Posted on: February 24, 2012 2:58 pm
Edited on: February 25, 2012 12:37 pm

Braun should be considered innocent, not lucky

Ryan Braun did not get off on a technicality. He should not be presumed guilty, especially now that he has proved he is not guilty. And he should not be seen as lucky, either.

If anything, Braun is unfortunate that the failed test result ever leaked. This system is supposed to secure confidentiality, but unfortunately, someone has loose lips. Surely not anyone with MLB nor certainly Braun's camp, but someone.

Braun was unfairly tagged a steroid cheat to start, and even now, after he won his case and proved there was no good, winning case against him, some are still calling it a "technicality'' that won the day, or even calling him lucky. Well, if having an unfair, unfortunate scarlet letter hanging over your normal-sized head is lucky, then that's him. Braun surely was elated to have prevailed. But he was said by friends to have felt "drained'' after spending his winter vacation gearing up for a fight and probably occasionally imagining the worst.

Well, the worst didn't happen. As it turns out, the system works. The Brewers' star was not guilty, and he should be considered not guilty. The independent arbitrator Shyam Das weighed the evidence for seven weeks and found the case against Braun stunk. Or at the very least, it wasn't proved.

Braun said he is innocent, and fairly, he should be seen that way.

This is actually that rare example of justice where the defendant is presumed guilty and has to prove one of two things, either 1) he's innocent, or 2) the test wasn't fair or proper. Since it's near to impossible to prove one's innocence beyond a shadow of a doubt (he passed a test of his own taking a couple weeks after the October test, but that has little to no value), this case obviously had issues, big issues.

The independent test taker held the sample for 48 hours, which makes no sense. While it's technically allowed by baseball for the fellow to refrigerate for two days as he did, or even keep it in his kid's room if he so desires, there is no good reason he couldn't find a FedEx open in Milwaukee. Baseball would say it's safer with him than on some shelf at a FedEx. But why does it have to be on a shelf at all? Baseball would also say other tests have sat on a shelf at FedEx, though it isn't known whether any of those samples came up positives. There are 24-hour FedExes all across the country, and certainly one in Milwaukee. There is also no reason the test taker would wait until 1:30 p.m. Monday to send it off. Did he have a lunch date? Did he bring it with him to his lunch date?

The question has to be asked now: Was it even Braun's sample? After a two-day lapse, who can be absolutely sure?

And if it was, is it possible the sample was somehow contaminated? Baseball would argue that the jar was triple sealed, but the doubt wasn't sealed out. Someone close to Braun said there was evidence of deterioration in Braun's sample but not the other five samples taken that playoff weekend. MLB people deny that is the case, though even if that's not the case, there is still plenty of room for doubt either, here way.

Oddly, the test sample came up with a result that was not only the highest for testosterone among the 40,000 or so tests administered on thousands of major league players, it was actually three times higher than anyone else's ever. Is it possible as one WADA person suggested, that perhaps someone with this sort of result was just heavily juicing? Or perhaps is it possible there was something wrong with his sample ... if it even was his sample?

There is no claim here the sample keeper did anything seriously wrong, or even that he didn't abide by the rules laid out by MLB and the players' union. But is it enough? Doesn't this have to be 100 percent?

There isn't one iota or a smidgen of a scintilla of any other evidence against Braun, from his high school days in Southern California to the University of Miami (where one of his first-day hosts was Alex Rodriguez) to the Brewers. There isn't any evidence of extraordinary muscles, unusual head size or any back acne. There isn't one person who's come forward from his past to suggest he was a druggie, not even from one unnamed person. There isn't anything in Braun's statistics to suggest something weird was going on. He came into the league one of the best handful of hitters in the game and has remained at that level.

Baseball is obviously quite upset about the result of this case, but baseball's policy remains a strong one. Baseball people showed their justice is blind. Their people tried hard to enforce the result they had even though it was the National League MVP. Baseball is right, too, to provide the players with their day in court, because the procedure isn't perfect, even if the policy is vastly improved.

The perception out there now is that there is something seriously wrong with baseball's program. But all that's been shown is that it isn't perfect (MLB is now 12-1 in arbitration rulings), and who ever thought it was? We already know it's imprecise. The very fellow with the sample is said to have called his boss to see if the refrigerator strange plan would work, so even wasn't so sure. Just like no one is perfect, no policy or procedure is, either.

