Today marked the end of an era of lies, speculation and deceit. An era of broken promises and false dreams that brought baseball back from a self-imposed crypt only to unravel and leave them in purgatory. With Mark McGwire’s admission today that he did in fact take steroids during his illustrious career, including during his magical home run chase in the late 90s, a final puzzle piece is put into place to finish what is now a dreadful picture.
While McGwire’s admission came as a surprise to very few, his affirmation of our suspicions makes the pain of the last several years feel so absolute. As ESPN showed replays of McGwire’s 62nd home run over and over today, the joyous faces of everyone involved couldn’t help but remind me how enchanting that moment was to a young 11-year-old baseball fan, and how stupid it has made me feel over the last several years knowing the truth. Seeing the smiles on the faces of the 1998 crowd, of the Maris family, and of McGwire’s son, they look like such fools. Of course then reality sets in, we were those fools.
When an athlete makes a mistake, one of the first questions the public asks is what effect will it have on the kids? I was a kid of the Mark McGwire era, in the worst way. I owned a number 25 jersey, I cut out newspaper clips every time he hit a home run in September, and I painted a red beard on my face in October to be Big Mac for Halloween. Aside from personal acquaintances and family, this news hits me hardest because McGwire was my hero, he was everything I wanted to be and everything I looked up to.
So what effect did McGwire’s gradual fall from grace over the last decade have on me?
I was a high-school baseball player who wanted nothing more but to be the best. I was undersized, often lifting weights to try and even the playing field. However at the age of 16 I was smart enough to not use performance-enhancing drugs because I had a conscience. Unlike the 30-year-old McGwire, I was big enough to just say no to the peer pressure.
No, the effect of McGwire’s guise of invincibility and heroism affected me much deeper than in my decision to say no to steroids. On a day much more contemptible than today I watched as Mark McGwire, along with Sammy Sosa, Raphael Palmeiro, and Jose Canseco, testified just a stones throw from my home, in congress. It wasn’t McGwire’s words but his shriveled face, his vacant glare and his empty banter that crushed my innocence as a baseball fan. We all knew that 2005 day that the man with whom we placed our hopes on in 1998 was a fake.
Now at the age of 22 it’s hard for me to truly become involved in a sports event. Of course it’s not all McGwire’s fault, as long as there have been sports there have been athletes who were not the gods of men we made them out to be. However McGwire captivated not only the dreams of an 11-year-old but the hopes of my 40-year-old dad and 10, 20, 30, all the way to 80 something’s across the nation.
We were all fools.no comments
Bill Ladson of MLB.com reported tonight that former Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Doug Davis has an interest in playing for the Washington Nationals. However, Davis told Ladson that Washington is not interested in signing him. That is, not until they sure up their defense up the middle at least:
"Davis, 34, played with the D-backs this past season and went 9-14 with a 4.14 ERA. Local reporters were told at the Baseball Winter Meetings that the Nationals had interest in Davis.
"I'm [willing] to go anywhere and hopefully be a difference maker for a team that needs to make a turnaround and be successful," Davis said. "On my part -- of course -- [there's interest]. For them, because of the signing of Jason Marquis, it kind of put them in a bind [to spend] money for starting pitching. They had to address other problems.
"Possibly, when they find a second baseman, they can come back around to their starting pitching. Of course, I'm up to talking with anybody right now. Things are kind of going slow for me because I'm fifth or sixth down the line [when it comes to] starting pitching."
Ladson also points out that the Nationals are currently attempting to court veteran second baseman Orlando Hudson, but says that his asking price is likely too high.
Rizzo is smart to try and sure up his defense up the middle. As we found with Nyjer Morgan last year, defense in the middle of the field is key, and at this point both Ian Desmond and Cristian Guzman are question marks.
Guzman has posted a negative UZR at short for the fourth consecutive season (-2.1, -1.4, -3.4, -2.3) and it is yet to be seen if he will be receptive with a move to second base. The move across the infield should serve Guzman well as he will have less space to cover and an above average arm at the position. The move would also raise his value in 2011 when he becomes a free agent, so you would think he would embrace the move.
Desmond on the other hand is known to be a strong defensive shortstop but his readiness to be an everyday major leaguer is in question. The 24-year-old shortstop struggled early in his career but blossomed last season. While the Nationals hope he's ready to be a full time big leaguer, it would be naive to not have a contingency plan.
One option up the middle not named Orlando Hudson might be Felipe Lopez. Yes, that name may surprise you as we had already cast him off previously after disappointing performances from 2006-08, but the Nationals are under new leadership and Felipe appears to be a reformed player. Defensively, Lopez is the best second baseman available after posting a career UZR of 5.1 at the position, and a 7.8 mark last season.
