2014 Position Preview: Catcher

By Nathan Petrashek

Editor’s note: This is Part 1 in Cream City Cable’s position preview series.

The 2014 Brewers will once again feature a stable duo of catchers in Jonathan Lucroy and Martin Maldonado.  Although Lucroy is the primary backstop, Maldonado received additional playing opportunities in 2013 as manager Ron Roenicke used Lucroy at first base for 14 games.  That probably won’t continue in 2014 as the Brewers have a couple potentially viable options at first this season.

JONATHAN LUCROY

lucroyBy far, Lucroy’s highest value lies behind the dish.  Lucroy is offensively gifted as a catcher, but his numbers look much more average transposed to first base.  With a developing pop and improved plate discipline, Lucroy has turned into one of the premier catchers in baseball.  And that’s not even to mention his elite pitch-framing abilities.  He’s only 27, too, and just entering his prime years.

For whatever reason, Lucroy remains fairly under the radar.  He has never been named to an All-Star team, although he was arguably on his way in 2012 until a freak accident sidelined him until the second half.  He certainly does not have Buster Posey’s reputation as an offensive juggernaut or the face of the franchise.  Lucroy is more the type to keep his head down and get to work, and that’s probably why his popularity is sky-high in blue-collar Wisconsin.

Once again in 2013, though, the one knock on Lucroy remains his arm.  Runners know it, as they attempted 80 steals on him in 2013; he threw out just over 20%, one of the worst percentages among qualified catchers.

2013 recap

580 pa, 59 r, 18 hr, 82 rbi, 9 sb, 7.9 bb%, 11.9 k%, .280/.340/.455, 118 wRC+

2014 offensive projections

Steamer: 492 pa, 53 r, 14 hr, 57 rbi, 5 sb, 7.3 bb%, 13.5 k%, .270/.328/.425, 107 wRC+

ZiPS:  506 pa, 53 r, 15 hr, 75 rbi, 7 sb, 7.1 bb%, 14.4 k%, .276/.331/.437, 111 wRC+

Contract status

Signed to a 5-year, $11MM deal through 2016.  Club option for 2017 at $5.25MM.  Will make $2MM in 2014.

MARTIN MALDONADO

Martin MaldonadoMaldonado is a fine to very good defensive catcher, which is his one saving grace in the backup position.  After batting a surprising .266/.321/.408 in 2012 and amassing 1.4 WAR, Maldonado regressed badly in 2013.  Hitting just .169/.236/.284, Maldonado shows none of the on-base skills or pop we glimpsed in 2012.  Maldonado spent 73 innings at first base last year, where he generally looked awful.  Indeed, Maldonado’s primary purpose on the 2014 roster may be to catch Wily Peralta, with whom he was paired in the minors and in parts of the last two major league season.  That’s a dubious purpose, though; it remains an open question whether the wild Peralta might not benefit more from Lucroy’s exceptional pitch-framing.

2014 offensive projections

Steamer: 394 pa, 35 r, 10 hr, 38 rbi, 3 sb, 6.7 bb%, 23.3 k%, .222/.282/.352, 74 wRC+

ZiPS:  328 pa, 28 r, 8 hr, 42 rbi, 1 sb, 6.1  bb%, 26.2 k%, .224/.285/.353, 75 wRC+

Contract status

Pre-arbitration 1-year contract; arbitration eligible in 2015.

All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.

Welcome to the new Cream City Cables – First Podcast!

By Nathan Petrashek

You might have noticed by now we’ve given the website a facelift.  We used to be tied to the MLBlogs.com movement, but they stuck ads all over our blog and the format was far too restrictive for what we wanted to do.

What did we want to do, you ask?

Well, today we’re introducing our first ever podcast, something that will perhaps become a regular feature here.  Writer Ryan Smith (@ryanhenrysmith2) and I talked first base, Matt Garza’s contract, the rotation, Jean Segura, and Khris Davis.  We’re still getting a feel for this thing, so it’d be much appreciated if you’d let me know on Twitter (@npetrashek) or in the comments below what you liked or didn’t like.

You can listen to it or download the file using the link’s below.  We anticipate having it and subsequent podcasts available in the iTunes store soon.