The arbitration process itself isn't perfect, either. How else to explain why there is only one independent arbitrator alongside two ringers? Rob Manfred, the executive VP for labor and human relations at MLB, has a perfect 13-0 record voting on the side of MLB/process while players union chief Michael Weiner and his other reps also have a combined 13-0 record voting for the players. So the onus was all on Das in this case. Does it make any sense to have three arbitrators for a relatively insignificant salary arbitration hearing and only one for a hearing that will determine a man's good name? Shouldn't baseball be sure?

Braun is said by people close to him to have offered to take a DNA test. Meanwhile, one other person involved in the case claimed he first offered, then withdrew. There is bound to be some back and forth over exactly what was offered, what was done, and perhaps even what was leaked -- though in this case there isn't a claim by one side or the other that anyone closely involved in the case leaked the news of the positive test. It wouldn't make sense for either side to leak this info.

MLB has never leaked anything like that before. It understands the unfairness of such a leak, and more practically, they know they'd be sued if they ever did such a thing. Their whole program would be toast. And it goes without saying that Braun's side would never think of leaking such negative information about their own client. The leak is the one thing that ultimately damaged Braun here.

What surely happened is that word got into the hands of a third party that had no stake in the case, some fellow who was anxious to tell someone what he knew. Braun's side may have talked to a lawyer or to before hiring David Cornwell. Maybe one of the unhired lawyers has a friend at ESPN and thought this might make an interesting story.Well, it certainly did. But it's a story with a surprise -- albeit fair -- ending.
Category: MLB
Posted on: February 18, 2012 7:42 pm
Edited on: February 18, 2012 8:57 pm

Best deals from team, player perspectives

As with every year, there were the deals. And then there were the steals. With camps opening it is time to assess the best and worst of the winter's free-agent signings. With just a few dozen players remaining, here are my lists of the best signings for the team and the best ones for the player ...

Best signings (for team)

1. Francisco Cordero. Blue Jays RP, $4.5M, 1 yr. In a closer market filled with talent, he was the last good one to sign, and he seemed to have gotten squeezed. The Reds turned down a $12-million option for him, but based on 194 saves over the past five years, that seems closer to his true value.
 2. Brad Lidge. Nationals RP, $1M, 1 yr. Worries of injury probably kept him down. A great signing for a young team if he has anything left.

3. Carlos Beltran. Cardinals OF, $26M, 2 yrs. Concerns about his knee probably hurt him. But he did not have one knee issue all last year, when he was one of the more productive hitting outfielders in the league. Won't replicate Albert Pujols, but gives them a chance.

4. Ryan Madson. Reds RP, $8.5M, 1 yr. The biggest money spent early on closers when Madson thought he had a $44-million, four-year deal with his old team, the Phillies, before they pulled the offer. The Reds are the beneficiaries when the Angels and Red Sox didn't make their move. Only one year as a closer, but dynamic changeup gives him a chance to be excellent for years.

 5. Alex Gonzalez. Brewers SS, $4.25M, 1 yr. He's had a much better shortstop career than Clint Barmes or Jamey Carroll. Chronically low on-base percentage finally catching up with him.

  6. Joel Pineiro. Phillies SP, $1.5M, 1 yr. The $1.5-million salary on his minor-league deal wasn't even on Cot's Baseball Contracts (the usual reference spot for salaries), but the hunch is the switch back to the National League will make the difference for him. Despite their ballpark, the Phillies seem to do well with pitchers. Has never allowed a run in Citizens Bank Ballpark.

 7. Chris Capuano. Dodgers SP, $10M, 2 yrs. Some might look at this as a fair figure (or perhaps even a little high), but he showed last year he knows how to pitch and win with what he has left. Solid NL starter.

 8. Paul Maholm, Cubs, SP, $4.5M, 1 yr. Nice starter has been adversely affected by Pirates offensive woes.

 9. Lyle Overbay. Diamondbacks, $1M, 1 yr. Usually a member of the overpays, he went to the other list this year. Very good defender.