At the plate Lopez produced a line of .310/.383/.427, .356 wOBA, 116wRC+.
Justin Maxwell is an athletic five-tool college athlete who at the age of 26 is still trying to put it all together. Maxwell was drafted three times in his amateur career before finally deciding to sign with the Nationals in 2006.
The six-foot-five outfielder experienced a very successful early college career at the University of Maryland. Coming from local Sherwood High School, Maxwell played in 44 games in his freshman campaign, and despite only hitting .239, he got on-base at a promising .393 OBP. In 2003, Maxwell exploded in his sophomore season with a line of .317/.385/.550. He also smacked 10 homers, 12 doubles, and swiped 11 bags. With numbers like that, Maxwell turned many eyes going into his junior year, only to battle injuries for the rest of his college career. Maxwell was only healthy enough to play 7 games in 2005 after missing all of 2004, but he still showed enough potential to be drafted in the fourth round by Washington.
Maxwell started his professional career with mixed success in the summer of 2006. As a 22-year-old in low A ball Maxwell hit a disappointing .269 and showed poor power with a slugging percentage of .376. However despite his struggles to drive the ball he was still able to show his patience by getting on base at .346 and speed by stealing 20 bases. In 2007 Maxwell rebounded as he combined for 27 home runs and 35 stolen bases between AA Hagerstown and A+ Potomac. His performance even earned him a cup of coffee in Washington at the end of the season where he earned his first career hit in the form of a grand slam against the Florida Marlins.
In 2008 Maxwell shattered his wrist diving for a ball in the outfield. The injury put an end to what was a promising start of the season. Through 43 games in AA Harrisburg, Maxwell had reduced his K% from 30.8% to 19.2% and was walking at a career high 17.5%. Maxwell's on base percentage was again solid at .367 which was good considering his .233 batting average. His low average was probably a result of his poor .243 BABIP, however his power numbers were up with a .226 Isolated Power.
2009 saw Maxwell return to some of his old habits in AAA however. His K% rose to the highest in his career at 35% and his walk percentage dropped down to 12.3%. Even with his BABIP at .340, Maxwell was only able to bat .242 with a decreased .154 ISO. The outfielder earned a 40 game cup of coffee at the end of the season with the Nationals and had almost identical numbers to his AAA splits.
For Maxwell to be successful at the next level he needs to cut down on his K%. A .340 BABIP is unsustainable and his great strength and power potential wont matter if he strikes out too much in the majors to make himself valuable. He does have the tools to be a good MLB outfielder because he has the patience to get on base, and he has very good speed on both the base paths and in the field. At the age of 26 he's no spring chicken and he may running out of time, however he will get a chance to make the Nationals out of spring training and a chance to improve on his weaknesses.
It's likely now or never for the former-Terp.
Ed Price of AOL Fanhouse tweeted today that Diamondbacks and Nationals are both showing interest in 36-year-old outfielder Randy Winn. Following the tweeting trend, ESPN's Jerry Crasnick tweeted that Randy Winn was likely going to the place where he felt he would get the most at bats, indicating that if the Nationals were to make a push for him it would either mean a reduced role for Elijah Dukes or the trading of Josh Willingham.
If the Nationals do make the move to try and sign Randy Winn it will show yet another commitment to defense from Mike Rizzo. Many inside baseball are considering defense the new on-base percentage in baseball as a stat that many undervalue, and one that can help a club win. We can see this in the recent contract extension of Franklin Gutierrez, the defensive stop gap in centerfield who helped spur the Mariners to a much improved 2010 record.
Defensively, Winn is a major improvement in right field over Elijah Dukes, even at the age of 36. Last season in Right Field for the Nationals Dukes had a sub-par UZR of -2.5 compared to Winn's plus 9.6. According to Fan Graphs, Winn was valued at 16.5 fielding runs above average compared to Dukes' -6.2.
At the plate Winn regressed in 2009. In 2008 for the Giants Winn batted .306/.363/.426 had a .352 wOBA and a 115 wRC+. Those numbers all dropped in 2009 where Winn fell to .262/.318/.353 with an awful .302 wOBA and an even worse 82 wRC+. At 36, there is no reason to believe Winn will do any better offensively. While throughout his career Winn has been considered a plus offensive player, he will be no more than a strong defensive presence in 2010.
