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Tarnished Todd

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Tarnished Todd

Posted on 19 February 2013 by Chris Caylor

Pro athletes can be enigmatic people. So, too, can the people who cover the games pro athletes play.

ToddHelton

When sportswriters – especially the folks who get paid to cover a team – interject their opinions on their Twitter feed or a blog post, then they become part of the story as well. We see this every year at Hall-of-Fame voting time. Another perfect example in baseball is when an athlete gets busted for using performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball writers love (no, LOVE!) to get up on their soapboxes and rail at the sky about how those players are destroying the game. Just look back at some of the Grade A conniption fits some writers have thrown over Melky Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, Yasmani Grandal and others.

I don’t begrudge them those opinions, even if I may not share their vitriol. What I ask is this: where is the outrage over a DUI?

Yes, using PEDs is now forbidden in baseball. Yes, using PEDs creates a competitive imbalance within the game and puts an athlete’s accomplishments into question. But does using PEDs put innocent lives at risk the way driving a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol does? While Alex Rodriguez brings embarrassment to himself, the New York Yankees, and baseball as a whole, did he endanger lives the way Todd Helton did a couple of weeks ago?

Simply put: no.

When the longtime Colorado Rockies’ first baseman decided to get behind the wheel of his Ford F-150 truck at 2 am on February 6, 2013, he put lives at risk. His driving was so erratic that police were rightfully called. His mugshot now belongs in the Celebrity Mugshot Hall of Shame. Helton’s iconic moment – fists raised to the sky, shouting in triumph as he catches the final out of the 2007 NLCS – has been sullied with photoshop images of him guzzling wine from an Igloo cooler instead of celebrating the Rockies’ lone trip to the World Series.

Let’s be clear on one thing: no one was injured or killed as a result of Helton’s appalling decision. Thank heavens for that. But it does not excuse his appalling lack of judgment. His apparent motivation for this dangerous drive was lottery tickets and chewing tobacco. Is that worth a human life?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 30 people in the U.S. die every day in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. The CDC says that translates to one death every 48 minutes. In statistics reported by MADD, Colorado drunk-driving deaths increased 9% from 2010 to 2011. In fact, 36% of Colorado traffic-related deaths in 2011 were drunk-driving related.

Being arrested for a DUI has devastating effects on the offender. Typically, by the time one pays for bail, court fees, penalty fines, and insurance costs, the price tag is about $10,000 – and that’s if you didn’t hit anything or injure anyone (hat tip: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).

This doesn’t even begin to take into account the devastation visited on a victim. I can’t and won’t even begin to quantify something like that. Ten thousand dollars is pocket change to Todd Helton, who has made over $150 million in his major-league career.

Cardinals reliever Josh Hancock foolishly drove while drunk and died in a 2007 crash. The Angels’ Nick Adenhart was killed by a drunk driver in 2009. So, sadly, there is tragic precedent between drinking and driving and baseball players.

You might think the media would be critical of Helton, similar to how the media excoriated former Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa or outfielder Delmon Young after their alcohol-related incidents.

Sadly, they were not.

Not comparing Helton to Young (who is, by many published accounts, a terrible human being), but local Denver Post writers practically fell over themselves to EXCUSE Helton for his crime. One columnist flippantly began a column thusly: “So now the statistical line for Rockies star Todd Helton reads: 354 home runs, .320 batting average and 1 DUI arrest. Helton is sorry, Denver.” Another has completely glossed over the seriousness of what could have happened in favor of emphasizing that Helton is a “prideful” man who is contrition was obvious before he uttered a single word of explanation to his fans.

When Helton did finally address the media this past Sunday (11 days after his arrest), he was apologetic, but gave no explanation for the delay. Helton refused to discuss why he decided to drink and drive that night, and no media members pushed for an explanation. Helton claims that he has “gotten help” for his “monumental mistake,” yet he would not elaborate what sort of help he is getting. Is it because the investigation is ongoing? If so, then say so.

