Buster Olney: Alex Rodriguez

DodgersStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesHanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig serve as spark plugs for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
LOS ANGELES -- Hanley Ramirez attends the meetings that the Dodgers hold for the hitters at the outset of every series to go over scouting reports, but he does this to be respectful and polite of the process and not because he actually gleans information. He does not study video, either.

“None,” he said Saturday as he waited his turn in batting practice.

He does not care to know the identity of the opponent's starting pitcher, Ramirez said, until he is preparing for his first at-bat -- and even then, as he watches the pitcher throw to the first batters of the game, what Ramirez only wants to know is how hard the pitcher is throwing, and how much his fastball moves.

A-Rod runs out of people to blame 

February, 8, 2014
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Alex RodriguezElsa/Getty ImagesAlex Rodriguez dropped his lawsuits against MLB and the players' union this week.
Until Alex Rodriguez was willing to testify under oath, there was no reason to take any of his costly legal maneuverings seriously.

But along the way, before his abrupt capitulation Friday, we needed an abacus to keep track of the attempted diversions, from the gold-plated lawsuits to the beautifully scripted I’m-Not-Going-To-Take-It-Anymore exit from the arbitration hearing to the declaration of innocence on WFAN. This was like the wizard of Oz imploring you to ignore the man behind the curtain.

In the end, none of the machinations changed the essential truth: Rodriguez broke the rules and used performance-enhancing drugs, then tried to get away with it.

A dozen other players were caught in the same Biogenesis net, including Ryan Braun and Nelson Cruz, and, when presented with the evidence, they essentially threw up their hands and acknowledged: I surrender, you got me.

Not Rodriguez, who bypassed two windows of opportunity in which he could take responsibility and accept his punishment like the other players. If he had done so, his relationships with the Yankees and others would’ve been damaged but workable.

Instead, he started flame-throwing blame at just about everybody around him. This included the Yankees, commissioner Bud Selig and the arbitration system negotiated by his union, plus, in his last act of desperation, at the union itself. His lawsuit against the union specifically named Michael Weiner, the beloved former head of the union who passed away from cancer at the end of last year -- someone who spent far too many hours in the last year of his life working to defend Rodriguez, who had cheated and lied over and over.

What a complete waste, of time, of money, of good will, of grace.

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Why MLB fought dirty in PED war 

January, 14, 2014
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Far be it from me to suggest that Bud Selig is a historical companion of Abraham Lincoln, or that Rob Manfred is a modern day William Tecumseh Sherman, but bear with me a moment; there is a parallel to be drawn.

After Sherman sacked Atlanta in 1864, there was some question among the Union leaders what Sherman's army should do next. Sherman proposed total war to his superior, Gen. Ulysses Grant: Sherman wanted his army to march through Georgia's civilian population, because that would be most effective against an enemy who had fired the first shot -- an enemy who had instigated the war.

As H.W. Brands writes in "The Man Who Saved The Union," his biography of Grant, Sherman said, "War is cruelty and you cannot refine it; those who brought war on our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. ... You might as well appeal against the thunderstorm as against these terrible hardships of war."

So Sherman took the fight through Georgia, destroying homes, crops and railroads, raiding livestock and eschewing civility. Long gone were the days when armies stood in lines opposite each other in an open field and traded volleys. Times had changed, and to expect the fight to play out with white-gloved decorum was simply unrealistic, and Lincoln, Grant and Sherman recognized that. They hated war, hated that it had been brought upon them, but they felt it was their responsibility to wage it as effectively as possible and bring it to an end.

Sherman acknowledged that sometimes the Union's foragers exceeded their orders, and there were unseemly acts. But his hope all along was that the war would be so terrible that it would discourage others from waging it ever again.

For a period of two decades, Major League Baseball and the players' association ignored the fight that needed to be waged against individual players using performance-enhancing drugs, fueling the problem with their inaction. The leadership on management side recognized this, and so did the MLBPA, which changed course in 2002 and agreed to drug testing in the face of the practical needs. This is a really important point: The fight against performance-enhancing drugs doesn't belong to MLB's management; it belongs to the management and the players.

It would be convenient for everybody if the players who tried to beat baseball's testing system were predictable in the ways they attempted to succeed.

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A-Rod missed chance to cut a deal 

January, 13, 2014
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videoThe best deal that Alex Rodriguez might have made with Major League Baseball would have happened last spring, before Tony Bosch came in from the cold and agreed to be a witness for Major League Baseball. There were talks about a negotiated plea bargain then, deals put on the table.