Looking at two of his projections for 2010, we see two different stories. Bill James believes Winn will generally return to the lower side of his mean, and that 2009 was just a big outlier in what has been a strong career. CHONE however believes Winn is on the downside of his career and will likely have numbers similar to 2009. Here are the projections:
Bill James: .276/.377/.389, .321 wOBA, 96 wRC+
CHONE: .259/.317/.364, .306 wOBA, 84 wRC+
Neither projection is very good, and neither are as good as Elijah Dukes projections (who is 11 years younger).
Dukes Bill James: .263/.359/.439, .348 wOBA, 113 wRC+
Dukes CHONE: .262/.364/.438, .351 wOBA, 116 wRC+
If Mike Rizzo signs Winn as a precursor of a Josh Willingham trade it will be a good move. The Nationals will be giving up a great, all be it streaky, bat in the outfield while gaining a very good defender and probably a middle infielder or starting pitcher. If they want to add him to take-over for Elijah Dukes it may not be as wise. While Dukes has struggled and his job shouldn't be promised, at 25 he has way more upside and potential for the franchises future, regardless of his defensive problems.
(NOTE: Willingham's outfield UZR in 2009 was -5.2)
"1. Stephen Strasburg: Perhaps the best college pitcher of all time, Strasburg brings unheralded hype and ability to a Washington organization desperate for a shot in the arm. He is the best pitching prospect in baseball and will challenge Atlanta's Jason Heyward as my preseason No. 1 prospect in baseball.
2. Derek Norris: Despite his high strikeout rate, Norris has the bat of a future All-Star. The most unheralded aspect of his season was the 90 walks he drew in 437 at-bats. His defense is on track for the majors, but needs some work. If he repeats his performance in 2010, we may be looking at a top-10 prospect in all of baseball. But he does need to do it again if he is going to win me over.
3. Danny Espinosa: Despite some holes in his swing, Espinosa has a bit of everything you look for in a shortstop, including above-average power and the glove to match.
4. Christopher Marrero: Marrero has a nice bat, but nothing about it sticks out, especially as a first baseman. He is still young, and with further progression Washington could have a major league asset at first base.
5. Drew Storen: I was surprised to see Storen go as high as he did in the 2009 draft, but his first 37 minor league innings opened my eyes. There is even talk that Washington may turn him into a starter, which would raise his value immensely, but his change-up needs refinement if that is going to happen. There is a lot to like. More than I initially thought.
6. Ian Desmond: Desmond has some workable power and base-stealing ability, but neither skill be will anything more than average in the majors. His defense is his best strength, and his average bat will make sure he has a long, solid career as a major league shortstop.
7. Eury Perez: Perez has flashed his potential at every stop he has made. His bat seems very advanced for his age, his speed will be a weapon, and he has even shown some unexpected power.
8. Destin Hood: With his raw tools, Hood was one of my favorite players selected in the second round of the 2008 draft. Not much has materialized as of yet, which is concerning for me, but he is very young.
9. Michael Burgess: Burgess has plus power, but not much else to go with it. His strikeout rate is troublesome and may be his downfall. Future refinement could be in the works, so it's not time to give up on him yet.
10. Marcos Frias: Scouting reports are tough to come by on Frias, but his numbers are hard to ignore, forcing my bullish outlook. Based off of the brief video and scouting reports I have on him, I am going to take a shot in the dark on a young man with a live arm."
Danny Espinosa is crawling up everyone's prospect board. I don't know if I'm sold on him yet, as he is 22 and in Single-A, but he does come from a good crop and has shown a solid glove and good power. Could be a valuable addition in two years or so if Desmond doesn't pan out.
I find it interesting that people are still talking about making Storen a starter. I thought it was pretty clear he was the closer of the future.
Capps participated in a great phone interview with Chico Harlan from the Nationals Journal. One of the most interesting parts of the interview was when Chico and Matt discussed Capps playing weight:
"Q: I read that last year you reported to spring training about 15 pounds lighter than in 2008, and you were thinking that would spell good things in terms of velocity and endurance. Numbers aside, how did that work for you?
Well, I felt good throughout the year. I think with me it's a fine line. I've done a lot of soul-searching with my weight and what kind of shape I'm in. I mean, I'm a big guy. I'm never going to be 205 pounds. But I don't need to be 265 either. If I'm between 245 and 250 I think that's when I'm at my best, just looking back over the last few years. I'm also the person, I can step on the scale today and be 252 and tomorrow be 243. My weight jumps up and down real quick, and I don't know what the cause is. But I try not to put too much emphasis on weight. A lot of it goes on how I feel. I've had two pretty rough years in my career, one in 2004 and one last year. And the one common denominator in those two years is that I came into camp in unbelievable shape.