And is it just me, or did he seem irritated that he had to speak about his DUI at all? Local TV stations also reported that this would be “the first and the last time” that Helton would address this matter. That sound contrite to you? Me either.

No one asked Helton if it ever occurred to him that he could have injured – or killed – a child wearing a Helton jersey or t-shirt. Has Helton considered what such an unspeakable tragedy would do to his legacy? I’d like to know the answer to that question, yet the media has not asked it. Why? Could it be that it is easier to screech and preach about intangible things like the “spirit of the game” or “integrity” than it is to deal with all-too common occurrences in life like drinking and driving, alcohol dependency or automobile crashes? I don’t have an answer. I just wish someone were willing to ask the question.

No questions will be forthcoming from Major League Baseball. Bud Selig has offered no comment whatsoever on Helton’s DUI. The Denver Post has reported that the Rockies do not plan to discipline Helton for his crime, but they did issue a STRONGLY WORDED statement the day after Helton’s arrest. The team used phrases like “extremely disappointed,” “full accountability,” and “severity of the situation.” But an organization that has for years trumpeted how much it values “character” in its players, coaching staff and management, will take no further action other than issuing a statement that essentially says “STOP! Or I’ll say stop again.” Three cheers for hypocrisy, everyone!

Here’s a question for the media, Rockies management and fans: what if it had been a player other than Todd Helton, the franchise icon? What if it had been one of the Rockies’ many young pitchers? A 20-something, perhaps single guy, trying to establish a major league career? Would everyone be so quick to come to that player’s defense, espousing deep insights into his psyche and rationalizing a horrible decision? Or would they be raking him over the coals, demanding his release and entry into a rehab program? Interesting question, isn’t it? The cynic in me has a guess what the answer would be, and the answer is disappointing.

Check out these numbers tweeted by Anthony Witraudo of The Sporting News: “By Sporting News’ count, 12 MLB players, an exec, a bullpen catcher, an announcer and a HOFer have been busted for DUIs since start of 2011.”

Pardon the turn of phrase, but that’s a sobering statistic. The way so many baseball writers harp about PEDs, you’d think the ratio of PED users to DUI arrests was 50-to-1. Again, I ask, where are the priorities of baseball writers? Shouldn’t the DUI issues at least get equal time?

In fairness, the National Football League has a much higher number of players who have been arrested for driving under the influence. But no one grandstands about the prevalence of PEDs in the NFL, either.

Helton said Sunday he is taking “all the right steps to make sure (drinking and driving) doesn’t happen again.” Let’s hope it doesn’t. He played Russian roulette with his massive pick-up truck and got lucky. If it were to happen again, the end result might be a tragedy far more heartbreaking than an athlete caught using steroids. I hope that is something members of the baseball media come to realize sooner rather than later.

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The Roster Report – February 1, 2012

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The Roster Report – February 1, 2012

Posted on 01 February 2012 by Bryan Grosnick

Hey there, hardball fans! Welcome to the first edition of  The Roster Report here at Full Spectrum Baseball. I’ll be breaking down transactions big and small here at FSB on a twice-weekly basis. Basically, I’m here to get you caught up on the major and minor moves that shape your favorite MLB squads, and give you the best analysis as to how that will affect their on-field success in the future. And if there’s a chance that a move will affect your fantasy baseball team, well, I’ll cover that too! Lastly, if you have any questions or comments, please reach out in the comments section or via Twitter (@bgrosnick), and I’ll do my best to keep up.

This week’s article features acquisitions from the Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, and New York Mets. Let’s get to it!

