agreement between the MLB Players Association and MLB does not quite have the "teeth" it was alleged to have had upon its initial announcement in January. One major item is the fact that testing positive for any of the 45 substances banned by MLB can result in a suspension OR a fine, and not just for the first offense, but also for the second, third and even fourth positive test. It had been widely reported in January, based on announcements from MLB and the MLBPA, that punishments would take the form of suspensions without pay, with increased length for each subsequent offense. No mention was made of the alternative fines.

Even more astonishing is that these alternate fines do not even amount to the de facto fines a player would pay if he were suspended without pay for the time consummate with the number of the offense. A player making only $500,000/year still earns over $3000/game if he is on the roster all year. Getting suspended for 10 days during a stretch with no off-days would cost him almost $31,000 in forfeit pay at that rate, not a paltry $10K. Heck, even if he got paid evenly throughout the year, missing ten days would still cost almost $14,000, and that's for the 25th man on the roster, a scrub making close to the minimum.

What if Barry Bonds tested positive? A 10-day suspension would cost him between $494,000 and $1.1 million in surrendered pay, depending on how paydays are calculated. Would a player be required to surrender the amount of pay he would have lost if he'd been suspended instead of fined? Ten grand is pocket change for someone like him, but ten games, at some point, might mean the difference between 756 homers and 754.

MLB executive Robert Manfred maintains that there is no intent to use the fines, only to suspend players who test positive:

"All players with positive test results unequivocally will be suspended without pay and their names announced. The players' association was aware of our intention to suspend across the board for positives."

This of course begs the question, "Why bother to include such a clause if there is no intent to use it?" Most old billionaires who marry young trophy wives will tell you that they signed a prenuptial agreement, but "have no intention of using it" as well. But old billionaires don't get to be old billionaires by being stupid, as Jesse Ventura has so kindly pointed out. Whether they're marrying themselves to some bimbo with numbers like 36-26-36, or to some ballplayer with .300-30-100 measurements, they know enough to stack the deck in their favor whenever possible.

Manfred also said,

"In all but the most extraordinary of circumstances the suspension would be automatic."

Hmmm...what might "the most extraordinary of circumstances" be? I can envision several scenarios, most of which involve a star player on a team fighting for a playoff spot randomly testing positive in mid-September. Remember, this agreement supposedly includes random, unannounced, year-round testing, right? So it would not be unfathomable to think that Barry Bonds might pee into a cup, test positive for some banned substance, and thereby piss away his team's playoff hopes by missing the next ten games.

Had this happened on September 24th last year, with the Giants trailing Los Angeles by only 1.5 games, Bonds would have missed the rest of the season, including the team's playoff run. Granted, the Giants missed the playoffs last year anyway, but they certainly had a better shot at catching the Dodgers with him than without him. And you can bet your last nickel that Giants' management would cry foul and probably take legal action if El Bud opted for the ten game suspension instead of the fine in that situation this year, as would any team in such a predicament.

Another issue omitted from the initial announcements about the new drug-testing policy is that testing "shall be suspended immediately upon the parties' learning of a governmental investigation." I don't know about you, but it seems to me that these Congressional hearings probably qualify as a "governmental investigation", which should mean that testing has already ceased, at least for now. The players may not know when testing will happen, but they certainly know at least one time when it won't: Now.

It's possible that I'm wrong about this and that a "governmental investigation" means the FBI looking into allegations that a particular player was using or distributing steroids, because there are reported caveats about suspending testing if a favorable appeal is set aside, as well as essentially scrapping the whole agreement if for some reason testing has to be halted for an entire year.

This part of the information makes the least sense to me at this point, as I understand neither what is meant by a "governmental investigation" nor why MLB would want to halt testing just because they discovered that one was occurring. Isn't the government always investigating something? It's what they do. As far as I know, the Feds don't put a freeze on Mafia arrests just because they're investigating someone else in the Mafia, do they? As I said, I could be wrong about this, but since that's never happened before, it's a pretty remote possibility.

Arizona Senator, war hero and baseball fan John McCain said,

"I can reach no conclusion, but that the league and the players union have misrepresented to me and to the American public the substance of MLB's new steroid policy,"

I'll be one of the first to tell you that generally I don't think investigating what baseball players are injecting into their butts is the best use of Congress' time, but McCain's right about this. Sure, what Congress is doing amounts to little more than grandstanding, a dog-and-pony show by a bunch of overgrown kids who all should have something better to do. But if not for this investigation, we might not have found out about these things until it was too late. Good to know that Congress occasionally does something useful, even if it is only by accident.