If Rodriguez had agreed to something last spring, before MLB investigators had all the Biogenesis details from Bosch, Rodriguez might've been able to barter for a suspension for something close to 50 games, or what a first-time offender gets for a first positive PED test.

If he had taken responsibility then, owned up and made his best possible deal, then A-Rod probably would've been back on the field late in the 2013 season, with the whole matter behind him.

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Top 10 storylines to watch in 2014 

January, 1, 2014
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Bud SeligAP Photo/Tomasso DeRosaBud Selig says he will retire at the end of 2014, but some say he won't.
Tim Kurkjian had it right last spring when he said the hardest thing to predict in 2013 was who was going to finish fifth in the AL East. Many folks thought it would be the Boston Red Sox, and instead, they won the World Series with a group of invested players who reinvigorated Boston’s fan base.

We can draw a lesson from that example, as we look ahead to 2014: You never know what you’ll see on a given day. But you can predict the 10 most prominent story lines that promise to attract a lot of attention in the months ahead.

1. The identity of Bud Selig’s successor

Selig has announced he will retire a year from now, so let the campaigning and the lobbying (and maybe some deal-making and backstabbing, in some quarters) begin in earnest.

I’ve heard three different theories about who will follow Selig from high-ranking club executives.

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Stories that don't involve A-Rod 

August, 20, 2013
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Alex RodriguezDavid Butler II/USA TODAY SportsThe attention paid to Alex Rodriguez has pushed some good stories to the background.
You feel like a parent as you try to follow the scrum involing Alex Rodriguez's lawyers. The back-and-forth is like something you hear between testy young siblings late in the day, and you reach a point where it’s impossible to separate truth from rhetoric with each charge and counter-charge. All you know is that you want it to stop, because in the end, there are only two elements that are relevant:

1. What is the evidence that led to A-Rod being suspended for 211 games by the commissioner?
2. What is Rodriguez’s explanation for the evidence?

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Derek Jeter limping into leverage 

August, 19, 2013
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Derek JeterHarry How/Getty ImagesHe might seem like more of a symbol than a player, but Jeter's presence is valuable in New York.
BOSTON -- The last time Derek Jeter’s contract expired, in the fall of 2010, the Yankees held the negotiating hammer.

Jeter had turned 36 just months before and was coming off a middling type of season relative to his career performance, with his on-base average dropping from .406 in 2009 to .340 in 2010. So when Jeter looked for a significant deal, the response from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was, in essence: Go ahead and try to find a better offer than what we’re willing to pay you, because it doesn’t exist.

Jeter wound up making a deal for far less than his side had aimed for, although nobody is suggesting the shortstop will starve based on his recent wages: $14.7 million in 2011, $16 million in 2012 and $17 million this year.

Now Jeter holds a player option for 2014 that would be for $9.5 million -- or he can take a $3 million buyout and blow up that option year. It might make sense for him to do this, because this time around, Jeter appears to hold significant leverage.

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Michael Weiner a true class act

August, 11, 2013
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Brad ZieglerESPN IllustrationArizona pitcher Brad Ziegler makes a Sunday column relief appearance for Buster Olney.
Buster Olney is on vacation this week, so for the second straight year, guest columnists are writing the lead of his column in his absence. Today, D-backs reliever Brad Ziegler chimes in on what makes union leader Michael Weiner such a special person.

This is a crazy game. If you had told me when I was growing up that I'd have at least six seasons of time in major league baseball, I'd have been absolutely ecstatic. While it was always a dream of mine to play, it also always seemed so far out of reach. Yet, here I am, blessed with so many things in my life, including a career that I truly enjoy. There are many other things, too: an amazing family (including the two friendliest dogs in existence), financial security and good health.

Good health -- something I'm thankful for every day. Something that not everyone in this life shares.

One of the most respected people in this game is in the fight of his life, and anyone -- everyone -- who has any part of this game is pulling for him. Players, coaches, general managers, owners, writers, umpires. Everyone.

As many of you know, Michael Weiner is currently serving as the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association -- our union. And anyone who follows the game also knows that a year ago, Michael was diagnosed with a Stage 4 glioblastoma, an aggressive and inoperable brain cancer.

I've been a player representative for the union since the start of the 2009 season. In the middle of that season, I got a phone call from Donald Fehr, informing me that he was retiring as executive director. After a few conference calls, we selected the obvious replacement that December: Michael Weiner. I hadn't yet met Michael. My agent, Rob Martin, had met him a few times and heard him speak a couple of times, so I asked what he was like. "The man is a human computer," he said. "He can probably quote you the entire basic agreement."

In my time getting to know Michael at various union events or even through casual phone calls, I can honestly say I have seen zero instances to dispute my agent's assessment. However, I can also honestly say that while his knowledge of the basic agreement and labor law in general is impressive, it isn't even close to his best asset.