 10. Jon Garland. Indians SP, 1 yr. undisclosed contract. Whatever he got, the Indians got a solid pitcher who's been an innings eater throughout his career.

 11. Ryan Spilborghs. Indians OF, $1M, 1 yr. He got $1 million base for one year on a minor-league deal, and should see a lot ot action with the Indians considering their all lefty starting outfield and the injury history of Grady Sizemore. Solid, good team man.

 12. Mike MacDougal. Dodgers RP, $1M, 1 yr. Very talented pitcher. One of these years someone's going to get a steal.

 13. Kosuke Fukudome. White Sox OF, $1M, 1 yr. Smart insurance for a team that has a starting trio with some questions, even from the well-paid Alex Rios.

 14. Micah Owings. Padres RP, $1M, 1 yr. Multitalented player went 8-0 with the rival Diamondbacks last year. Can also hit.

 15. Jonny Gomes. A's OF-DH. $1M, 1 yr. A plus for any team or clubhouse.

 16. Francisco Rodriguez. Brewers RP. $8M, 1 yr. That's pretty steep for a set-up man, but K-Rod is really a second closer, a nice luxury for Milwaukee to have.

Best Signings (for player)

   1. C.J. Wilson. Angels SP, $77.5M, 5 yrs. Yes, I realize he could have gotten another $22 million from the Marlins. But he's had only two years as a starter, is surprisingly wild and bombed in the playoffs.

   2. Laynce Nix. Phillies OF, $2.5M, 2 yrs. Two years? Don't get it.

   3. Wilson Betemit. Orioles INF, $3.25M, 2 yrs. And I use the word "infielder'' loosely. The guy can hit a bit. but again, what's the reason for two years?

   4. Coco Crisp. A's OF, $14M, 2 yrs. He had the option of going to the Rays after saying he most wanted to play for a winner. So what does he do, but sign for two years (likely two dead years) with the A's. Can't really blame him considering.

   5. Rod Barajas. Pirates C, $4M, 1 yr. Pull hitter will yank a few out, even in Pittsburgh. But the market for the so-so catchers generally wasn't this good.

   6. Heath Bell. Marlins RP, $27M, 3 yrs. That's what folks figured he'd get. But it was quite good in this closer market for a pitcher in his mid 30s who's been thriving at PETCO. One advantage for the Marlins: He really is Heath Bell, and he's a good guy.

   7. Frank Francisco. Mets RP, $12M, 2 yrs. He did well by signing early, getting a multiyear in a rough market for closers.

   8. Yoenis Cespedes. A's OF, $36M, 4 yrs. Looked like superman on his video. but can he hit the major-league curveball? Curious choice in that Oakland isn't going to win at least this year, and maybe next. But it's understandable in that they'd missed out on Adrian Beltre and Lance Berkman, two guys who had monster years elsewhere after spurning Oakland's offers. Another plus for the player: if he can hit the curve, he's a free agent again at 30.

   9. Prince Fielder. Tigers 1B, $214M, 9 yrs. He could have gotten at least eight years elsewhere (surely from the Orioles and maybe the Dodgers, who had offered seven), but Victor Martinez's injury helped him join the $200-million club with a great team. Credit owner Mike Ilitch for doing whatever it took, but it took a lot.

   10. Mark Ellis. Dodgers 2B, $8.75M, 2 yrs. Very nice addition to any team, but he looked like he was on the verge of a release at one point early last year. The whole middle infield market did very well early, including Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll and others. Dodgers appear a lot on these list, but that's because they signed more free agents than anyone.

   11. Mark Buehrle. Marlins, $58M, 4 yrs. Very good, consistent pitcher who may thrive in the NL. Steep price, though, so he better.

   12. Willie Bloomquist. Diamondbacks $3.8M, 2 yrs. Another one of the journeyman middle infielders who cashed in big. Funny thing is, he turned down close to $5 million with the Giants.

   13. Jerry Hairston, Jr. Dodgers INF, $6M, 2 yrs. Spunky, versatile player cashed in after mostly helping the Brewers late last year.

   14. Luke Scott. Rays DH, $5M, 1 yr. Hard to criticize the Rays, but the price seems steep considering the DH glut. He's younger and has more power than those left, however.