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The Detroit Tigers sign 1B Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214MM contract.
Yeah, you’ve probably already heard about this one. Let’s not talk about Prince, who is already entrenched as the new Tiger 1B, and should continue to be a productive power hitter for at least a few more years. Instead, let’s talk about the rest of the Detroit Tigers, and how this team will be affected by his arrival. First, and most importantly, incumbent first-sacker and perennial MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera is off to third base. While Cabrera’s bat is potent, his glove is not. Cabrera was a poor-fielding third baseman in 2006 and 2007, and he was an average-to-poor fielding first baseman over the past four years, whether you look at advanced metrics like UZR, or just the eye test. With an infield of Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Ryan Raburn, and Prince Fielder, Detroit could offer one of the worst defensive squads in major-league history. They’re basically the opposite of the Ventura-Ordonez-Alfonzo-Olerud “Greatest Infield Ever” that the New York Mets had in the early 2000s. Even worse, Delmon Young, the prohibitive Opening Day left-fielder, is equally awful in the field. The Tigers are going all-in on hitting, and their run prevention will suffer as a result. I would not want to be a ground ball pitcher like Rick Porcello in 2012.

Fielder’s addition and Cabrera’s move definitely changes the makeup of the Detroit bench. With only four bench spots available on most AL squads, versatility will be especially key for the Tigers and manager Jim Leyland. A backup catcher (Gerald Laird) is a necessity, and Ramon Santiago will likely platoon with Ryan Raburn at 2B and back up Jhonny Peralta at short. The last two slots should be going towards a backup outfielder (likely Andy Dirks, who can play all three OF positions), and perhaps long-time Tiger Brandon Inge. Leyland sees Inge as a super-sub who can cycle in not just at his natural 3B, but also at catcher, outfield,  and (according to Leyland) 2B and SS. Inge has never played in the middle of the infield before, but if he can, he would be one of the most versatile players in the majors this year. That’s great and everything, but he still can’t hit a lick. Fortunately, offense should be in heavy supply in the Motor City this season. Don Kelly, who may start the season as the DH, can also back up at the corners.

The Tigers’ addition of another massive bat to the lineup certainly shook up the AL Central, but it shouldn’t shake up the fantasy order of things too much. Miguel Cabrera’s move to third, a woefully weak position in 2012, makes him an easy top-5 pick in any mixed fantasy draft. I’d even look at him as the No. 1 overall choice in many leagues. Prince Fielder may see a drop in HR due to Comerica Park’s debilitating effect on left-handed power, but his overall stats will still keep him as a high-ranking 1B option.  The rest of Detroit’s offensive starters will see a small boost due to the addition of another great hitter, and all of Detroit’s pitchers should lose value due to the newly-porous defense. Doug Fister may have had a brilliant breakout 2011, but his reliance on D will hurt him this season. And I would run away from Rick Porcello, a ground-ball specialist, like he was on fire.

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The Philadelphia Phillies sign LF Juan Pierre to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training.
Dominic Brown, and plenty of Phillies fans, must be shaking their heads at this one. Though Pierre isn’t guaranteed a spot on the major-league roster, he’ll provide increased competition for the void in left field left by the departure of Raul Ibanez. Competition in LF will be tight, as Pierre must fend off new Phillies Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix as well as holdovers John Mayberry Jr. and Dominic Brown. Wigginton will probably start at 1B with Ryan Howard out to start the season, but when and if Howard returns (or if Jim Thome can handle everyday duties at first), expect the former Rockie to fill in at LF.

Before the signing of Pierre, the best bet for left field was probably a platoon of John Mayberry Jr. and newly-acquired Laynce Nix. A Nix-Mayberry platoon is actually a pretty solid left fielder, as Mayberry can do some real damage against lefties and Nix strikes the ball hard against right-handers. Both players have home run power and positional versatility. But Dominic Brown is still an excellent prospect with a well-rounded skillset. He’s also one of the few Phillies young enough to be a long-term fixture at Citizens Bank Park. With the Phillies looking to make another run at the World Series, manager Charlie Manuel may want Juan Pierre’s “veteran leadership” more than he would want a good ballplayer in LF, and that’s bad news for those of us who think Brown could be a star soon.

