Each week, TSN Baseball Analyst Steve Phillips breaks down all the big stories and issues around Major League Baseball on TSN.ca. In this edition, he looks at the Jays options at the trade deadline, the commissioner's controversial remarks about the league drug policy, and weighs in on the debate about using the All-Star Game to determine home field advantage in the World Series. Lastly, he endorses the Commissioner for induction in the Hall of Fame.
BUYERS OR SELLERS
The Blue Jays are in it to win it this year. The season started with huge expectations after the Jays won the offseason with blockbuster acquisitions. They became the sexy hot pick among pundits to win the AL East. Even after a disappointing first half, high expectations remain. There is hope that a second half turnaround can still take the Jays to the Promised Land.
Typically, teams in a pennant race are buyers in the trade market, while teams that are not in the race are sellers. Jays GM Alex Anthopolous has said that the Jays are not buyers or sellers. What is that all about, you ask?
The Jays start the second half 11.5 games behind in the division and 8.5 games behind in the wild card race. Anthopolous isn't really sure who his team is. He still believes in his roster yet they have not played very well except for an 11 game winning streak. So they aren't buyers or sellers -- they are just the Blue Jays.
Make no mistake about it, the Jays won't make the playoffs if their good players don't play better. There is not a single move Anthopolous can make that will single-handedly turn the tide. Sure he can make a few moves but they won't make up the ground they need if Josh Johnson and RA Dickey aren't healthy and don't pitch better. They won't win if Jose Bautista hits only .254. The Jays need Jose Reyes to play everyday and play well. They need Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ to return from injury and pitch well. Brett Lawrie and Melky Cabrera need to be consistent and productive.
That being said, I believe every team that thinks they still have a chance to qualify for the playoffs should try to make a trade to improve. This includes the Jays. Often times teams on the proverbial bubble like Toronto don't make moves. I believe that if you are not getting better, you are getting worse. It is a defeating feeling when teams you are chasing or are chasing you in a pennant race make moves to improve themselves. There is a huge psychological benefit when a GM makes a trade for the team. It sends a message that he believes in his roster. Saying it is nice, but taking action to prove it is better.
Alex Anthopolous needs to make a deal. The Jays need to know their GM believes in them.
They need a starting pitcher. Toronto has the second worst starting pitcher's ERA (5.07) in the league. Yes, I did say that the Jays won't win unless Dickey and Johnson pitch better, but they also won't win if they don't get consistent performance from the other three starters either. The Jays need predictability from their rotation. I don't feel comfortable that Happ, Morrow, Esmil Rogers, or anyone else on the roster can predictably stay healthy or perform at the necessary level.
Matt Garza (6-1 3.17 ERA) is available from the Cubs. He is pitching well and has solid post-season performance on his resume. The asking price may be more than the Jays want to pay, though, as Garza is a free agent at the end of the season. The Rangers, Diamondbacks and Red Sox seem to be the leaders in the hunt for Garza.
Yovanni Gallardo (7-8 4.83 ERA) and Kyle Lohse (5-7 3.67 ERA) of the Brewers are being sought after as well. Gallardo has big upside despite his struggles at times this year while Lohse could provide the type of consistency the Blue Jays really need. Both players have favorable contracts.
Astros starters Bud Norris (6-8 3.63 ERA) may be the perfect fit for the Jays. He is pitching well in the American League on a bad team. Plus he makes only $3 million this year and has two more years to go before he can become a free agent.
One final wild card consideration on the market is Cuban defector, Miguel Gonzalez. He is a 26 year-old major league ready right hander with a 95 MPH fastball and quality secondary stuff. He can impact the race immediately. He fled Cuba in January and moved through Central America before landing in Mexico. Gonzalez has been working out for interested teams in Tijuana, Mexico. He recently received permission from the U.S. government to sign with a major league team.
In order to make a move in the standings the Jays need to make a move on their roster. Anthopolous may look at it and say we can't afford a trade at this time, but in reality, the Jays can't afford not to make a deal.
HOW CLEAN IS BASEBALL?
Major League Baseball has the most stringent drug testing policy of all professional sports. Each player gets tested at the beginning of spring training. Each player takes a second unannounced urine test. In addition, baseball conducts 1,400 additional random tests. Two hundred of these random tests can be administered during the off-season. Each player on average gets tested three times per year.
In the 2012 season, players took 3,995 urine tests combined. That's a bunch of urine. Only four players tested positive for testosterone. The most critical improvement in the Baseball Drug Policy over the past several years is the addition of blood testing for HGH. Baseball conducted 1,181 blood tests last year. Under the 2012 Joint Drug Policy, each player is given one unannounced test for HGH, during spring training. In-season HGH tests have been executed during the 2013 season.