   15. Greg Dobbs. Marlins INF, $3M, 2 yrs. Again, not sure why a utilityman gets a multiyear deal. But good for him.

   16. Casey Blake. Rockies 3B. $2M, 2 yrs. Good guy who's an injury risk at this point. Time to start the Nolan Arenado era.

One more that will be good for the team: Roy Oswalt. His geographic desires have hurt him as he turned down close to $10 million with the Tigers and has let a Red Sox offer sit forever. Still waiting for the Rangers or Cardinals (we think).

One that will be better than you think: Albert Pujols. The $240 million over 10 years the Angels gave Pujols may seem a bit high toward the end of that deal, but the excitement and marketability the alltime great brings is immeasurable, though their new TV partner which dished out $2 billion probably has a pretty good idea of his value.

One that wasn;t a free-agent deal but was still great for the team: Matt Kemp. Can't blame the player for taking $160 million) over eight years), but you have to know the new owner loves the fact that the awesomely great Kemp is locked up through his prime years.

Posted on: January 13, 2012 5:01 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 10:49 am

Prince starts new team tour; Texas is first stop

Top free agent slugger Prince Fielder has embarked on a second tour of teams today, and is expected to meet with multiple teams, perhaps four or more, on this excursion as he narrows his expansive field of free-agent options.

Fielder is in Texas today meeting with the Rangers, as @BNightengale reported. But that shouldn't be seen as prove they are about to sign Fielder. The Rangers are expecting to spend $100 million or so on Japanese pitching import Yu Darvish, and there have been mixed signals as to whether they might be able to sign both Darvish and Fielder.

The Orioles, Nationals, Mariners, Marlins and incumbent Brewers ave been seen as the other main players, but there may be more. The Cubs and Blue Jays are among others to have shown interest.

The other teams on the tour aren't known as of yet.

Posted on: January 7, 2012 1:20 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 8:49 pm

Braun will press multiple issues and test itself

Ryan Braun will be coming to the Baseball Writers dinner Jan. 21 to pick up his National League MVP award. At least that’s what we hear. His position is that he did nothing wrong, and thus, has nothing to hide.

We hope that’s right. And maybe it is. Everyone should be presumed innocent. And in this case, we’re talking about a player who has been seen for a while as one of the brightest lights in the game, both on and off the field. Additionally, it shouldn’t even be known yet that he failed a test for a banned substance.

The Brewers star is the first major league player to have his confidentiality breached. So maybe he becomes the first to win a hearing and save himself the 50 games suspension (although, that part won’t be easy).

Braun certainly has expressed a lot of belief in his own innocence in the brief comments he’s made publicly, including one in which he said, “It’s BS.’’ It’s too bad that’s about all we’ve heard from Braun, as he is one of the most articulate players in the game. We will assume that he’s probably saving his best material for the hearing.

But what will he say then? Word around the game is that he will press “multiple issues,’’ including the testing process itself. That’s good. Because to win the case, he has to point out a flaw in the system.

One thing he is expected to point to is the test claim of a bizarrely high spike in testosterone, which was apparently something like three times what’s been seen before; it will likely to be argued that it must therefore be caused by testing error. Braun obviously passed all the tests before this one, and he passed a subsequent test he ordered upon learning about the failed one a couple weeks after taking the original sometime in early October when his Brewers team was just embarking on the playoffs.

No one has done it at the major league level yet, but one minor leaguer won enough benefit of doubt in a hearing to win his case. (We don’t know who that is because his confidentiality wasn’t breached.) Braun will try to become the first at a hearing that ix expected to be just after that BBWAA dinner, Jan. 23 or 24, according to Lance Allen of WTMJ-4 in Milwaukee.

It sounds like Braun may try a number of avenues here, including the possibility that a medication to combat a private medical issue is to blame, as TMZ initially reported. But while that argument could win some points with the public, that isn’t going to win the day, or the hearing.

Baseball deserves credit for giving players a chance at a hearing (unlike the NFL). But it’s still considered a “strict liability’’ situation, which means it’s up to Braun to prove he’s been somehow wronged. He’s enlisted top people (both for p.r. and legal help), and that’s a good thing because everyone deserves their day in court. Braun should get his.    


