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The Target List: ARod, Chuck and Spring Training

ARod 

There’s a phrase I hang onto from back in the Barrold Bonds days, “We know about Barry but if it turns out A Rod is unclean it’ll be a dark, dark time for baseball.” The author has faded from memory as the line was poignantly delivered around a dark pool table right around whiskey #3. Not many memories endured that night but the line survived.

Here we are, 10 years removed from Barry, Sammy and the wild roid era and our one-time baseball savior is mired in a story that no one can escape from. The fall is well documented and he’s never, ever going to recover from the damage his image has sustained.

This isn’t going to be an Alex Rodriguez defense, he made his own bed for the most part. There are two things I wish to address here however. First, let’s consider what A Rod makes fans confront about their own past.

I grew up in the thick of the steroid era. Sosa’s chase of Maris brought me back to the game I briefly left after the strike. I was young, the results were immediate and visceral and baseball was pretty damn exciting in Chicago during that time. I cheered for those outcomes. I supported his chase.

The years wore on and it became pretty apparent that Sosa had cheated. Now, I don’t care much for the flexibility of the word “cheated” as it applies to Sosa and other users. There’s only so much latitude you can use before you start extending out the reality of the situation beyond the word’s inherent malleability. He cheated. I don’t care that he did and his HOF credentials are worthy of another column entirely but he absolutely cheated.

This left me in an untenable situation. I still haven’t properly resolved this within myself even though I’ve settled into a middle area between the two extreme steroid opinions. Ultimately it’s a position I’d like to reflect on without the specter of #hottakes bearing down on me every day but alas, I’m not afforded that luxury.

Rodriguez lifts an uncomfortable mirror for me. At one point I did see him as the last clean player hope back when I cared about that distinction. This was a long time ago and the parts of me that need and or desire a clean player are long dead. Maybe that makes me a cynic but I know that makes me a realist.

This gets to my second point a bit, Rodriguez isn’t going to go away for a long time. He’s in disgrace now but there’s so much nuance to the A Rod story that there are several storylines we have to clear. He still plays in New York and the media there hates him. We still have his retirement to wade through, the after years, his inevitable HOF snubs and there’s probably a really scathing book in there should anyone have the courage to write it.

We’re going to have to deal with the A Rod circus even if we really don’t want to. Some of it is actually unfair to him-the loathing has reached a level that is well over the top for a baseball player. But again, he played a major part in the circus so it’s difficult to feel much sympathy for the man, if any.

Players and statistical competence

This one has been stewing for a bit, but…

I was a guest on the Wrigleyville Nation podcast last week with Harry Pavlidis. Give it a listen if you want, we talked about pitching stats and got into who the Cubs 5th starter might be (hopefully not Edwin Jackson).

On the show we were asked if players liked knowing the stats. It’s a difficult question to tackle because the answer is so unsatisfying (some guys do, some guys don’t). The level of statistical competency varies from person to person. Some guys, like Kyle Hendricks, survive of the advanced scouting reports. Brian Bannister famously used advanced metrics to gain an edge on the mound so that he could make up for so-so stuff. Other guys do not want to know anything in terms of stats. Starlin Castro got too in his own head over stats in 2013 before returning to a more natural approach in 2014 and he proceeded to have a nice little career rebound. And then there’s a whole gradient in the middle. Some guys like some of the stats but not all of the stats. It’s a bad answer but you have to give it this way.

A couple of weeks ago Charles Barkley said some stupid things about stats that set twitter on fire. Before I continue I want to make one thing very, very clear.

Charles Barkley’s views on advanced statistics are archaic and mostly dumb.

Now, Behind The Ivy wrote this about Barkley’s comments.  I agree with some of it, and disagree with some of it but there’s one message that’s important to remember not just with Barkley but with players in general. The only thing you can expect from a former player talking head is that they will bring the former player point of view.

That’s it.