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07 March 2005

Book Review: Juiced by Jose Canseco

Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big
by Jose Canseco

Juiced Posted by Hello

It's been said that one should not judge a book by its cover, though if one is to judge anything of an author by his book's cover, Jose Canseco is pretty impressed with himself. The cover of Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big, (Regan Books, $24.95, though you should never pay that much) besides somehow managing to fit the longest baseball title since "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings," also includes not one, but two pictures of Canseco, his #33, his position (RF/DH) and his career statistics, and that's just on the front. The back cover has yet another picture of the author, a beefcake shot of him flexing his bicep while holding a bat, with the title "The Chemist" above it, and a self-quote below. Not bad, if he does say so himself, and he does. Several times.

One of the first things I discovered as I read Jose Canseco's new book was that most of the reviews I had seen had not done the book justice. For one thing, 90% of the quotes they used had come right out of the introduction. I doubt most reviewers had read much farther. Another problem was that the articles I had seen about the book had seemed to discuss only the steroid-related topics in the book, whereas I found the book to be much more comprehensive than that. I hope that this thorough review will offer you a much clearer picture of Canseco and his book.

Don't get me wrong: Juiced is about steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. It's got that title for a reason. But the story doesn't start there, and Canseco knew enough as he wrote the book to know that he couldn't keep most sports fans interested for almost 300 pages if all he discussed were drugs, dosages and dropped names. Canseco spends several chapters discussing his family history and upbringing, breaking into the big leagues, and becoming an MVP. He also spends a chapter on women (plus an entire chapter on his relationship with Madonna...hint: it was pretty tame), a chapter on cars, one on dealing with the press, fatherhood, the 1994 strike, and several chapters on the twilight of his career.

I should say, "Jose's perceived reasons for the extended twilight and premature end of his career", but that comes later. The book starts with his parents' reasonably successful life in Cuba, and their flight to Miami upon Fidel Castro's takeover. Jose and his siblings grew up in Miami, and Jose maintains that he was something of a runt as a youngster. He and his twin brother Ozzie learned to play from thier father when they were little, though his father wasn't always as encouraging as he would have liked.

Much of what Canseco writes must be taken with a grain of salt, in my opinion, as the book is clearly written with an agenda in mind, namely to prove that Jose Canseco's career as a professional baseball player is almost entirely due to his usage of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone. "I was always a scrawny kid, not very athletic, and in my wildest dreams I couldn't see myself playing at the major league level," he tells you, and then he tries to play down the fact that he was the MVP of both his JV and Varsity baseball teams in high school.

Harrumph, I say. There aren't that many kids drafted out of high school by Major League Baseball teams, fewer still as low as the 15th round. The dude must have had some talent, right? He might not have had such a prolific and prolonged career without the aid of steroids, but he certainly could have been a major leaguer for some time. His brother Ozzie had essentially the same genes, and he made it to the majors, albeit briefly, without much help from steroids, though Jose attests that his twin dabbled a little in the juice as well.

Other names he mentions in the book, besides the big names like Mark McGwire, Juan Gonzales, Rafael Palmiero and Ivan Rodriguez, include Wilson Alvarez, Dave Martinez and Tony Saunders. For all of these players he purports to know first-hand of their steroid use. Canseco also discusses his suspicions about Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Brady Anderson, Bret Boone and Roger Clemens (though he does say that the Rocket never "touched down" in any woman's bed besides his wife's, as far as Jose knew).

The 2001 spring training conversation he "recalls" with Boone has already been debunked by ESPN.com's Jeff Merron here, along with a few other of Jose's fuzzy recollections. Some of these are details, like whether he pinch hit for David Cone in Game 4 or Game 6 of the 2000 World Series. Others are pretty substantial mistakes, like his account of a monster home run he hit off Walt Terrell in Detroit in 1986, which was actually hit in 1987. By Mark McGwire. Small detail.

Here's one that Merron didn't discuss: In Chapter 19, "The Godfather of Steroids", The Don discusses a home run derby in which he participated in February of 2000, along with other sluggers like McGuire, Palmiero, and Bonds. He says that Bonds was amazed by his physique, as well as the fact that he won the contest, hitting at least one blast that landed "maybe 550 or 600 feet from home plate."