His best feature is, far and away, who he is as a person. He's a devoted family man. He often speaks of his wife, Diane, and his three lovely daughters, and you can tell how much he cares for them. Furthermore, he genuinely cares about every single ballplayer. Never once has he started a conversation with me in which the first topic wasn't about how my family and I were doing. I'm guessing he's the same way with every other player. Those who've taken the time to get to know him know exactly what I'm talking about.

[+] EnlargeMichael Weiner
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIMichael Weiner's leadership on the issue of PEDs has been pivotal, writes Brad Ziegler.
As far as his professionalism, there's one thing that has really stood out to me: He genuinely cares about improving the game of baseball. Don't get me wrong, he wants things to be as good as possible for the players. And he can get downright angry and ruthless when he feels like the owners are attempting to encroach on the principles we, as a union, have stood on since our inception. But he also gets the big picture: What is best for the game in the long run?

In my opinion, never has this been more evident than when dealing with our Joint Drug Agreement. Michael has listened to the players. We want the game clean. No more PEDs. Period. We want to be the era that, down the road, is widely accepted as the group of players who cleaned up baseball. We certainly want to punish those who are caught with something illegal in their system, even if it's not intentionally ingested with the mindset of gaining an edge on the field.

As for those who intentionally cheat? Ban them for a year. Or ban them for life. As for voiding their contracts, well, that time may be coming. Players are sick and tired of guys trying to beat the system, and at this point, we have no tolerance. We are tired of this being the focus of our sport, year after year. Baseball is an amazing game -- perfect in so many ways -- and we must keep the attention on the field, where it should be.

It has to be a tough spot for Michael to be in when it comes to this topic. He's supposed to represent all players and get the best possible outcome for them in every situation, right? No. Michael's response: "If they cheated, they should be punished -- I'm just here to help make sure they get a fair trial."

To me, that is someone who genuinely cares about our game and the way it's perceived publicly. We all leave a legacy in life, and he wants the game to be better when his time in the game is over than it was when he first got involved.

I recently had a casual conversation with an MLB general manager. We discussed Michael's medical situation, and he said something that really stuck out to me: "That guy is incredible. He's the best thing that's ever happened to this game."

And even if he said it in passing, I'm not sure he's far off.

Michael's legacy on this game has already been established. And whether he continues to build on it for the next 40 years, or if he's taken from this life sometime sooner, he continues to leave a mark on this game -- and on people's lives -- that won't ever be forgotten. It is an absolute privilege to work alongside you, Michael. And it's an even greater pleasure to call you my friend.

Notes and links (from Buster)

Hanley Ramirez will try out his right shoulder on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Dodgers never lose: After Zack Greinke's strong effort Saturday, they've now won 36 of their last 44. The Rays pulled off a hidden-ball trick.

• The Braves' winning streak ended.

Jordan Schafer was activated from the disabled list, and Fredi Gonzalez intends to use him. 

We had the Braves on "Sunday Night Baseball" the last two weekends, and our crew talked to Gonzalez about how he would structure his lineup down the stretch and into the playoffs. Gonzalez wasn't specific -- and he doesn't need to be -- but I walked away from those conversations convinced that his standards will be simple. He will play the best lineup he believes gives him the best chance of winning, regardless of contract size and track record. He reiterated that the Braves' collapse in 2011 changed the way he thinks, because now he's much more willing to make changes.

If B.J. Upton struggles early in September, he won't play as much in late September, I'd guess, and Schafer's presence gives Gonzalez an attractive alternative, especially against right-handed pitchers.

Brian McCann has a sore knee and was out of the lineup. The Braves' lead in the AL East gives Gonzalez the flexibility to liberally rest veterans such as McCann, and McCann has shown enough this season to demonstrate to teams that might be interested in him in the winter that he'll continue to be a productive player. He might be the most sought-after free agent of the winter, given that he could fit so many teams: Texas, Washington, the Yankees, Boston, San Francisco (with he and Buster Posey sharing catcher/first base duties), Philadelphia, the White Sox, etc.

Miguel Cabrera did it again. His current triple crown standing:

Batting average: .363 (first, by 33 points)

Home runs: 35 (he trails Chris Davis, who has 42)

RBIs: 109 (tied for first with Davis)

• White Sox GM Rick Hahn and the players believe in Robin Ventura, writes Paul Sullivan. 

Ryan Ludwick is nearing his return, and undoubtedly, the Reds need him to come back and produce. The Reds have been a middle-of-the-pack offensive team since the All-Star break. 