Everything else is extra. CJ Nitkowski and Gabe Kapler provided a ton of insight and they are/were good at their media jobs respectively. But guys like Chuck? He’s there to be Charles Barkley, former player. He’s there to share a funny story and try to make you understand what a player might be thinking in certain situations. The rest of his analysis? Read or listen to it at your own risk.

Spring Training

It’s probably -30 outside as you’re reading this unless you’re in Florida like that jerk Jeff Moore. The theory of baseball is slowly becoming a reality and soon we’ll have all sorts of storylines-both real and fake- to parse. With that in mind here’s what I’m watching for out of Arizona.

Baez – Remember last year when we all had the warm and fuzzies about Baez and there was an endless stream of fans asking for him to break camp with the big club? I remember this vividly. Baez was crushing fastballs and completely missing even the worst curveballs and everyone just chose to ignore that very serious issue, concentrating instead on the visceral outcomes of Javy at bats. Now, I’m still staunchly #TeamJavy but there’s a lot more concern here and perhaps his ultimate ceiling has been clipped by a pretty fair portion. There’s a concept in baseball pitch recognition that ‘s best called The Tunnel. Basically everything looks like a fastball until it doesn’t and for batters the early you can discern that it isn’t a fastball the better. Pitch recognition is a serious concern with Baez, this is no secret. The question I have is whether he can improve his recognition enough to become a usable player.

Kris Bryant – Not much needs to be said here.

The Cubs 4th/5th starters – My gut says that Turner and Hendricks end up with the 4th and 5th spot in the rotation. Wood is most definitely in the mix and as much as we hate it the Cubs have to deal with Edwin Jackson in some manner. The rotation itself will be fascinating to track but I’m watching the 4th and 5th spots intently.

Cole Hamels – No, I’m kidding. I’m not watching for this. I’m done with Cole Hamels opinions, they’re all wrong.

Baseball is coming, kiddos.

Filed under: Target List

CHICAGO TRIBUNE VIDEO

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  • Mario, are you missing Griffey Jr? No one ever considered him to be a roid abuser, at least that Ive ever seen. Same with Pujols, when Jack Clark put the words Pujols and roids in the same sentence, Pujols cleaned his clock to the tune of a few million $. Maybe Im old -fashioned, but the Babe, Mick, Ott or Willie didnt need roids to be great.

  • you're wrong

  • Correction Mario, winning baseball is coming to a Wrigley Field near you. And soon.

  • Spring Training - I can almost hear the mitts popping already, and the scratch of cleats digging into the pitchers mound. The crack of the bat will follow shortly, followed by the chatter of competition and the baritone descant as umpires call balls, strikes, and outs. The muffled babbles of the crowd will slowly build into a more intent and expectant choral response as games matter more and anticipation builds for the climax of this season's symphony of baseball. And, though they can't admit this openly yet, the still-dormant Song of October plays over and over again in everyone's heads.

  • The thing which drives me crazy about the "steroid era" is how little discussion turns to the managers, the coaches, the trainers, the owners and Major League Baseball. I find it difficult to next to impossible to believe that most didn't know something was amiss. Yes a lot of players cheated but the people around them, the people making money off the players cheating, the people whose job it was to know better watched in silence, the people who ran the game watching as ratings exploded and the fans who cheered them on. That summer of Sosa & McGuire was glorious and like a lot of people, it brought me back to baseball. I don't know exactly what it is I'm trying to say but you can beat A-Rod all you want, and his behavior away from the baseball stuff invites a lot of it, but as noted the picture on him, and all the others named is pretty murky. I think the game is cleaner now. I hope the game is cleaner now.

  • In reply to Chicago TARDIS:

    The only problem is, this is complete conjecture. Whether they knew "something was amiss" or not, a man is responsible for making the decision to use steroids.

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    In reply to Cliff1969:

    Agree it's an individual decision but if you consciously turn a blind eye to a certain behavior -- and through contracts actively encourage said behavior -- when it benefits you it's more than a little hypocritical to turn on a dime and punish the same behavior. And as to your first point: either they knew or they are the dumbest human beings on the face of planet earth. If they want to admit to the latter they should probably leave MLB together for the good of the game.