Category: MLB
Posted on: January 5, 2012 1:59 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 8:50 pm

Nats, as many as 7 others, shooting for Prince

The Washington Nationals, despite their early suggestions to the contrary, do appear to be deep in the mix for star free agent slugger Prince Fielder. They may even justifiably be seen as a favorite at this point. But with several other teams showing strong interest and as many as seven or eight others showing some level of interest, it may be a bit too early to declare them as “the’’ favorite.’’

Reading all the hints, suggestions and tea leaves (not to mention deciphering the requisite downplaying of many), here’s the way I see things as we head into what might be the final several days (in order of most likely to least).

  1. Nationals. One Nationals player told me last week they were “shooting for’ Fielder, and team officials have seemed to stop downplaying their involvement, as more snippets of interest have gotten out. The Nationals have done a lot of deals with agent Scott Boras and certainly aren’t about to let the $8 million left on Adam La Roche’s contract stand in the way.
  2. Mariners. GM Jack Zduriencik, who picked Fielder No. 1 when Zduriencik was scouting director in Milwaukee, loves Fielder. The feeling apparently is mutual. The one question is whether Fielder wants to play 3,000 miles from his Orlando, Fla. home and in a ballpark that isn’t conducive to home runs (though it’s better for lefthanded hitters than righties).
  3. Brewers. Milwaukee all but publicly wrote it off around the time they signed Aramis Ramirez. But owner Mark Attanasio has built the Brewers into a phenomenon in Milwaukee, and it’s also possible Ryan Braun’s surprise banned substance issue could intensify the interest in keeping Prince. It doesn’t appear Attanasio has dived in yet, but he’s a guy who hasn’t let the small market stop him in the past.
  4. Mystery team. I have no idea even if there is a mystery team. But let’s not overlook recent history. Cliff Lee and Albert Pujols wound up going to the mystery team after weeks of talks and speculation about anyone but the Phillies and Angels, respectively.
  5. Marlins. Some Marlins execs have said they are not going for Fielder. But others have suggested that at least some of their people are quite intrigued. One possible issue: they have a team policy not to give out no-trade clauses.
  6. Rangers. The Yu Darvish pickup (and everyone believes Darvish will be signed, for something just above Daisuke Matsuzaka’s $52-million deal) likely has lessened the possibility of Prince. The Rangers clearly are now focused on Darvish, and while they could possibly afford both thanks to their new TV deal, it might be seen as something of a stretch.
  7. Orioles. They have some interest and seem to have the spending money, but their recent history and prospects for the near future could make this one a tough sell.
  8. Cubs. Cubs people love the idea of adding a young slugger like Fielder to their needy lineup. But club officials have suggested they plan to limit offers to five years. That won’t get it done.
  9. Blue Jays. Like the Cubs, their people are hinting strongly that five years is their limit for anyone, even Prince.  Opinions can change, but they’d have to go a lot longer than five (at least eight) to get into the game.


Posted on: December 29, 2011 12:07 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 8:59 pm

Nats player: We are "shooting for" Prince

There's been a lot of discussion and debate lately about whether the improving Washington Nationals are one of the teams trying to sign free agent slugger Prince Fielder.

And while there's still nothing definitive on the subject, one Nats player told me Thursday, "We're in the market. We're still shooting for him.''

People can scoff at the validity of a player as a source, but this player did not hesitate and sure seemed to know what he was talking about. But who can be sure?

This has surely been a fairly mysterious market to this point. Nationals GM Mike Rizzo, who just bolstered the rotation with the addition of young lefthader Gio Gonzalez, downplayed the Fielder chances in an interview Wednesday on MLB Network Radio, saying Adam LaRoche would be their first baseman barring something "extrordinary.''

To be precise, Rizzo said, "We've more or less decided Adam is going to be out first baseman unless something extraordinary, out of the ordinary, happens.'' LaRoche is to make $8 million in 2012 (plus he has a $1 million buyout on his 2013 salary).

If Rizzo is merely downplaying their genuine interest in Fielder as a way not to get fans' hopes up, he wouldn't be the first GM to do that. The Nationals have been considered among about eight teams -- the Rangers, Orioles, Mariners, Marlins, Cubs, Blue Jays and Brewers being the others -- to have some level of interest in the 27-year-old first baseman.