Jason Hammel is hopeful that his forearm issue doesn't keep him out a long time. 

Ryan Raburn and Yan Gomes are getting more playing time, Paul Hoynes writes. 

• The Rangers regained first place with help from Alex Rios

Will Middlebrooks is getting a welcome chance to reboot, writes Nick Cafardo. 

Jayson Werth had a really big day

• The Astros are on pace to finish 52-110, with a run differential of minus-242. 

Jacoby Ellsbury led the Red Sox to victory. 

• The Rockies are collapsing, and it's open season on internal evaluations

Adam Eaton has been finding his groove at the plate. 

• The Phillies need to make a decision on Charlie Manuel, writes Bob Brookover. 

In some parts of the Philadelphia organization, it's already taken as a fait accompli that Manuel and some staffers will be let go. But it'll be interesting to see if the logic used in the re-signing of Chase Utley -- he's an important part of the team's history, and he is still productive -- will be used in Manuel's case. Because if the Phillies don't believe Manuel is the best person for the job now, they should've already fired him, and if they think that like Utley, he can still do the job, they should extend him.

Other stuff

• There is a reported BALCO and Biogenesis link: Alex Rodriguez.

The tide has turned when it comes to MLB cheats, writes Tom Haudricourt. 

Rodriguez is on a short leash with Yankees fans, writes Bob Klapisch.

• The ousted St. Louis radio duo of Jack Clark and Kevin Slaten are weighing their options

• Ken Griffey Jr. was part of the ceremony in which he was inducted into the Mariners' Hall of Fame. He's a really complicated person.

And today will be better than yesterday.

The future of Alex Rodriguez 

August, 4, 2013
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Alex RodriguezRick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsAlex Rodriguez could face a ban through the 2014 season for PED use.
PHILADELPHIA -- The news conference that Alex Rodriguez gave the other night was astonishing because it was like he stole the script that Ryan Braun had used 17 months before.

Rodriguez was indignant, he was resolute, he hinted at conspiracy, and above all, he professed his love for baseball, which apparently is the thing you're supposed to say after you trample all over the sport. The problem for Rodriguez is that everybody has seen the act before, including commissioner Bud Selig, who is said to be very comfortable now in the role of a steroid-fighting Wyatt Earp.

Once extremely tentative in his steps toward the high ground years ago, Selig figured out before the commissioners of the other major sports that when you're running a multibillion-dollar industry, spending tens of millions in a hyper-aggressive effort to keep your sport clean is like buying pest control for your house: It's worth the investment.

Baseball officials were appalled and angered by Braun's performance at that news conference, the brazenness of the lies. And so Rodriguez, with his knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, said the wrong thing at the wrong time. Selig isn't negotiating anymore, believing that he has the evidence to take down Rodriguez. Perhaps by Saturday night, Rodriguez fully realized how deeply he has buried himself in this mess because he declined to comment.

That won't last, of course, because Rodriguez can never really help himself for long.

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Bud Selig has hoisted a hammer and he’s holding it over the rest of Alex Rodriguez’s career, and it’s shaped in the form of a clause:
B. Conduct Detrimental or Prejudicial to Baseball

Players may be disciplined for just cause for conduct that is materially detrimental or materially prejudicial to the best interests of Baseball including, but not limited to, engaging in conduct in violation of federal, state or local law. The Commissioner and a Club shall not discipline a Player for the same act or conduct under this provision. In cases of this type, a Club may only discipline a Player, or take other adverse action against him, when the Commissioner defers the disciplinary decision to the Club.

As T.J. Quinn reported Wednesday night, Alex Rodriguez’s representatives are in negotiations over some sort of a plea bargain. So this might be settled in the days ahead.

But I’d offer this advice to Selig: Keep your eyes on the big picture, and remember what your greatest weapon actually is -- and it’s not XII (B) of the collective bargaining agreement listed above.

No, the greatest power in this whole fight is the strong sentiment of the players against the use of performance-enhancing drugs, which has slowly evolved over the past 20 years, with many speaking out loudly now.

As Major League Baseball dove into the investigation of Biogenesis and Tony Bosch, wielding the threat of litigation and its own massive wallet, players have essentially stood alongside cheering, encouraging the powers that be to do what they need to do to maintain a level playing field. When Ryan Braun was netted and agreed to his suspension last week, many players -- from Max Scherzer to Skip Schumaker to Zack Greinke -- gave him the perp-walk treatment, publicly castigating him, with some players complaining privately that Braun didn’t get enough.

Selig rightly claims that MLB has the toughest drug-testing policy in professional sports -- and here’s the thing: It can be even better, tougher, if he properly uses all of that anger contained within the players.

