Rounding the Bases: Catching up

Plenty has happened in MLB over the last week or so, making a round-up article a good way of covering the most important topics.

The most recent news concerned the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday evening. They made a trade for the San Diego Padres’ starting pitcher Mat Latos, dealing away Edinson Volquez, Yonder Alonso, and prospects in right-handed pitcher Brad Boxberger and catcher Yasmani Grandal.

I read news of the deal after an enjoyable British baseball research day at Colindale, on the way back from which I had discussed the Reds’ trading ideas with fellow BGB writer Mark George. 

My blatant self-interest was in the potential for the A’s to trade Gio Gonzalez to the Reds and, looking at what the Padres received for Latos, I’m disappointed that Billy Beane couldn’t swing that return.  Maybe the Reds don’t value Gonzalez quite as highly as Latos, and Beane probably wouldn’t have been interested in a deal including Volquez, but Cincinnati certainly showed that they were prepared to part with several good pieces to acquire a quality young starter.

The A’s can at least use that deal as a yardstick for any potential suitors to match up to, so hopefully it will be to Oakland’s benefit in the end.

As for the Reds, they’ve given up a lot to get Latos – undoubtedly an ace-type talent, but with some question marks regarding his temperament – and that shows you they genuinely feel that they can get back into the postseason race quickly after following up their 2010 NL Central division win with a disappointing 2011 campaign.

You ideally want a solid all-round team; however if there’s one key thing that postseason contenders have strived for in recent years, it’s three frontline starters.  The Brewers, for example, won the NL Central in 2011 in large part because they finally backed their offence with Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to go alongside Yovani Gallardo.  Arguably that’s also what the Diamondbacks have tried to do by trading for the A’s Trevor Cahill, to accompany Ian Kennedy and Daniel Huson in Arizona.

The Reds presumably see Latos combining with Johnny Cueto to start their trio, with the hope that maybe Aroldis Chapman’s conversion to a starter pays immediate dividends, Mike Leake steps up to another level or another quality pitcher is acquired before the season starts.

Cincinnati have paid a high price; however the Brewers are probably losing Prince Fielder (potentially also Ryan Braun for 50 games too, as we’ll get to) and the Cardinals have lost Albert Pujols, so there could be a window of opportunity for the Reds before their own star first baseman Joey Votto hits free agency. 

Free agents

The other main news story from Saturday was the reported agreement between Jimmy Rollins and the Phillies on a new three-year contract.  The shortstop’s hope for a five-year deal was never likely to be realised, not least because it always seemed to make sense for him to stay with the Phillies and they were adamant about not stretching to a contract of that length.  A three-year deal with an option for a fourth year at $11m per season (just over £136k per week) is a good compromise for both sides.

The St. Louis Cardinals also held on to their free agent shortstop, signing Rafael Furcal to a two-year contract worth approximately $14m (£86,586k per week), while the Brewers revamped the left-side of their infield with the signings of Aramis Ramirez (3 years/$36m, £148,433 per week) and Alex Gonzalez (1 year/$4.25m, £53,570 per week). Neither of the Brewers’ new signings are particularly strong with the glove, but the Brewers’ pitching staff will enjoy Ramirez’s contributions with the bat and Gonzalez should offer more than Yuniesky Betancourt, who manned shortstop in 2011.

The Twins added one bat and then lost another in the space of a few days. Josh Willingham led the A’s with 29 homers in 2011 and he will now be adding some power to the Twins’ lineup after they agreed a three-year deal worth £21m (£86,586k per week).  However, Michael Cuddyer looks set to join the Colorado Rockies on a three-year deal worth $31.5m (£130k per week).

There was also a revolving door situation in Boston this week as they traded away infielder Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland to the Houston Astros for reliever Mark Melancon, before signing free agent infielder Nick Punto on a three-year deal worth a guaranteed $3m (£18,554 per week). Punto doesn’t offer much with the bat, but is a decent fielder around the diamond.

Darvish and Fielder

We should learn on Tuesday who has posted the highest blind bid for the Japanese pitching star Yu Darvish. Reports suggest that it will exceed the $51,111,111 sum that the Red Sox paid for Daisuke Matsuzaka and you can be sure that Darvish will want to top Matsuzaka’s six-year/$52m contract as well.  All told, you could be looking at a $120m (£77.2m) commitment.

Naturally the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs and recently-rich Rangers are all being linked with Darvish, but there are rumours that the Toronto Blue Jays may have won the bid.

From a neutral’s point of view, it would be great to see the Blue Jays land a genuine star. Having former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell managing the team might also help Darvish make the tricky transition from the Japanese league to North America as Farrell would be able to draw on his experience working with Matsuzaka.

The Blue Jays are owned by the extremely wealthy Rogers Communications company, so they have the flexibility to splash out on a star talent. That’s one of the reasons why the team has been linked with Prince Fielder this offseason and we still are none the wiser as to where he will be calling home in 2012.

Maybe Toronto will ‘do an Angels’ and snap up both?  That seems extremely unlikely – bordering on the impossible – but it’s a fun thought for Blue Jays fans to dream about.

Braun storm

From fun to a more depressing topic. Ryan Braun’s alleged positive drugs test will be a particularly strong blow to Commissioner Bud Selig, who has championed the Brewers’ slugger as one of the poster boys of the new clean MLB era.

Of course, at this stage we really don’t have many facts to go on.  We know Braun was tested during the playoffs and was found to have elevated levels of testosterone, which was subsequently deemed to be synthetic testosterone rather than that produced naturally by his body. We also know that Braun denies any wrongdoing and has lodged an appeal. 

Technically we shouldn’t know any of this right now because Braun has a right to a confidential appeal.  ESPN writers Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn, whose book Game of Shadows shone much light on the Barry Bonds saga, received leaked information about the case and broke the news while the process is ongoing. 

The fall out has got to the heart of the challenging relationship between confidentiality and the public interest. Journalists should have the freedom to uncover stories that the authorities would prefer to remain hidden. If Braun’s appeal is successful then the matter would normally never be disclosed, yet there’s a strong argument that there would be a public interest in knowing that the NL MVP had failed a drugs test.

However, disclosing the information at this stage has meant that all of the many gaps in the story are being filled by rumour-mongers while Braun can’t do much to publicly defend himself. That is quite patently unfair on Braun and can only create mistrust among the players about the drug-testing programme, which is surely not in the public interest.

If Braun is ultimately found guilty then, unfortunate as it will be for the sport and especially the Brewers, he should face the respective punishment of a fifty-game suspension and a black mark against his name. He should be given the right for any decision to be reached following the proper agreed process, though.

Manny being Manny again?

Selig’s mood wouldn’t have been improved by the news that Manny Ramirez is plotting a comeback.

Considering the hassle – even putting the drug bans to one side – that Ramirez has caused, you would think that there’s as much chance of him playing in the Majors again as there is of finding President Sarkozy reading a copy of The British Guide to the Economy. 

However, all it takes is for one team to think he can add some thump to their lineup and he could make a comeback.  Mark it down as a long-shot for now.

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