Fielder recently went on a tour of some of the interested teams, flying to a few points around the country. But it isn't known what teams, including the Nationals, were on the tour. Or whether a team that wasn't on the tour might jump into the mix.

Posted on: December 21, 2011 10:04 am
Edited on: January 24, 2012 9:08 pm

Mariners, Nats, O's among teams eyeing Prince

Indications are the Mariners, Nationals and Orioles are among about a half-dozen teams still eyeing star free agent Prince Fielder.

The Fielder derby is heating up, as some teams have made offers or at least given an indication where they'd be willing to go monetarily for the slugger. The Cubs, Rangers, Blue Jays, Marlins and incumbent Brewers also have been mentioned as possibilities for Prince.

The Mariners are one of the teams that's suggested their price range for Fielder, although it's unclear how serious Fielder might be about willing to play on the West Coast. Some close to the Florida product and longtime Brewer have suggested he'd prefer to stay in the East or Central time zones. Seattle is also said to have financial limitations and are believed unwilling to break their bank for any one player.

The Nationals have been keeping a low profile on their pursuit and it's unknown where they stand but signs suggest they do have Fielder on their radar. He isn't a perfect fit as they already have Mike Morse and Adam LaRoche for first base, though they could move Morse to the outfield and LaRoche is a small expense compared to Fielder.

The Orioles remain interested, according to a person with knowledge of their thinking. They may be geographically desirable to Fielder but it isn't known how their status as a rebuilding team might impact the player.

The Marlis remain a curiosity. Team president David Samson has suggested they lack interest, but owner Jeffrey Loria has give public quotes amounting to something along the lines of "we'll see.'' The Rangers are also believed to have interest even after winning the bid for star Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish. The Cubs are said to interested but the status of their pursuit, and that of the Jays, remains unclear.

The Brewers have been painted as a long shot but they haven't given up all hope they could retain Fielder.

For more MLB news and rumors from Jon Heyman, follow @JonHeymanCBS.

Posted on: December 20, 2011 1:11 pm
Edited on: December 20, 2011 2:20 pm

Don't count out Rangers on Fielder

So now that the Rangers have bid $51.7 million on Yu Darvish, they have to be out of the Prince Fielder sweepstakes, right?

Not necessarily.

The Rangers have always seemed on the periphery of the Fielder derby, but they still appear to be eyeing the top remaining free agent even after winning the Darvish auction and presumably targeting at least $100 million, and likely more, for the star 25-year-old right-handed pitcher from the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Texas is a threat to win Fielder, too, provided that the Rangers are willing to make the financial commitment it would take, as it is a desirable landing spot with an already stacked lineup and fine hitting ballpark.

Texas had baseball’s third most productive offense last year, but would threaten to possess baseball’s best lineup with Fielder in it. The Fielder pursuit has been pretty quiet, but other teams believed to have some interest in Fielder include the Mariners, Nationals, Cubs, Orioles, Marlins and incumbent Brewers.

The Rangers have always liked Fielder, and it’s not known whether their interest has actually increased in response to the chief rival Angels landing superstar Albert Pujols and frontline pitcher C.J. Wilson, the ex-Ranger. The Angels’ two huge purchases, which occurred the same day at the Winter Meetings, surprised the Rangers and most of baseball and gave Los Angeles of Anaheim a resounding early offseason victory at a cost of $332.5 million.

Word is, Darvish is seeking a deal for about $75 million over five years, which would be on top of the $51.7 million posting fee Texas would be required to pay the Fighters should they sign him, as expected. If they were to pay Fielder, say $206 million, they’d top the Angels in expense for their two players.

The Rangers were not interested in Pujols but do like Fielder because he is only 27 years old and would fit into their star-studded lineup.  Texas is also trying to lock up several of their own stars, including Derek Holland, Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton.

Signing Fielder would also give the Rangers some middle-of-the-order insurance against the possibility of losing Hamilton, who is eligible for free agency after next year. While the Rangers want to keep Hamilton, they want to do it with a shorter contract than he will likely want.

For more MLB news and rumors from Jon Heyman, follow @JonHeymanCBS.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com