The Biogenesis situation had made many people think that Baseball is not as clean as the Commissioner believes. I can understand that notion, with the fact that up to 20 players may get suspended. Yet I agree with the Commissioner.
I believe Baseball is as clean as it has ever been.
The Biogenesis scandal will help scare other cheating players to clean up their act. The testing program is catching cheaters and even non-testing avenues are leading to "convictions" as well.
There will always be players who try to gain an advantage. The chemists are always ahead of the testing labs with the next non-detectable performance enhancement drug. The ultimate improvement to the Joint Drug policy will be the storage of blood samples to be able to test at a later date. That way, when the testing labs do catch up with the chemists they will be able to catch today's cheaters.
I would match baseball's drug policy against any other sport. It would be nice for the game to get the credit it deserves in that regard.
FIT TO BE TIED?
For the life of me I can't understand why the All-Star game outcome is tied to World Series home field advantage.
After the debacle in Milwaukee in the 1992 All-Star Game, when teams ran out of pitching and the game ended a tie, Bud Selig faced tremendous criticism. In a knee jerk reaction he made the decision to tie the All-Star Game to home field advantage for the World Series.
I was General Manager of the New York Mets at the time and I remember getting a phone call from Sandy Alderson, who was the Director of Baseball Operations for MLB. Sandy said the Commissioner was considering this decision and wanted the GM's opinions on it. I told him I was against it because I didn't think players from teams that had no chance of even making the playoffs should dictate who had home field advantage. Sandy said thank you for your thoughts but we are going to do it anyways. I laughed.
Seven of the last nine teams with home field advantage have won the World Series, including each of the last three. It doesn't seem fair to me that an exhibition game that is not even managed the way a normal game is managed would decide something as important as this.
I believe in fairness. The fairest way to decide home field advantage for the World Series is to alternate between the two leagues, like they did in the past. If a league has to earn home field advantage it should be the league with the best regular season record in interleague play. At least it would be based on real games and not an exhibition.
I love the All-Star Game. Every year when I am on the field during batting practice I feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for how I make my living. It is really cool to be amidst the best of the best. The energy is powerful. I feel deeply blessed to be there. Not even an illogical link to the World Series can take that away.
FAIR OR FOUL
Okay, calm down. Everyone gets upset when I say this because they blame Bud Selig for steroids in baseball. Let's first look at his accomplishments then I will deal with the steroid issue.
Revenues have grown exponentially under his leadership. Attendance has grown significantly over the years. Many new stadiums have been built. There has been labor peace for almost 20 years. Interleague play has been wildly successful as has the addition of Wild Card playoff teams. Realignment has been an improvement. Instant replay has been introduced and will soon be expanded. And revenue sharing has helped level the playing field. Finally, he has instituted the most stringent drug policy in all of professional sports.
Tremendous accomplishments yet people still look at Selig as the Commissioner of the Steroid ERA of Baseball. This title makes Selig cringe. He thinks it is an overstatement of the facts. "Most players on their team didn't do anything. They were as clean as could be," he said. "So, the Steroid Era in short to some people implies, well, everybody did it. That's wrong, and it's unfair."
I was a General Manager from 1997-2003, the heart of the steroid era. At the time I didn't know how big of an issue steroids were in the game, even though I was accused of being in my clubhouse too much. I figured over six years I probably had only a handful of players who used steroids. I thought amphetamines were far more prevalent at the time. It has become clear to me that those whom I thought were a silent majority of clean players were really in the minority. More players cheated than were clean.
Even when it started to be clear that steroid use was growing, the Commissioner did not have the ability to unilaterally institute drug testing on his players. Drug testing had to be approved by the Players Association and written into the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
During negotiations in 1994 with the Players Association on the CBA, drug testing was on the table. The Union dug in its heels and in order to get baseball back on the field the Commissioner relented. At that time there was no evidence that steroids were a big issue. When I was the minor league director for the Mets in the early 90's there was only one player I suspected of steroid use and I had him tested.
The Commissioner did eventually get the Union to agree to anonymous drug testing. It was the first Collective Bargaining agreement after it became clear there was a steroid issue in the game. From that point on, the Joint Drug Policy has expanded in scope and punishment. It is now the most significant in all professional sports.
Bud Selig should not be defensive about his legacy as the Commissioner of the Steroid Era. He will never change the way fans and media look at this Era. He needs to reframe the way people look at him in the Era. He is the one who identified a problem and put in motion a system to clean the game up. He has navigated the game through what could have been catastrophic.
I hope at his Hall of Fame induction he can be introduced with pride as the "Commissioner of the Steroid Era."