Joe Blanton Gets 8 Million A Year

Joe Blanton signed a three-year $24 million contract yesterday to avoid arbitration and stay with the Phillies. He is now locked into a rotation featuring Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ.

When I first saw the headlines I thought this deal was ridiculous. How could Blanton be worth $8 million a year? The guy is a three or four starter with average stuff. But then I looked at his numbers. As well, I looked at where the Phillies were coming from.

Blanton is only 29 years old and has posted at least 195 innings the last two seasons. His ERA decreased from 4.69 in 2008 to 4.06 in 2009. He posted career bests last season in SO/BB (2.76) and SO/9 (7.5). And in 2007 with Oakland, he put up 230 innings with a 3.95 ERA: proof that he can be penciled in for quite a few innings.

Bearing all that in mind, it makes sense that the Phillies made this move (coupled with re-signing Shane Victorino). They just traded for and signed Halladay, they have Hamels for a while and they have Happ for a while. Thus it makes perfect sense for the Phils to put together a rotation like this, even if it does mean overpaying a little.

Felix Hernandez Locked Up

The Seattle Mariners are putting together one hell of a franchise. With easily the most efficient offseason of any team, they locked up King Felix to a five year-$80 million deal, traded for co-ace Cliff Lee, traded for oft-troubled but nonetheless productive outfielder Milton Bradley, signed Chone Figgins to a multi-year deal and brought back fan favorite Ken Griffey Jr.

The Mariners are now the team to beat in the American League West. With the Angels losing John Lackey (and not doing much to replace him), they have a gaping hole in their rotation—something that the Mariners are not lacking. Moreover, the Mariners traded for Jack Wilson last season and still have perennial All-Star Ichiro Suzuki.

And they have some good young arms in the rotation/bullpen: Luke French, Garrett Olson, Mark Lowe to name a few. Not only should they be a favorite in the AL West this season, but if they have another great offseason next winter, they could put themselves in a position to be playoff contenders for a very long time.

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One Man’s Opinion on Performance-Enhancing Drugs

Babe Ruth played professional baseball from 1914 to 1935, hitting a then-record 60 home runs in 1927. The game was much different back then. The game has since evolved. Whereas Ruth was the only player of his generation approaching the 60 home run plateau, that mark is no longer considered an almost unattainable accomplishment.

Four players have hit 60 or more home runs besides Ruth: Roger Maris in 1961, Mark McGwire in 1998 and 1999, Sammy Sosa in 1998, 1999 and 2001, and Barry Bonds in 2001. All of the above, aside from Maris, have been connected with performance-enhancing drugs in one form or another, most notably by recent admission.

But, as stated, the game has evolved. In the modern game, if a pitcher cannot reach 90 miles per hour, he will most likely not make it to the big leagues. If he does not have a devastating off-speed pitch or breaking ball to complement his fastball, he will not make it to the big leagues. Pitchers are pure and simple better than they were in Ruth’s era. Moreover, the game has become specialized. Bullpens are utilized more often now than ever; the idea of five pitchers being used by one team in a single game is not foreign.

If pitchers become better over time, hitters need to do so, as well. In The Neyer/James Guide to Baseball Rob Neyer and Bill James write:

…while some pitchers could make a ball hop and some people could make a ball “sink,” there is no evidence of any major-league pitcher, before 1950, doing both, or switching between one and the other (Satchel Paige threw two distinct fastballs in the 1930s, when he pitched in the Negro Leagues. But neither of them was a sinking fastball.) Pitchers universally seemed to regard the movement of their fastball not as a function of strategy, but as a gift from the heavens. “My fastball had a natural sink to it,” they would say, or “My fastball had a pretty good hop to it,” or “I had pretty good speed, but my fastball was straight, so I had to keep it away from the middle of the plate.” Although certainly some very few pitchers would learn how to make “their” fastball hop or how to make “their” fastball sink, there is little evidence, before 1950, of an understanding that the movement on a pitcher’s fastball was not simply an endowment of nature, but was a consequence of grip, release, and spin.

Even before Maris’s time, pitchers were not universally capable of throwing a hard fastball with movement. Most pitchers had either speed or movement, but not both. Modern baseball is witness to the four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, cut fastball, split-finger fastball, sinking fastball, slider, etc. All of which can be thrown with devastatingly fast speed.

Hitters must be able to keep up. With every generation that passes, the game of baseball will only become more difficult. Players are being trained harder and at younger ages than ever before. Mechanics and biomechanics are terms that every up-and-coming player knows about. Which brings us to the case of hitters using performance-enhancing drugs to get better.

The game is different than it was eighty years ago. If Babe Ruth played today, he would not be the home run hitting machine he was. His bat would be too slow, his eyes wouldn’t be sharp enough and he wouldn’t be able to process the insane combinations of speed and movement on pitches. Hitters today, however, are able to. Why? Because they have been raised to. They have been born into a generation in which the competition is extreme. ‘Practice makes perfect’ is no longer the adage that gets you to the big leagues; it gets you the opportunity to be considered to get to the big leauges. Most high school players are lucky if they can make it into a Division III, II or perhaps even I college program. Some are good enough to even get drafted into the minor leagues right out of high school. Most of these players will never even come close to playing in Major League Baseball. Furthermore, unlike in Ruth’s time, African American players now have an equal opportunity to play professionally. As well, players from Asia and Latin America are quite prevalent in the United States’ professional system. The point? Competition is as fierce as ever—exponentially fiercer than in Ruth’s time—and it will only become more so.

This is why many players turn to performance-enhancing drugs. This is not a defense of their actions; it is a rationalization. They are playing in a different era—the Steroid Era, if you must. There are certainly other reasons players use PED’s, but it is impossible to absolutely know for what specific reason each specific user uses/used.

Times are different. The game is different. If people want to clean up baseball, then do so. Outlaw drugs and enforce testing. But do not punish players for playing during the times they did. They are products of their generation. Is it right? Is it wrong? That’s up to the individual to decide.

One a more newsworthy and specific note:

Mark McGwire did not break any rules when he used steroids. His candidacy for the Hall of Fame should be determined solely on his statistics as compared to comparable players from his generation. If one does not believe that McGwire’s numbers merit enshrinement, then so be it. But to deny the man such an award solely due to the circumstances surrounding his generation is to lack any sense of social progression—it is downright foolish.


Some Thoughts on Mark McGwire and His Admission

Twelve-time All Star Mark McGwire undoubtedly deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. He received just 23.7% of the votes for this year’s candidates; it was his fourth year on the ballot.

I understand that the reason McGwire is not getting elected is because of his steroid use. He did in fact use steroids during all or part of his career. What’s the big deal? I fully understand the stigma surrounding performance-enhancing drugs, but we must look at the player within the context of the time he played.

Everyone was taking steroids (overstatement). McGwire was no different than the majority of Major League Baseball players during his tenure. Regardless of what he may say now in retropsect—”I wish I had never touched steroids… It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.”—he chose to use steroids and he knew exactly what he was doing. He has been punished long enough.

He revitalized the game of baseball. Along with Sammy Sosa in 1998, McGwire put fans back in the seats, drove up revenues and got people re-interested in baseball. Moreover, PED’s were not illegal by baseball’s rules during McGwire’s career.

We worshiped him when he played. It is wrong to vilify him now.