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Paxton, Duke and the Mets' catcher search

12/7/2009

Editor's note: Keith wrote about this same topic on Friday; read that here. This is an update from the morning of Monday, December 7, 2009.

The James Paxton story continued to develop on Friday afternoon, as the University of Kentucky filed an 87-page motion in response to Paxton's preemptive lawsuit. The University's terse statement says the following:

    James Paxton's scholarship money and status on the team has never been in jeopardy. At no time has a change been made in James' status on the team or his receipt of services available to student-athletes. He was, is and will continue to be a member of the University of Kentucky baseball team.

The statement does not jibe with the affidavit filed by Paxton's original lawyer in the lawsuit -- and being a member of the team is not the same as being allowed to play.

Much of the motion itself sidesteps the question of whether Paxton might face suspension for refusing to participate in the NCAA inquiry, instead focusing on the argument that he has not yet been suspended and therefore no injunction is necessary. The motion disputes Paxton's claim that he was told not to discuss the proposed interrogation with an attorney, but acknowledges that the NCAA denied Paxton's request that his father sit in on the interview. The University also argues against the need for an injunction by stating that the team's schedule doesn't begin for more than two months, and that the Student Code (on which Paxton's attorney relies heavily in his lawsuit) doesn't apply in an interview requested by the NCAA.

Most damning, potentially, is a pair of documents in the evidentiary section of the file. Page 23 has an article from The Globe and Mail, where Toronto President Paul Beeston says that Scott Boras was negotiating on Paxton's behalf and that the Blue Jays never got to talk to the family. (The Blue Jays drafted Paxton, a Canadian, in the supplemental round, then stuck to a figure near the slot recommendation and were unhappy that Paxton wouldn't come close to their number.)

This is followed by a sworn affidavit from Paxton himself that comprises his answers to the NCAA's survey, sent to all current and matriculating baseball players who were drafted in June but did not sign, asking them if they exercised their right to use an attorney to talk to the teams that drafted them (a right the NCAA steadfastly refuses to recognize). To the question, "Have you ever given anyone your consent to negotiate on your behalf with any professional team or league?" Paxton replied, "No," which appears to conflict with Beeston's statements in the Globe and Mail article. This disconnect signals (to me) that Paxton intends to challenge the NCAA's by-law prohibiting student-athletes from exercising their right to counsel, a by-law that was struck down by a judge in Ohio in the Andy Oliver case but which was reinstated when the case was settled in October and the earlier ruling was vacated. And well he should -- the bylaw serves no purpose other than to protect the NCAA at the expense of the 18-21 year olds who make the organization and its member institutions a ton of money.

Finally, it's clear from the motion that Kentucky's primary motivation in filing this motion is fear of the NCAA. If Paxton plays for the team in 2010 but is later ruled ineligible, any victories in which he participated can be nullified, and a member institution can not question or fight Big Brother. Kentucky will look like the bad guy here, but it is in their interests to fight Paxton's suit and have the NCAA rule on his eligibility now, before the season starts.

Paxton's lead attorney in this suit, Richard Johnson, met with UK's outside counsel, general counsel, athletic director, and assistant athletic director last week, and was told that Paxton would not be suspended or disciplined if he didn't accede to the interrogation request, but would not be permitted to play. Johnson was also told that war is peace, ignorance is strength, and freedom is slavery.

The Hot Stove

Joel Sherman reports that the Mets are interested in acquiring Royals starter Gil Meche, which would make sense if they're comfortable with his medicals. More damning, however, is this note:

    One way Mets management believes they could get better performance from that rotation is by adding a catcher with a reputation for guiding staffs.

Always good to go with reputation over evidence, since various studies of the subject (here and here) have all found that if a catcher makes any difference in the ERA of the pitchers who throw to him, it is so small as to be undetectable. So the Mets' acquisition of Henry Blanco and interest in Bengie Molina has them chasing a chimera and landing a sackful of outs.

• Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun writes that the Blue Jays may have a whopping $16 million to spend in the 2010 draft, although a rival scouting director speculates that that figure may include their international budget. Toronto could end up with nine picks in the first three rounds, and they're breaking with the industry-standard scouting department structure by increasing their area scout total to over twenty.

Dejan Kovacevic has the latest on what the Pirates might do in Indy, including the fact that they have the payroll room to make a major acquisition. More interesting is what they might or might not do in trade:

    (GM Neal) Huntington has stated several times that he is not shopping anyone. Teams have inquired -- and continue to inquire -- about closer Matt Capps, catcher Ryan Doumit and, to a lesser extent, starters Paul Maholm and Zach Duke. But Capps and Doumit are at perhaps the lowest value of their careers, which goes against the model Huntington has set with previous trades. And Maholm and Duke would be moved only for a significant return.

Duke is the one guy here I'd most look to trade, since a fluky first half may have given teams the impression he belongs in a major league rotation. Relievers are certainly fungible, but Kovacevic is right about Capps: trading him now after an uncharacteristically bad year only makes sense if the Pirates know something about him (like an injury) that points away from a rebound in 2010.

• Buster Olney has written that a Matt Lindstrom trade is "imminent." Lindstrom throws really hard, and he -- throws ... really hard. He doesn't miss many bats and suffered strains to both his right elbow and rotator cuff in 2009. And he's eligible for arbitration. Sign me up!