Machiavelli would tell him: He should try to use Alex Rodriguez, rather than destroying the last remnants of a baseball career that is already forever tainted.

He could try to do that by using his best-interests powers afforded under the CBA, and he could theoretically flex his commissioner muscles -- and maybe even broaden the central authority -- by giving Rodriguez a lifetime ban. If he does use this clause, Rodriguez does not have access to immediate appeal and would not be able to keep playing while he fought his suspension or ban.

But this might not be the most effective use of Rodriguez’s situation because the backlash from the union might be stronger than Selig anticipates. The MLBPA is in a state of transition at the moment, as union chief Michael Weiner fights brain cancer, with new roles being defined and perhaps a new culture. The players don’t want to protect cheaters, but, on the other hand, what Weiner has told them time and again, in spring training meetings and in conference calls, is that it is important that players have access to due process.

If Selig uses his best-interest powers and suspends Rodriguez under the CBA rather than the joint drug agreement, he will basically be taking him off the field before he can appeal -- before due process -- and will place himself in a position of being the judge and jury for Rodriguez, leading to a protracted arbitration.

From the players’ perspective, that is not ideal due process. The union, whether led by Weiner or somebody else, might decide to fight for that principle, which could lead to a messy labor battle, with new faces at the table.

On the other hand: If Selig works within the confines of the drug-testing agreement, he could reach for the higher ground by using that union anger.

If Selig gives Rodriguez a 100-game suspension or a lifetime ban -- which he could do under the drug-testing agreement if he felt A-Rod's multiple offenses added up to enough to enact the "three strikes and you're out" provision -- Rodriguez would have the option of immediate appeal. And yes, he would remain on the field in the immediate aftermath to continue his rehabilitation, as he went through the due process prescribed under the rules of the drug-testing agreement.

But what this would allow Selig to do is go to the union, with all the evidence against Braun and Rodriguez in hand, and say the following:
Fellas, look: I know you’re not happy with Braun’s suspension, and damn it, neither am I. We wanted more. We want to go after the cheaters with more ammunition. We want to be more aggressive. We think Alex Rodriguez cheated all of you; we think he lied to all of you; we think he tried to make a mockery of our drug-testing system. He thumbed his nose at it and exploited the loopholes.

Let’s close those loopholes. Let’s make this better. Let’s talk about lifetime bans for egregious second or even first offenders, rather than three-strikes-and-you’re-out. Let’s eliminate the incentive to cheat: Let’s talk about voiding contracts under certain circumstances.

You guys don’t like players like Braun and Rodriguez, and neither do we. Let’s go after them.

If Selig uses this measured approach, he will put more subtle pressure on the union to act, to put muscle behind those recent words we’ve heard from so many players. And I think the players will be happy to go along. This is a situation ripe for Selig to exploit because Rodriguez is so unlikable.

But if Selig takes action that players perceive as grandstanding -- like he’s taking Rodriguez down without bothering to work within the lines the union has so willingly laid down -- that’s when he puts his larger work at risk. He does not want to create a situation in which union lawyers are pointing at his actions and warning the players against MLB’s unilateral actions and overreaching, saying: There but for the grace of god go you.

Less is more in this situation, and it could be much, much more, if the commissioner plays this right.

He will win this battle, but he needs to focus on the larger war and how that victory can be achieved.

Jhonny Peralta is trying not to think about a possible suspension.

• The Feds are focusing on Biogenesis, writes Julie Brown.

Trade stuff

1. Ruben Amaro Jr. is vague about the Phillies’ future. It was a quiet deadline for the Phillies.

2. Neal Huntington was slick at the deadline. Hey, the Pirates are in a commanding position at this moment and appear as if they’re a near lock to make the playoffs, so there really wasn’t any reason for them to be hyperaggressive.

3. Terry Ryan was never offered a major trade worth making.

4. The Twins traded Drew Butera to the Dodgers.

5. Dave Dombrowski got proactive at this year’s deadline.

6. The Royals got Justin Maxwell in a deal. I thought this was a really smart, deft deal by K.C. and fully appropriate. The Royals aren't so close to the top of the standings that they should’ve gone all-in, and, on the other hand, they’re not so far away that they should’ve held a sell-off. Maxwell gives them some depth, at the modest cost of pitching prospect Kyle Smith.

7. The Cardinals couldn’t find the right deal, writes Derrick Goold.

Pete Kozma’s offensive troubles are going to draw even more attention than they already have because of Yadier Molina’s absence. Until now, Kozma was tucked neatly away in the No. 8 spot in the lineup, and his struggles were covered up somewhat by St. Louis's depth.