"So what did Barry Bonds do that next off-season? He showed up in spring 2001 with forty pounds of added muscle. As soon as he set foot on a field in Scottsdale that spring, he was all anyone could talk about."

Well, the evidence does not support Canseco's inference that this experience led Bonds to steroid use. Bonds had missed a third of the 1999 season with injuries, but managed to hit 34 homers in 355 at-bats despite that, and was in fact, invited with other elite sluggers to the aforementioned home run derby. Bonds bounced back nicely from those injuriesin 2000, though, hitting .306, tying his career high with 129 runs scored (in 143 games) and setting new personal bests with 49 homers and a .688 slugging percentage, all at age 35. It seems more likely that Bonds' steroid use was a response to the 1999 injuries he suffered, and that the wheels were in motion well before he traveled to Las Vegas that February.

Canseco's opinions on his status as a Latino, and the influence it had on his young career, is also a bit suspect. While I don't doubt that racism existed at that time in MLB organizations, and that it still does in some forms, I don't see how the major leagues were as "closed" as he contends. In 1985 alone over 100 players, nearly 10% of all major leaguers, hailed from a predominantly Spanish-speaking country, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Latinos had played and played well in the majors for decades before Canseco came along, with MVP winners such as Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, and Willie Hernandez, as well as fellow Cuban Zoilo Versailles. Hernandez and another Cuban, Mike Cuellar, hasd also won Cy Young Awards, and practically countless Latinos had won Gold Gloves, Silver Slugges, and other acclaim in major league baseball. A few narrow-minded hicks who happened to manage minor league franchises may have been rotten, especially towards someone they perceived as a "hot dog" or a "goof-off" like Jose. That, however, hardly spoils the whole bunch of major league owner-apples, and is far from the pervasive conspiracy to keep the Latinos down that Canseco describes.

Sketchy recollections and thinly-veiled agendas aside, the book isn't bad. Canseco's smart enough to know that someone else should write his books for them, and Steve Kettmann, his ghost writer, does a good job of putting Jose's words into, well, Jose's words. It's not eloquent or elaborate, but it's not Hemingway either. It's just plain talk, easy to read (unlike some of my stuff) and reasonably interesting. It's part revisionist history, part biased biography, and part "how To" guid, both for how to become a major leaguer (HINT: there are needles involved) and how to act when you get there (HINT: Don't date Madonna; DO be nice to the Press).

Despite my criticisms, I actually do recommend reading this book. Just try to do it with some access to the record books nearby, just in case. For all its flaws, Juiced really was interesting. Imperfect, with some big holes and lots of unanswered questions, but a fun ride nonetheless.

Kind of like it's author.

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04 March 2005

Infielder Fantasy Picks for 2005

Those of us who serve as columnists on 360thePitch.com were asked to discuss infielders for the upcoming Fantasy Baseball season, so I did. But please note that the following is nothing more than my (slightly) educated opinion on these matters, and is not necessarily the opinion of 360thePitch.com or its affiliates, General Electric, Disney, CBS or the Pentavaret, who control everything in the world, including the Newspapers, and who meet tri-annually at a secret country mansion in Colorado known as "The Meadows".

Also, before I give you my Fantasy Baseball picks for Infielders, or anything at all for that matter, you should understand two things:

1) I didn't finish higher than 8th in any of the three leagues I played in last year.
B) I've never had to do a live draft or bid for players in a Roto league.

Therefore, I take absolutely no responsibility for any money you lose basing your Fantasy picks on my writing. But if you win, I want a cut.

With that said...

First Class:
You know the big names: Javy Lopez (34), Ivan Rodriguez (33), Jorge Posada (33), Mike Piazza (36), Jason Varitek (32). All would be solid picks, but all are on the wrong side of 30, and catchers tend not to age well. Piazza may again be an elite catcher though, as the Mets are reportedly planning to let him be the regular backstop, and not without cause: he hit .331/.419/.552 as a catcher, 0.223/.326/.372 elsewhere.

Victor Martinez, at 26, should continue to build on his impressive 2004 numbers, and should be even better as he and his teammates mature. I'd take Martinez over any of the others, except maybe Piazza. Maybe.