  • I'm pretty much with you on A Rod, the story is out of control and the hate is out of proportion. Don't get me wrong, I'd never defend the guy but I heard a guy say the other day that the only guy he hates worse than A Rod was the guy shot and robbed his father in Rogers Park (the dad survived btw), and this guy isn't even a Yankee fan. Yeah, that's over the top. Guys cheat and guys who cheat lie about it. Hate the cheaters but don't be surprised that they lie and most importantly just move on. Baseball is a great game, focus on that.

  • "This left me in an untenable situation. I still haven’t properly resolved this within myself even though I’ve settled into a middle area between the two extreme steroid opinions. Ultimately it’s a position I’d like to reflect on without the specter of #hottakes bearing down on me every day but alas, I’m not afforded that luxury."

    Mauricio, this resonated with me. Particularly the first part regarding settling into a middle area. In the past I have wavered back and forth between recognizing the accomplishments of extraordinary men and ridiculing super humans for distorting the statistical analysis that shape the history of baseball. Now, I am happy to just be back at enjoying the game that is played. Of course, there will still be cheaters out there (if not with designer drugs than something else), but hopefully it won't ever be quite as blatant as it was 10 years ago.

    I guess I am lucky that I am afforded the luxury of lacking any sort of "#hottakes" on this topic.

  • In reply to KC Cubs Fan:

    kinda the same way.. but when people say to let these guys into the hall of fame is whats upsets me. its an insult to the guys in there. Agreed MLB allowed this to happen, but two wrongs dont make a right. and having Bonds in the HOF with Hank Aaron is just insulting.

  • This is a day we have been counting down to for a while now. Exciting that spring is here even if it is -30.

  • Nice summary Mauricio - although I can't get behind ARoid ambiguity,... have figured he was cheating since long before it became obvious,... and since he's been a Yankee for so long - I smell that taint about him too (am oh so NOT a fan of NYY).

    I suspect you are right about the #4 & #5 rotation spots,.... Turner & Hendricks,.... although part of me does wonder that we might see Turner & EJax as those spots to start out the season IF (and it is a big IF) EJax looks good in ST. Hendricks still has options (I think) and that's a tool that Theo & Hoyer could utilize to try and get some value out of EJax if he looks more like the pre-2013 EJax than he did the last two years.

    I'm also thinking (hoping is too strong a word) that Baez is going to be starting out the season in Iowa - just to make sure he's got the mechanics tweaks settled in and ironed out before he's given another crack at abusing MLB pitching.

    Regardless,.... Let the Games begin!

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    No, no, no on sending Hendricks down!! One of his major advantages in MLB is the use of advanced scouting reports, which would be missing in AAA. Sending him down woul send a clear message that playing time is a function of money and not performance. Nothing against EJax personally, but he has not earned a spot.

  • I was going to post this on John's post about Baez and Mario has hit the nail on the head. Javy batted .285 last spring. His OBP was .285. But all anyone could speak of was the 5 HR's he hit.

    Hopefully, the fans and media will look at the quality of his AB's more than the distance of his HR's because that is what is going to determine whether he comes north with the club this spring.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    Wow - didn't realize that he essentially had Zero BBs last Spring Irwin,.... apparently I was also distracted by the bombs.

    I would like to see Baez get the OBP up over 0.300, with a BA north of 0.250 in ST,.... and then see if he can hold that production or better for a month or two in Iowa.

    If the Cubs can bring him up during the Summer and he can hold a BA north of 0.230, a K-rate of no more than 30% or so, and get a BB rate north of 5% during a few months terrorizing MLB pitching then I will be convinced Baez has a shot of approaching his ceiling.

    How would you value a 2B/SS who could give you offensive output similar (or better) to somebody like Pedro Alvarez (0.230/0.307/0.435), but who could also potentially steal 20 bases? And if that's Beaz's floor - he's got value either for the Cubs, or as a trading piece if the Cubs decide that Russell/Bryant/Castro/Alcantara is where they want to go over Beaz.