But now, with Molina out, the Cardinals might have difficulties getting production from their catchers; the bottom three spots in their lineup will be really, really weak.

8. The Reds didn’t make a deal before the deadline.

9. The Indians continue to try to look for the right trade.

10. Jeff Samardzija could be blocked on waivers.

11. White Sox GM Rick Hahn is on his game, writes Daryl Van Schouwen. Alex Rios could be traded in August.

12. Red Sox players are in unanimous agreement: The Jake Peavy deal makes the team better. The effect was felt in the clubhouse.

13. I thought the Ian Kennedy deal was wholly appropriate for the Diamondbacks because it felt as if his time with Arizona had run out, just as Justin Upton’s did.

Kennedy had gone from finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young race in 2011 and starting the first game of the playoffs to struggling with one of the worst ERAs in the majors. The D-backs were frustrated with him, and there wasn’t a lot of confidence that he was going to turn it around.

14. I thought it was a great deal for the Padres because GM Josh Byrnes knows Kennedy from his days with Arizona and Kennedy is healthy and still young and still relatively inexpensive. Maybe the Padres can fix Kennedy, maybe not, but he’s well worth the low risk for them.

15. The Astros continue to trade for depth. If they get 50 wins this season, Bo Porter should be a manager of the year candidate; their highest-paid player makes $1.2 million.

16. The Giants made no moves at the deadline, which is completely understandable, given the many tickets they’ve sold for the rest of the season.

17. The Orioles added some pitching depth.


Dings and dents

1. The Cardinals must avoid overusing Yadier Molina when he comes back, writes Bernie Miklasz.

2. The Pirates lost a catcher for the rest of the season.

Wednesday’s games

1. We keep waiting for the Nationals to hit rock bottom. This might be it. They are 11 games behind the Atlanta Braves.

2. The Indians continue to do great work, feasting on their very weak second-half schedule.

3. The Braves’ magic number is down to 44, incredibly.

4. The Rangers won with a walk-off, again.

5. This week belongs to the Pirates. They go for the five-game sweep of the Cardinals tonight.

AL East

• The Red Sox moved back into first place.

Brock Holt is filling in at third base for now.

NL East

• The Nationals aren’t to blame for Drew Storen’s struggles. Tyler Clippard shared his opinion on Storen's demotion earlier this week.

Other stuff

• Ryan Braun did not fare well in a poll.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Contracts now a target in PED fight 

July, 29, 2013
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Alex Rodriguez and Ryan BraunTim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsA-Rod and Braun could be targets of lawsuits if teams feel the players destroyed their own value.
ATLANTA -- Long before Ryan Braun accepted his suspension or Alex Rodriguez asked his lawyer to join a conference call in which the topic was a quadriceps strain, club officials throughout Major League Baseball had started to look into the topic of whether they had legal recourse against players who used performance-enhancing drugs.

For the Yankees, this question really began with Jason Giambi, and this is why Giambi gave the infamous I’m-Sorry-But-I-Can’t-Tell-You-Why news conference so many years ago. With the help of his own representation, answers to difficult questions were crafted in such a way that he could steer around open admission of steroid use -- to protect the money that he had earned and that he would earn in the future -- while still responding, sort of. The statement that Braun issued last week was designed the same way.

The Yankees long ago concluded that given the rules contained within the collective bargaining agreement, they cannot void a contract based on PED use, which is why Rodriguez is still a member of their organization and may still play if he appeals what is expected to be a forthcoming suspension, rather than accepting it.

But some officials and lawyers within the game are taking a look at other avenues through which they might gain some financial relief from busted players –- back doors, in a sense.

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Making sense of Soriano in New York 

July, 26, 2013
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Alfonso SorianoHoward Earl Simmons/Getty ImagesIt's been a while since Alfonso Soriano put on the pinstripes. It appears he will again.
Here are the reasons the Yankees’ trade for Alfonso Soriano doesn’t make sense:

• He has a .287 on-base percentage.
• He’s limited in the positions he can play, either left field or DH, on a team that already has too many players whose best position might be DH.
• In some respects, he’s not really all that different from Vernon Wells, and the Yankees will face a logjam of DH/OF types almost immediately, after Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Derek Jeter come back. (Given that they’ll probably want to use the DH spot for A-Rod and Jeter.)
• His presence may box them in next spring (although Rodriguez will probably face some sort of suspension at the outset of 2014, whatever the length turns out to be.)

Here’s the reason it makes sense:

• Since June 28, Soriano has 10 homers; since June 28, the Yankees have eight.