Mike Lieberthal and Jason Kendall remain solid picks. Lieberthal has lots of protection in that Phillies lineup, and Kendall could thrive with an Oakland team that values OBP, but don't expect many steals. Both are in this class only if your league penalizes you for strikeouts. Otherwise they drop to...

Business Class
More than likely, half of the names above will end up down here as their ages catch up with them, especially Posada. A.J. Pierzynski could put up better numbers than 2004, as he's going from a severe pitcher's park back to a hitter's park in Chicago, and is still in his prime at only 28. Look for Michael Barrett and Johnny Estrada to take a step back from last season's career year numbers, though Estrada should still be decent. Joe Mauer is a solid hitter all around, but is still young, and doesn't have a lot of power. Rockies backstop J.D. Closser could be a bargain simply on the merits of Coors Field. The Royals' John Buck is also on the way up, and should be helped by the fact that Kauffman Stadium has been playing like Coors Lite, except without the nasty aftertaste.

Economy Class
There are probably a dozen guys who will hit something like .250 with 12-15 homers. If you have to get stuck with one of them, the key is to know which ones will be cheap and which won't. Little known Dave Ross of the Dodgers and Guillermo Quiroz of the Blue Jays could put up solid, cheap power numbers, but their averages won't impress. Rod Barajas will probably put up numbers comparable to Ramon Hernandez, Benito Santiago, Jason LaRue and Miguel Olivo, but he hits in a better lineup and doesn't have the name recognition of some other players, so he could come cheap.

Stay away from anyone over 35, and anyone named "Brad", "Paul" or "Molina."

First Base:

First Class: Offense is cheap at 1B, but Albert Pujols is practically in a class by himself, followed closely by Todd Helton and not closely by Jim Thome, Mark Teixeira, and Justin Morneau, who hit 41 homers between AAA and the majors last season. David Ortiz, Travis Hafner and Aubrey Huff are also very good, though they'll see more time at OF or DH in 2005 than as a 1B. Carlos Delgado, Paul Konerko, Sean Casey and Derek Lee are just a step below.

Business Class
Look for Richie Sexton to make a nice comeback from his injury, but his numbers will be hurt a little by Safeco Field. Jeff Bagwell is getting old, but is still productive. Lyle Overbay and Craig Wilson are not likely to repeat their 2004 performances, but should still be decent picks if you don't get one of the big guys. Phil Nevin, Hee Seop Choi, Kevin Millar and Ben Broussard are all solid picks, and at 27, Carlos Pena could break out and finally come through on the hype we heard when he came up through the Oakland organization. Nick Johnson could impress if he can stay healthy all season, which is about as likely as Nick Nolte staying out of jail all season. Casey Kotchman could impress if Darin Erstad gets hurt and misses significant time, which I think is due for this year, no? A healthy Jason Giambi could make a nice comeback to his pre-tumor, pre-parasite, pre-steroid controversy performance.

Economy Class Ken Harvey, Scott Hatteberg, Tino Martinez, Adam LaRoche and Jay Gibbons won't kill you at 1B, but they're close. Stay away from Doug Mientkiewicz, Travis Lee, J.T. Snow and Erstad.

Second Base:

First Class:
Look for Alfonso Soriano to bounce back from a slightly down year and rejoin the 30-30 club. Jeff Kent's power numbers might be hurt a little by Dodger Stadium, but he's still one of the better second sackers out there. A full, healthy year from 27-year old Marcus Giles should be one of the three or four best 2Bs in baseball. Ray Durham and Brian Roberts are both solid picks, but Roberts only has value at the keystone, not in the outfield.

Business Class
Luis Castillo has no power, but he gets on base, and if he starts stealing again, he's a solid second-tier pick at second base. Bret Boone and Mark Bellhorn will give you 20-25 homers, but they'll have trouble hitting .260. Take Bellhorn if your league values OBP. D'Angelo Jimenez, Aaron Miles and Kazuo Matsui will give you a little pop and a little speed without killing your batting average. New White Sox import Tadahito Iguchi
should do the same, but may come cheaper as an unknown. Chase Utley could hit 25 homers if he gets to play every day, and Jose Vidro may reverse his slide and hit .300 with 20+ homers again.

