Every year, the Hall of Fame ballot comes with a short summary of the accomplishments of all of the eligible players, arranged alphabetically -- this year, from Jeff Bagwell to Eric Young. This year, the information regarding the 27 players filled five pages, front and back.
Beginning next year, the packet promises to thicken, as a wave of players bearing extraordinary histories joins the ballot -- and many will remain for years to come, complicating the vote.
Players like Alan Trammell and Fred McGriff were among the first impacted by steroid use, as their own accomplishments were overshadowed by those of players using performance-enhancing drugs. Now Trammell, McGriff and other stars generally perceived to be drug-free may be greatly affected again, as they have the years of their respective Hall of Fame candidacies constricted by the presence of a generation of superstars linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
For most of the candidates, an extraordinary logjam will start to build next year. For candidates who have both overwhelming credentials and a pristine image, there will not be a problem. Frank Thomas was outspoken during his career about what he saw as a problem in the use of performance-enhancing drugs -- while hitting 521 homers himself -- and he will probably get in with ease. So will Ken Griffey Jr. and Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who all reached statistical benchmarks that typically result in first-ballot induction.
But candidates like Trammell, McGriff, Curt Schilling and John Smoltz may have trouble generating momentum because, quite simply, the process will become clogged with former superstars suspected of using PEDs.
By rule, writers who cast ballots can vote for only 10 players in a given year. Mark McGwire was really the first player suspected of steroid use to become eligible for election, and every year his name has filled about 25 percent of the ballots. Rafael Palmeiro is drawing votes, and last year Bagwell was picked on a little less than half of the ballots.
When Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and others linked to PEDs become eligible next year, more votes that might normally be cast for other "clean" candidates may instead be cast, year after year, for the best of the steroid group. Hall of Fame ballots will become the battleground for the debate of how baseball's steroid past should be handled.
A lot of writers have struggled to establish a consistent standard for themselves -- as many have acknowledged in columns -- and soon enough the voting may resemble a presidential election in which none from a range of candidates can draw enough electoral votes for selection.
Think about the list of players who will be eligible for selection on next year's ballot -- McGwire, Palmeiro, Bagwell, Clemens, Bonds and Sammy Sosa, as well as others suspected of cheating. Within two or three years, there may be as many as a dozen superstars tied to the use of performance-enhancing drugs eligible for induction.
Remember: Hall of Fame candidates must be named on at least 75 percent of ballots to gain induction, which could be very difficult given the wide range of voter philosophies, which are as varied as 18th-century political parties.
The Best Player Voters: These are the writers who have determined there is no fair or practical way to separate the users from the non-users in an era of about two decades in which the institution essentially looked the other way -- so the writers are simply voting for the best players. This is where my vote stands, and based on the polling for McGwire, Palmeiro and Bagwell -- and I will vote for Clemens, Bonds, etc. -- this is a view that is in the minority.
The Best Clean Player Voters: Some voters have decided that any player linked to performance-enhancing drugs, either through evidence or mere suspicion, should be kept off the ballot entirely. This may be why Bagwell -- who has never been tied to PEDs with anything more than speculation -- polled so poorly in his first year on the ballot, despite numbers that would have earned easy election in the past.
The Hard Evidence Voters: For these writers, suspicion isn't enough. But a positive drug test, like that which earned Palmeiro a suspension, or an admission of use, as in the case of McGwire or Alex Rodriguez, is enough to keep a player off a ballot forever.
The Didn't Break The Rules Voters: Some writers are using the first drug-testing agreement, which went into effect in 2003, as the amnesty barrier. For these voters, a player like McGwire gets a pass because the sport didn't have rules against steroid use during his playing days. But anyone who failed a drug test from 2003 onward -- like Sosa, reportedly -- is held to a different standard.
The Scientist Voters: These are the writers who will vote for Bonds but not for someone like McGwire, because they believe that Bonds would have been a Hall of Famer even without drug use -- and had already done enough for induction even before he started bulking up.
The To Hell With 'Em All Voters: There may not be many, or any, of these but as the debate intensifies and frustration mounts, there may well be writers who find the maze of suspicions and suspensions and positive tests and culpability so complicated that they decide to not vote for anybody.
I emailed Schilling, a colleague here at ESPN, about the forthcoming logjam, and how it might affect him. "I don't honestly know," he wrote in a reply. "I've given it very little thought since I retired.
"Here's what I do know: I put every single strikeout, inning and win on my resume WITHOUT steroids or HGH, against what apparently was A LOT more players using than I knew. Of that I am proud.
"If those guys cost me votes, or the ability to stay on the ballot, what does that say about the voters and the process?
"There's no doubt cheaters cost me things, wins, maybe championships and more, but I slept pretty good every night of my career and I can look at my children with a straight face when I talk about doing things the right way. They can't. So I apologize for not really answering your question, but my career is over now and I am not going to get any better between today and voting. I played with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Scott Rolen; I feel like I have a pretty good feel for a HOF player.
"The only thing I know is that at the beginning of my career I told my wife what I wanted. When I retired I wanted the 24 guys I suited up with, if there was a real life-or-death game, to pick me as the guy they wanted to have the ball in that game, and I wanted the 25 guys I was up against to have me be the guy they didn't want to see in that do-or-die game. So while I didn't win 300 games, or a Cy Young Award (frickin' left-handed starting pitchers!), I retired believing there wasn't a pitcher alive that could beat me in a game in October. In win-or-go-home games, my team never lost a game I had the ball.
"I can live with that as my legacy if this Hall of Fame thing doesn't work out."