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Ryan Braun faces a closed circle 

July, 23, 2013
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Ryan BraunMarc Serota/Getty ImagesRyan Braun will sit out the rest of the season, but the hard feelings won't end there.
There was a moment recently when the shift in the attitude of Major League Baseball players toward performance-enhancing drug cheaters blossomed fully, when the last stages of evolution came into view.

The players have changed on this issue from the time the first gossip of steroids use in baseball began in the 1980s, moving from ignorance to ambivalence to acceptance to frustration to resentment to the current DEFCON 1 anger.

A pitcher drilled a hitter in a game this season, and when the inning was over and he returned to the dugout, the pitcher explained to his teammates that he had plunked the guy because he’s a juicer -- a cheater, a PED user. The teammates who heard him understood.

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Bud SeligAP Photo/Tomasso DeRosaIf he times suspensions to happen before HOF ceremonies, Bud Selig could gain some backing.
Whenever the Biogenesis suspensions go down, Major League Baseball will enter a new stage of a public-relations battle -- and if commissioner Bud Selig is looking for the biggest splash, with the best chance for reinforcement, then he would make the announcements in the next seven days.

The Hall of Fame ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., will be held next weekend, in a year in which no recent retirees will be inducted, and if Selig makes his announcement of suspensions before Friday, he will be guaranteed three days of almost uniformly positive response.

See, the Hall of Famers will be asked, again, how they feel about steroid users and about MLB’s recent fight against users, and over and over again most will almost certainly say that they don’t think the PED users belong in the Hall of Fame and that Major League Baseball is doing the right thing.

I don’t agree with the PED stance of a lot of the Hall of Famers -- some of whom have admitted using amphetamines during their careers -- and personally, I don’t care when Selig makes his announcement.

But having the support of folks such as Hank Aaron, Johnny Bench and others is an extremely powerful PR weapon for Selig, who is said by colleagues to be aware of how his legacy is being shaped. He might as well use the arsenal that is at his disposal.

The gloves are off in the PED war, writes Richard Griffin.

• Michael Weiner’s stance on possible PED users has been different from that of his predecessors, players say. In the past, the union focused on privacy rights and doing everything possible to throw road blocks in front of Major League Baseball.

But players say that Weiner’s stance has evolved with the practical realities of the time. On one hand, he will say that every player is entitled to the due process of the drug-testing system, and that it is the union’s responsibility to help the player through this process.

On the other hand, Weiner also views the players' association as part owners of the drug-testing system; it is put in place by their players to protect the interests of their players, to help increase the chances for a level playing field. And he has told the players in so many words that if somebody cheats, they should pay the price.

From the piece:

“I can tell you, if we have a case where there really is overwhelming evidence, that a player committed a violation of the program, our fight is going to be that they make a deal,” Weiner said without referring to specific players. “We’re not interested in having players with overwhelming evidence that they violated the (drug) program out there. Most of the players aren’t interested in that. We’d like to have a clean program.”

• Rodriguez is confident he’ll be back Monday. He just keeps on talking.

Trade buzz

1. Justin Morneau is bracing for the end of his time with the Twins, writes Mike Berardino.

2. Phillies president David Montgomery is showing optimism as his team nears a crucial period of decision-making.

3. For the Padres, rentals no longer make sense, says GM Josh Byrnes.

4. The Diamondbacks shouldn’t rush into a deal they’ll regret, writes Scott Bordow.

5. The Giants, now a potential seller, will have to try to turn it around, writes Henry Schulman.

The Giants have a long homestand to open the second half and unless they collapse completely -- say, lose eight of their next 10 -- I don’t think there’s any way they become all-out sellers before the July 31 trade deadline. Their stands are filled daily and they will not want to signal a complete elimination of hope for their customers with more than two months to play.

6. Seattle GM Jack Zduriencik doesn’t expect to be aggressive before the trade deadline, writes Geoff Baker. From his story:

"In all fairness, I don’t think I’m going to be aggressive," Zduriencik said before the break. "I don’t think I’m going to go out there and start shopping our players. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do."

Zduriencik said his goal is to put "a healthy club on the field" once the season resumes Friday in Houston. He’ll still take calls from interested trade partners and consider options to better the club.

But right now, he said, he’s finally seeing the club he initially envisioned.

"We’ve been through a lot in the early part of this year between struggles, between injuries and setbacks," he said. "So, we like what’s happened (in July), but who knows? I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t predict one way or the other what’s going to happen."

Notables

• Something worth remembering: Miguel Cabrera’s second-half numbers have typically been better in recent seasons, and not by a small margin. Cabrera, second-half OPS versus first-half OPS:

2008: +113
2009: +34
2010: -74
2011: +121
2012: +135

Is this because opposing pitchers wear down in late July and August? The weather?