From a fantasy standpoint, Pierre gets another stay of execution. If Juan gets the Opening Day start, it will probably be atop the Philadelphia order, and he’ll go back to racking up SB, R, and batting average, owned in all leagues. Steals are valuable, and even as Pierre’s SB totals slide, he still finds value on any fantasy squad that values speed. But make no mistake, Juan Pierre is no longer a starting-caliber outfielder in real-world baseball. Sooner or later, the Phillies are going to have to run a real player out there in left field, whether it is Dom Brown, Laynce Nix, or John Mayberry. If Dominic Brown gets the LF job, then he’s worth a fantasy own, but Nix and Mayberry may not get enough plate appearances to be fantasy factors in anything but NL-only leagues.

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The San Francisco Giants sign RP / SP Clay Hensley to a one-year, $750K contract.
The Giants signed former Marlin Clay Hensley to a non-guaranteed one-year contract. In my opinion, this is a great, low-risk deal for a reliever who’s been effective in the past. In a full year in relief for the Marlins in 2010, Hensley was very solid, posting an unreal 2.16 ERA and 2.87 FIP. But that isn’t what you should expect from him going forward…he’s unlikely to strike out a batter an inning again. Last year, Hensley regressed, though part of the reason his stats (5.19 ERA, 4.90 FIP) were so bad was due to an unimpressive nine-game run as a starter. Left to his devices in the bullpen, and especially benefiting from San Francisco’s wacky park magic (ESPN’s Park Factors have AT&T Park as the most pitcher-friendly park in MLB), Hensley will probably notch solid rate stats and more than a few holds. This is the kind of low-risk deal on a reliever every team should shoot for.

Quick Hits

  • The San Francisco Giants also added Ryan Theriot on a one-year, $1.25MM contract. The Riot is completely replaceable, a very average option at 2B or SS. But we all know how much Brian Sabean likes bringing in veteran retreads, so this feels like a natural fit. If and when Freddy Sanchez gets injured again, he’ll probably take over at 2B. Avoid in fantasy.
  • Dan Wheeler, a journeyman reliever who last pitched for the Red Sox, signed on with the Cleveland Indians. Wheeler made a bad business decision when he turned down arbitration from the Sox, but then had to settle for a minor-league contract. He’s a very solid reliever, and will probably fit nicely in the Cleveland bullpen, as he posted his best FIP and xFIP in three years with Boston last year. Wheeler even has a little closing experience, so he could get the call if Chris Perez implodes during the season.
  • The Indians also acquired Russ Canzler from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for cash considerations. Canzler hit quite well at Triple-A Durham for the Rays, won the International League MVP award, and could very well compete with Matt LaPorta for time at 1B this season. Canzler has a .411 wOBA over the past two seasons in Double-A and Triple-A, hits for power, and has remarkable plate discipline. Steve Slowinski at DRaysBay advocated making him a part of the Rays major-league roster earlier this offseason, so this could very well be an under-the-radar move that pays big dividends for Cleveland. If he gets a starting gig, he’ll play in fantasy leagues too.
  • The Phillies made another move as part of their bullpen revamp, adding Chad Qualls on a one-year, $1.15MM contract. It’s a good deal for a reliever because it only lasts one year, and Qualls has had a lot of success in the past. In 2011 with the Padres, Chad saw his K rate fall off by two strikeouts per nine innings, but his walk rate and HR rate fell as well, balancing things out. Qualls probably isn’t an elite reliever, or even as good as Antonio Bastardo, but he’s a solid piece for the rebuilt Philadelphia ‘pen, and he came much cheaper than Jonathan Papelbon did.
  • The Mets added former top prospect Matt Tuiasosopo, previously of the Seattle Mariners. Despite being a toolsy player and a former top prospect, Tui played very poorly in Triple-A last season, and is probably nothing more than an organizational depth guy. Tui’s only impact will be on spell-checkers, as he shouldn’t be a factor in fantasy or for the major-league squad. He’s just a guy.

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