It shouldn't be that way, of course. Players like Schilling, Smoltz, Trammell and McGriff should be judged on their own merits and not whether there's enough space on a Hall of Fame ballot for them. But that appears to be the direction we are headed.
Yu Darvish bidding
The telltale sign of just how serious the Texas Rangers were, according to one evaluator, came when GM Jon Daniels flew to Japan to see the right-hander in person during the 2011 season. "That just doesn't happen," said one rival official. The Rangers were ecstatic, writes Drew Davison.
Gio Gonzalez is available, and so is Matt Garza. It's also possible that the Jays could gain because of the Darvish bidding: Texas may now have surplus pitching. The Rangers appear to have two ways to go with their rotation, for which Neftali Feliz, Derek Holland and Colby Lewis are locks. The Rangers could use Matt Harrison for the last spot in their rotation and shift Alexi Ogando into the bullpen, where he would be an extraordinary weapon, as part of a group that would also include Joe Nathan, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara. But Ogando was an AL All-Star as a starter and demonstrated just how dominant he could be in the rotation. If the Rangers shifted him into the bullpen, it might feel to them as if they are not properly utilizing an asset.
The Rangers could choose to keep Harrison, opening the year with him as a long reliever/sixth starter, while waiting for the inevitable injury to open a spot for the lefty in the rotation.
Or Texas could look to trade Harrison -- and the Blue Jays would be among the teams most likely to be interested. Texas and Toronto have done deals in the recent past, most notably the Mike Napoli trade last winter.
The guess here is that the Rangers will negotiate a deal close to the deal that Daisuke Matsuzaka got with the Boston Red Sox -- six years and $52 million. The bottom line is that Darvish doesn't have a lot of leverage; he can negotiate with just one team and work out a deal with the Rangers, or go back to the Fighters, who now want him to work out a deal in the U.S.
The resolution of the Darvish situation could break a logjam in the pitching market, writes Michael Silverman.
• Part of the reason some executives thought that the scales of the Mat Latos deal leaned heavily in favor of the San Diego Padres is because the value of veterans has been diminished, somewhat, by changes in the collective bargaining agreement. For a player like Latos, a team used to be able to tack on the possible draft-pick compensation as they weighed the long-term value of the player, through his free-agent year. But under the new rules, the old style of compensation is not in place.
But the Cincinnati Reds are not worried about the fall of 2015; they are focused on 2012 and 2013, which may be the last they have with Joey Votto in their lineup. In some respects, the Reds' deal for Latos is a little like the trades the Milwaukee Brewers made for Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum last winter -- Milwaukee, aware that Prince Fielder's time with the franchise was nearing an end, swapped its best prospects in a win-now effort. And the Brewers did just that: They won the NL Central in 2011.
Reds GM Walt Jocketty aims to do the same in 2012.
Walt Jocketty's patience paid off, writes John Fay.
The Padres are apparently banking on Latos not becoming an ace. There is no way San Diego makes this trade if it believed in Latos' trajectory.
As Arizona GM Kevin Towers explained on Monday morning, the Diamondbacks had been focused on adding a fifth starter, and Joe Saunders and Hiroki Kuroda were their primary targets. But those contract talks stalled. "We were kind of spinning our wheels," Towers said, "so we started thinking of other ways we could improve the club and went to see who fits the ballclub."
They signed Kubel, a strong hitter when healthy, and now Arizona has as much roster depth as any NL team. Gerardo Parra, a Gold Glover in 2011, becomes a strong fourth outfielder, and he is likely to get a lot of playing time -- finishing games for the defensively challenged Kubel, or starting in his place some days or in center field in place of Chris Young on days when Arizona faces a particularly tough right-hander.
The Diamondbacks were very right-handed last year, and with the addition of Kubel, their everyday lineup figures to have much more balance:
SS: Stephen Drew -- L (If he's ready to come back from a severe ankle injury)
2B: Aaron Hill -- R
RF: Justin Upton -- R
C: Miguel Montero -- L
1B: Paul Goldschmidt -- R
LF: Kubel -- L
CF: Young -- R
3B: Ryan Roberts -- R
Lyle Overbay, a left-handed hitter, will finish some games for Goldschmidt and start on other days, and the Diamondbacks have veterans Willie Bloomquist, John McDonald and Geoff Blum as infield reserves and the right-handed hitting Henry Blanco as the backup catcher. The addition of Takashi Saito and Craig Breslow to a bullpen that was augmented during last season by the trade for Brad Ziegler means Kirk Gibson's relief corps will be much deeper than it was a year ago.
At some point in the weeks ahead, the D-backs figure to add another inexpensive veteran pitcher to be the fifth starter -- maybe someone like Aaron Cook -- for a group that currently includes Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Trevor Cahill and Josh Collmenter. And Arizona has a wealth of young pitchers in the pipeline, from Wade Miley to Tyler Skaggs to Trevor Bauer.
Moves, deals and decisions
6. Ed Wade has landed with the Phillies.
9. The Rays' bullpen reconstruction is taking shape, writes Marc Topkin.
12. The Brewers won some bidding rights.
16. The Twins' options to improve are limited, writes La Velle Neal.
• Bruce Bochy still hopes for change in the rules regarding plays at the plate, writes Andrew Baggarly.
From the story:
- Bochy said GMs in November discussed instituting a no-collision rule in exhibition games, but there's no chance any meaningful protection wouldn't come before opening day. Bochy acknowledged the argument that runners could get hurt if they were forced to slide, but said there are ways to tweak the rules that would make the game safer for everyone.