Economy Class
Look for Mark Loretta, Tony Womack and Ron Belliard to take a big step backward after their 2004 career years. Belliard may be all but worthless. Kieth Ginter could hit 20 homers but won't do much else. Junior Spivey, if healthy, is worht a look. If not, rookie Rickie Weeks could impress, but probably needs more time in the minors. Mark Grudzielanek isn't the worst option around, but he's close. Stay away from Craig Counsell, Luis (Oh-for-Th)Rivas and future Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar.

Third Base:
First Class:
Alex Rodriguez, after a year of adjusting, should return to MVP form in 2005.
Expect the law of averages and the law of Safeco Field to bring Adrian Beltre back to earth, where he'll still be one of the best half dozen or so thirdbasemen around. Scott Rolen isn't likely to repeat last year's performance either, but he's still an elite player at the Hot Corner. If Troy Glaus can stay healthy, going from a moderate pitchers' park to a severe hitters' park could help him hit 40 homers again. Melvin Mora probably won't hit .340 again, but he should still be a good bet for a .290 average and 25 homers. Eric Chavez led the AL in walks in 2004, and should be coming into his prime as a hitter, at age 27, as is Aramis Ramirez, though he doesn't have Chavez' patience. Hank Blalock is only 24 and gets better every day.

Business Class
A healthy Chipper Jones could hit .290 with 30 homers and jump up to First Class, but .270 with 25 is more likely. Look for Mike Lowell and Corey Koskie in the same range of performance. Angels' rookie Dallas McPherson was probably ready for a job in the majors two years ago, but with Glaus gone, the 3B job in Anaheim (or wherever the hell it is they play with that stupid name) is hit to lose, which he won't. Aaron Boone and David Wright are among the few third-sackers who steal a few bases, giving them a little more value than a .275 average with 20 homers usually buys you at this position. Wright could be even better.

Economy Class
Michael Cuddyer and Morgan Ensberg could come cheap, and might only need an everyday job to show what they can do, namely hit .290 with power and patience. Joe Crede's 27, and could bounce back to have a nice year, something like .270 with 25 homers. David Bell should not be expected to repeat his 2004 numbers, and would probably best serve both the Phillies and you if his spring injury turns out to be serious, as no one will be inappropriately waiting on him to produce.

If someone could find a way to clone Sean Burroughs' ability to hit for average and Jose Valentin's ability to hit for power into one player, there might be a useful National League thirdbaseman in southern California, but in this reality, there isn't. Stay away from both, as well as Alex Gonzales, Vinny Castilla and Edgardo Alfonso. Don't bother with Bill Mueller, Joe Randa or Royals' rookie Mark Teahen, who isn't ready yet and might never be.


First Class:
Edgar Renteria and Derek Jeter are the best of a suddenly weak group, though Nomar Garciaparra could return to his formerly impressive self if he can keep from being hit by a...OUCH! There goes one now!. Well, don't hold your breath.

Jimmy Rollins could break out with some guidance from a real leadoff hitter like Kenny Lofton, Miguel Tejada has the most power of any shortstop in baseball right now, and hits in the middle of a good lineup, so he's up here as well. Rafael Furcal is in his prime, and makes up in speed and patience what he lacks in power.
Business Class
Mike Young isn't likely to hit .313 again, but should still be a solid SS with a .290 average and 15-20 homers. 2004 AL Rookie of the Year Bobby Crosby should gain a little batting average as he matures, and may steal more bases as well. Orlando Cabrera can't possibly be as bad as he was last year, and Carlos Guillen probably isn't as good. Look for them to meet somewhere in the middle, though Guillen should still be better. Jose Reyes could impress if he can stay healthy. Look for 30 steals if he gets 600 at bats.

Economy Class
Adam Everett, Angel Berroa and Clint Barnes will give you a little power, and little speed, a little average, but not a lot of anything. Juan Uribe was the rarest of birds last season: someone who hits better after leaving Colorado. Don't expect it to continue. Khalil Green was decent last year before he got hurt, but might be worth a look. Expect Jack Wilson to return to earth (AKA .270 with ~10 homers) after hitting .308 last year. Stay away from Royce Clayton, Christian Guzman, Julio Lugo and especially Omar Vizquel. Even if being 38 doesn't kill his stats, SBC Park will.


Want a second opinion? Go check out my colleagues at 360thePitch.com...

...and you're ugly, too!

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