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    In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    In hindsight, getting excited about Baez's five home runs was probably silly. But I wouldn't now turn around and make the same mistake by complaining that he didn't walk. I think Spring Training stats are close to meaningless. Rizzo hit zero home run last Spring Training, but hit one in the very first game and then 30 for the entire year. So yeah, you're right: it is really about the player's approach and I suspect things we don't see.

  • Baez will need to earn his way back to prime time in Iowa.

  • I am willing to bet every Cub fan was blissful when Sammy was smacking HR's and carrying the Cubs into contention, so it seems hypocritical to not have some sympathy for other guys that are basically banished as the steroid era has come to an end. That said, A-Rod was given a second chance already and chose to chance his reputation for glory and redemption. No Sympathy for the devil, especially when he wears the Yankee pinstripes. If he cared about anyone but himself, he would retire and spend the rest of his life in repentance. But instead, we get to watch him beg for mercy, knowing his true motivations are about greed and pride. Every at bat, a constant reminder of a time, when we as fans fooled ourselves into thinking we were watching history in the making.

  • In reply to cub since 89′:

    I could work up some sympathy for a player who stepped up, admitted that he got caught up in the era, and regrets it. I don't have ANY sympathy for any SOB that gets in front of a TV camera, lies his tail off, sics his lawyers on anybody that doesn't agree, and then "apologizes" when the proof is undeniable. A-Rod is a much better example of a baseball player than he is of a man.

  • In reply to Cliff1969:

    A-Roid and Lance Armstrong... peas in a pod..
    Complete and utter scumbags.

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    Cole Hamels: I think you are right, and every opinion is wrong. It reminds me of the Shark trade discussions. I assumed, like most people, that the Cubs would trade Shark for pitching. And the A's were no where on my radar. The idea that he would be traded for a shortstop (and one of the top five prospects in baseball) never crossed my mind. And as long as he doesn't end up in St. Louis, I'm cool with whatever.

  • lol - I am done with the Cole Hamels speculation too

  • In reply to CubfanInUT:

    Unfortunately, the story is just starting to pick up steam on the Score.

  • In reply to Greggie Jackson:

    stories are slow right now.. they need to have something to talk about

  • Re: Baez and pitch recognition

    I've mentioned this before, but here's what Bonds did. He realize that the best way to learn to recognize pitches was to see more pitches. So, every spring he would stand in the box and watch pitchers throw. Now maybe that might annoy some pitchers, but I think it's worth a shot with Baez.

  • The entire MLB establishment needs to be put on the hot seat for the steroid era, starting with the Commish and the owners and going down to the Player's Association for mucking about on drug testing. Baseball conveniently looked the other way because the offensive onslaught put butts back in the seats after the strike and money was to be had.

    Let's not forget the Baseball Writers Association. By being complicit in their Hall of Fame voting, they in part validated the steroids era.

    Take the case of Kenny Lofton, who failed to get the 5% of votes required to stay on the HOF ballot his first year, despite Bonds, Clemens, Sosa & Piazza easily making the cut.

    A great quote from Lofton: "What I accomplished during the steroid era meant nothing. You look at the people who voted for the Hall of Fame. I think there might have been 600. They still voted for people who were cheating the game."

    "It boggles my mind that the people you know cheated, who admitted they cheated, are still on the Hall of Fame ballot. That is sad. It's really sad for baseball."

  • Oh, happy day! My Cubbies have started Spring Training! Time to wear my Kosuke Fukodome Jersey and my Cubs hat that I got from the Cubs Convention in 2012. sorry to brag, but it's 53 degrees here in Estacada, Oregon today. After living in the Midwest and shoveling snow for 45 years, I had it. Mother Nature owes me one. Stay warm Cub Fans! Two months from now, we'll all be warmer when the Cubs hit Chicago. I can't believe the arms Kris Bryaant has!

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