- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN Insider
Ryan Braun, who tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug and faces a 50-day suspension if the finding is upheld, sent a text to Tom Haudricourt, asserting his innocence. A positive test would be a severe blow, writes Michael Hunt. His positive test is tough to take, writes Troy Renck, and I'll echo some of what Renck has here: Braun is a really good guy and a player who has embraced his role as a leader in the sport.
1. Braun is the 2011 NL MVP and there is no precedent for that to be altered, even if he's suspended. The Baseball Writers Association of America has never stripped a winner of an award, including Alex Rodriguez, who has acknowledged using performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, when he won the AL MVP.
But that's a stance completely at odds with the writers' collective stance in the Hall of Fame balloting, in which voters have treated the history of Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, et al, as if it doesn't exist; they've stripped those players of the accomplishments of their entire careers -- and sometimes based on mere suspicion, as in the case of Jeff Bagwell.
Let's take Roger Clemens, for example. If he's not voted into the Hall of Fame, as expected, then on one hand, you would have a significant portion of the BBWAA taking a hard stance against his accomplishments because of suspected PED use -- and on the other hand, the same association would continue to recognize him as a seven-time Cy Young Award winner and a one-time MVP.
A "no" vote on the Hall of Fame question for Barry Bonds and Clemens is essentially meant to expunge the record -- so it's hard to understand why the BBWAA wouldn't take the next logical step of withdrawing its recognition of a player as an award winner. Through its participation in the Hall of Fame voting, the writers' association is effectively invalidating its own awards.
This is just one aspect of the slippery slope created by linking the "no" votes on the Hall of Fame question to proof or suspicion of PED use. (For the record, I've voted for McGwire every year he's been on the ballot, and I'll vote for Clemens and Bonds.)
2. As Braun fights the suspension, he has probably already lost a battle that goes on simultaneously: to clear his name of wrongdoing. For years, fans, media and other players have heard literally dozens of other athletes suspected of PED use proclaim their innocence, from Palmeiro to Marion Jones to Floyd Landis to others, in the face of overwhelming evidence -- and many have acknowledged later that they initially lied.
Even if Braun wins his appeal, the fact is that the positive test will hang on him in the court of public opinion.
3. It's evident from the texts and emails received on Saturday that players are much more vigilant about PED use than they used to be. Years ago, before testing was implemented and before players had a fuller understanding of what occurred during the steroid era, the response of a lot of players was indifference. Their feeling was that even if another player was a user and they didn't approve, they felt that it wasn't really something that had a practical impact on them individually.
Now, more than ever, a lot of players view users as a threat to their livelihood.
And while the report of Braun's testing positive could not have come at a worse time for baseball, which has been riding a wave of success the past three months, there is this: It is an initial sign (under appeal) that the system works and has integrity.
From ESPN Stats and Info:
• Braun would be the first MVP to be suspended for violating the MLB PED policy.
Some Braun career highlights:
• Won 2007 NL Rookie of the Year, 2011 NL MVP
• 161 HR in first five seasons; 10th most by a player in his first five seasons
• Four-time Silver Slugger Award winner
• Signed five-year, $105 million extension (covering 2016 to 2020) in April 2011 (Braun is owed $36.5 million in base salary from 2012 to 2015, then $105 million from 2016 to 2020).
• Isolated Power measures a player's extra bases gained per at-bat. Braun's Isolated Power increased from .197 in 2010 to .265 in 2011. That was the fifth-largest jump of any player from 2010 to 2011.
Geoff Baker writes that if Braun is suspended, writers should demand a revote.
Pujols wants to talk about only his new team, writes Bill Plunkett.
How ready was he to leave the St. Louis Cardinals? Well, think about it: He agreed to terms with the Angels without a single face-to-face visit with the L.A. brass, or to the Anaheim area, after a decade with the Cardinals. This speaks strongly to the unhappiness Pujols felt about the way the negotiations with St. Louis played out.
The signing is as sad as it is sensational, writes Tim Sullivan.
I'll have more on the Pujols decision in Monday's column.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Oakland Athletics will continue to make trades, as they plow under their best assets in an effort to have the young talent blossom at about the same time the organization hopes to move into a new ballpark in San Jose in 2014. So in the days and weeks ahead, the Athletics will probably trade Andrew Bailey (the Boston Red Sox appear to be the front-runner) and Gio Gonzalez (the Texas Rangers are in a great position to strike if they are willing to absorb the cost -- a prospect such as pitcher Martin Perez).
Scott Ostler is down on the Oakland leadership.
2. C.J. Wilson was pretty open about the fact that he was disappointed with the Rangers' offer to him. The Rangers are regarded within the industry as the favorites to land Yu Darvish, given all the work of scout A.J. Preller on the pitcher.
4. At least four teams have had discussions with the Miami Marlins during this offseason about Hanley Ramirez trade possibilities, although there is zero indication that there has been traction gained in any of the talks. The Marlins possess a player who has demonstrated extraordinary talent in the past, and because of his awful 2011 showing and his rising salary -- he's owed $46 million over the next three years -- his market value couldn't be lower. They wouldn't just give him away. The Marlins' success next season depends on Josh Johnson and Ramirez, writes Joe Capozzi. Agree with him 100 percent.
5. The Philadelphia Phillies are the best fit for Jimmy Rollins, writes Bob Ford. With the Milwaukee Brewers and Cardinals out of the running, Rollins is running out of leverage in his negotiations with Philadelphia -- although maybe he intended to go back all along, unless the San Francisco Giants got involved.
6. Neal Huntington hopes his portfolio will pay off.
7. The winter meetings for the Baltimore Orioles were quiet, generally. Looking forward to the visit to Orioles camp in the spring, because they recently added a pitcher with whom I share high school roots (Oliver Drake) and an infielder who went to the same college (Ryan Flaherty).
10. The purse strings are getting tighter at Fenway Park, writes Nick Cafardo.
11. The moves made by the Marlins will allow them to compete with the big dogs of the NL East, some analysts believe.
Got this from John Garner, about Cape Cod League alumni:
- The recent hiring of Bobby Valentine as 45th manager of the Boston Red Sox gives the Cape Cod Baseball League a record eight of its playing alumni currently managing in the major leagues.
- Valentine, who hit .294 and led the CCBL in runs scored during the summer of 1967 for the Yarmouth Indians, joins new Chicago White Sox manager and 2002 CCBL Hall of Famer Robin Ventura (Hyannis 1987) and St. Louis Cardinals mentor Mike Matheny (Cotuit 1989), who've also been hired during the past offseason.