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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Costas Confessional & Other January Musings

  • The most important quote to take from McGwire's much-publicized statement on Monday is this one: "I had good years when I didn't take any, and I had bad years when I didn't take any.  I had good years when I took steroids, and I had bad years when I took steroids."  Although it doesn't necessarily excuse his actions, it is important to recognize that steroids do not create the superhuman baseball players.  Perhaps they kept him on the field more often or prolonged his career, but I honestly believe that McGwire's power was, as he puts it, a "gift."  That doesn't mean that his massive homer totals weren't somewhat pharmaceutically-assisted.  Certainly, keeping a player of his caliber healthy makes a big difference (see Ken Griffey Jr., Milton Bradley, etc.).  However, let's also remind ourselves that hulking muscles are not the only, nor even the most critical ingredient for baseball power.  Alfonso Soriano hits more homers than Kevin Youkilis.  Rail-thin guys like Alexei Ramirez and Khalil Greene have awesome power strokes.  The stigma associated with steroids is a by-product of its illegality, which is mainly a by-product of the dangerous abuse of early versions of such drugs by weightlifters, swimmers, football players, etc. in the 1970s and 1980s.  It is not far-fetched to believe that within the next decade or so, athletes in many sports will use a new generation of "safe" pharmaceuticals for exactly the purposes McGwire describes...and nobody will care.  After all, it is in the best interest of the league and the fans to have healthy, productive stars.  At that point, the backwards geezers who currently dominate the BBWAA will be too senile or too dead to continue their crusade against "cheating," and all our favorite "juicers" will be rightfully enshrined.  We will also probably discover that the pharmaceuticals they used during the first decade of the 20th century were mostly "safe" as well.  I'm not claiming that "makes it alright," but those partisans who have been demanding confessions from McGwire, A-Rod, Bonds, and Clemens need to get on the honesty train as well and admit that the "Juiced Ball" era did not destroy the game, quite to the contrary, the game is healthier than ever, and, despite the crusade about steroid-related health risks, so are the "juicers."
  • McGwire's confession dominated Monday's Hot Stove session, overshadowing
    the Giants signing of Aubrey Huff.  It strikes me as a somewhat odd signing in that San Francisco is already replete with players whose best positions are first and third (Pablo Sandoval, Mark DeRosa, Jesus Guzman, Matt Downs, etc.).  However, it is hard to find a bad one-year deal, especially for a player who certainly has the potential to be the much-needed middle-of-the-order presence that the Giants sorely need.  Huff is coming off the worst year of his career, but at 33, there is the strong possibility that was just a fluke.  Two years ago, in Baltimore, he was one of the AL's premier power-hitters, leading the league in extra-base hits (82) and finishing fifth in OPS (912), sixth in RBI (108), and eighth in homers (32).  If he can return to near that form, it could be enough to put the Giants over the top in the NL West.  After all, they managed 88 wins in 2009 with a truly paltry offense, and neither the Dodgers nor the Rockies have made any splashes over the offseason.  Huff and DeRosa (who will presumably play left field) should inspire at least a modest offensive improvement.  The key, of course, is for the San Francisco rotation to repeat it's dominating '09 performance and for Sandoval to prove that he is the kind of hitter you can build a lineup around (something which I firmly believe).
  • I haven't yet posted my Offseason Prospectus for the Texas Rangers, who added Vladimir Guerrero over the weekend, but I will tell you that the Rangers are one of the franchises I'm most excited about heading into 2010.  I'm a big fan of Ron Washington and I was impressed by the Rangers performance in '09, especially considering they actually back-tracked offensively.  The health of Guerrero and Josh Hamilton will, of course, by crucial.  As will the development of young pitches like Neftali Feliz, Tommy Hunter, Matt Harrison, and Derek Holland.  With Millwood gone, the Rangers rotation is without a veteran presence (no, Rich Harden doesn't count), which could be ingenious or disastrous.  Either way, I'm looking forward to watching.  The Rangers are expecting a return to form from Vladdy, whose lifetime numbers at Arlington are pretty encouraging.  In fifty games in the Rangers home ballpark, Guerrero has 14 HR, 33 RBI, a .394 average, and 1175 OPS.  As far as the Rangers see it, even if Vlad is a disappointment, at least he won't be destroying them every time they play the rival Angels.  The only downside of the Guerrero signing is that it could impede the playing time of three breakout players from the 2009 squad.  In all likelihood, injuries will solve this problem, but there are currently two outfield spots available for Nelson Cruz, David Murphy, and Julio Borbon.  Cruz was one of the big stories of the first half, earning himself an All-Star selection, and finished with 33 HR, 20 SB, and an 856 OPS.  Murphy started slow, but from June on, he managed an 814 OPS with 15 HR.  The 23-year-old Borbon didn't join the team until August, but in the final two months he hit .316 with 29 runs scored, 19 stolen bases, and a 802 OPS.  I imagine Borbon will leadoff and play centerfield on Opening Day, with Hamilton and Cruz on either side and Guerrero at DH.  Murphy will spell Cruz against especially tough right-handers and bide his time waiting for one of the veterans to come up lame. 

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