It’s unclear. But he’s got a heck of a shot to be the first player ever to win the Triple Crown in back-to-back seasons.

• Jim Leyland’s approach to managing the All-Star Game was different from what we’ve seen in recent years, something he hinted at in a conversation with J.J. Hardy Monday. He told the Baltimore shortstop that he was going to play extensively, and that the American League was going to try to win the game.

He wasn’t kidding. At the end of the fifth inning, the only starting position player who was out of the game was Robinson Cano, who had been hit by a pitch in his first plate appearance. And, in the final innings, Leyland relied heavily on matchups in choosing his relievers, matching left-handers against left-handers, right-handers against right-handers.

For years, the best players played the most in the All-Star Game; in 1963, for example, six NL starters got four plate appearances. Somewhere along the way, the All-Star Game evolved into some kind of a participation event, with managers clearing their benches and bullpens while trying to get everybody into the game.

Leyland -- who is part of Bud Selig’s special committee of advisors -- veered the other way, and hopefully he has taken the handling of the All-Star Game in a different direction.

• Mark Attanasio sees a silver lining ahead for the Brewers.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Brewers got the sixth pick in the competitive balance lottery.

2. A Cuban pitcher says he is defecting.

3. Rangers executive Rick George resigned, and this would seem to leave more room for Nolan Ryan on the business side.

4. Mike Dee is joining the Padres.

Dings and dents

• Robinson Cano is day-to-day. I’d guess that Cano will be available to DH against Boston this weekend, at the very least.

AL East

Manny Machado is in rare company as he chases the record for doubles. Machado is currently on a pace to hit 66 doubles, so he’s a little behind.

• The Rays’ pitching can make their hot streak continue, writes Gary Shelton. They face a difficult decision in a tough division, writes Marc Topkin.

• The Jays’ starting pitchers are just not that good, writes Steve Simmons.

• John Tomase has a midseason report card for the Red Sox.

• The Red Sox are looking for the next Justin Masterson, writes Tim Britton.

AL Central

• The Tigers are poised for a good second half, writes Drew Sharp.

• The Twins intersect with timidity too often, writes Patrick Reusse.

• For the Royals, the first half was a frustrating quest for .500, writes Dick Kaegel.

AL West

• The Rangers’ second-half goal is to stay healthy.

• The Athletics feel like there is room for improvement.

• J.P. Hoornstra has a report card on the Angels.

• Astros owner Jim Crane preaches patience.

NL East

Jordan Zimmermann is the same as he ever was, writes Adam Kilgore.

• The Phillies still have hope in the weak NL East, writes Matt Gelb. Philadelphia is facing a crucial stretch of games in the second half.

• Sandy Alderson admits that his rebuilding plan is taking longer than he had hoped.

• Jose Fernandez’s performance in the All-Star Game was overshadowed.

Freddie Freeman enjoyed his All-Star experience.

NL Central

• The Cardinals have gotten some surprise contributions, writes Derrick Goold.

Carlos Beltran hopes to play three more years. He will be a coveted target in the offseason among AL teams because he has an excellent, disciplined approach at the plate and because he would be a solid outfield-DH option. He’d make sense for the Rangers, Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays, Mariners, etc.

• Gene Collier has a prediction for the Pirates’ second half.

• Bob Nutting is no longer a punchline, writes Joe Starkey.

NL West

• All of the National League is scrambling, writes Patrick Saunders.

Clayton Kershaw bristled at something that Bruce Bochy said.

Other stuff

• The Twins are nervous about the condition of Target Field after a Kenny Chesney concert.

• Bud Selig’s patience over the Rays’ attendance is thin. And I want my kids to do their chores on time.

Matt Harvey envies Derek Jeter.

Brett Myers got hammered on Twitter after rendering an opinion.

And today will be better than yesterday.

MLB had no choice with Biogenesis 

July, 16, 2013
7/16/13
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Braun & Rodriguez & CruzUSA TODAY SportsRyan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and Nelson Cruz all could face lengthy suspensions for PED use.
Bud Selig didn't have to commission the Mitchell report, and there's a strong argument that he made a mistake by needlessly picking a scab that didn't have a chance of healing when he did. George Mitchell was never going to get all of the answers, or all of the names, and he instead generated a woefully incomplete document while tossing 86 players to the mob, completely out of context. And he did this while almost certainly knowing that he had barely scratched the surface.

But the Biogenesis fight is different.

Major League Baseball did not pick this fight. That was created by those who worked to beat the system, and once the rumors of a pod of PED use in Miami began to circulate -- as written here early last November -- the investigators for the sport essentially were left with two choices:

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