Podcast Season 1 Episode 1

*Note: the podcast was recorded late last week

Stay tuned to CCC, as position previews start this week, and we’ll be introducing some fantasy content this month!  You can find all this and more using the navigation menu below the header.

A few thoughts on Bob Uecker

Bob Ueckerby Nathan Petrashek

When I’m 80, I can only hope I’m doing as well as Bob Uecker.  Goodness, that man has aged well.  And not just physically, either; listen to a Brewers broadcast for even 15 minutes and you’ll hear his sharp wit on full display.  More often than not, his verbal jabs are aimed directly at himself, giving the man a wonderful humility that makes him easily accessible.  We in the Midwest love us some good self-deprecation, and Uecker is a master. 

As Kyle Lobner rightly points out over at Brew Crew Ball, Ueck has become an institution in Wisconsin.  His voice lights up the Brewers Radio Network statewide on most summer nights.  His unique gallows humor (the Brewers have been terrible for much of their history) has become the soundtrack for generations of Wisconsin folk, fan and non-fan alike.  Naturally, people wonder what will happen when he decides to call it a career.  When he does, it will have been one of accomplishment, with countless Miller Lite commercials, TV and movie appearances, and broadcasting awards under his belt.

Ueck took the first step toward retirement late last week, announcing he will reduce his travel schedule with the team this season.  Ueck will still call all 81 home games, but he won’t always be with the team on the road, particularly during west coast trips.  I know the gut reaction to the news for many Brewers fans is panic; it’s hard to conceptualize a Brewers broadcast without Uecker.  That will happen when one man is the voice of a franchise for over 40 years.

Yet, it’s not the end of the world, Milwaukee, or the Brewers that Uecker has decided to take a step back.  I can only imagine how grueling the travel schedule must be for a player, let alone for an 80-year-old.  If reducing the number of Uecker’s road games keeps him in the booth for longer, that’s ultimately a good thing.  And it gives the Brewers and their flagship station, 620 WTMJ, more time to groom a successor to Mr. Baseball.

But for now, we’ll still have that delightful blend of humor and humility beaming into our homes for the vast majority of the season.  I suggest that, for a least a couple games this year, you go outside, fire up the grill, have a few cold beverages, kick your feet up, and enjoy the summer with him.

Garza as the new Lackey

By Nathan Petrashek

I said yesterday that I couldn’t think of a deal structured quite like Garza’s, where the Brewers get an extremely cheap club option in the event the pitcher misses significant time.

Turns out, there are other such clauses, but they’re of relatively recent vintage.

On Twitter, Alex Poterack of Disciples of Uecker clued me in to the fact that John Lackey has a similar clause in his deal, as does Felix Hernandez in his extension.  Sure enough, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs has a writeup comparing the risk management features of those deals.

The Lackey Clause, as it is apparently coming to be known, was created after Lackey’s 2009 physical turned up an elbow injury, but the Red Sox didn’t want to scrap the deal.  So, they created an insurance clause: if Lackey missed significant time with an elbow injury, a year could be tacked on the deal at the veteran minimum, at the club’s election.  That clause was triggered when Lackey missed 2012 after having Tommy John surgery, so he’ll likely pitch for the Red Sox in 2015 for $500,000.

The Mariners picked up on this and put a similar clause in their extension with King Felix.  The Brewers appear to have lifted the terms of Garza’s Lackey Clause almost directly from Felix’s deal.  Under Felix’s extension, the Mariners get a $1MM team option in 2020 if Hernandez spends 130 consecutive days on the DL.  Here’s where the clauses differ, though; the team option is only triggered if Hernandez hits the DL due to an elbow injury.  The Brewers option is apparently much broader, and activates if Garza spends the requisite number of days on the DL for any reason.

It seems Lackey Clauses are gaining in popularity, and perhaps rightly so.  While a team will likely never recoup the full value forfeited if one of their major pitchers hits the DL, the clause does allow the team to recover something.  When taken in conjunction with Garza’s vesting option, it allows the player to gain something if he stays healthy, too.

The question now is why the Brewers thought they needed such a clause.  Was it simply Garza’s injury history, or something in the physical?

The Surreal Matt Garza Deal

By Nathan Petrashek

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati RedsIt seems the Brewers could be paying Matt Garza a mere $1MM to pitch for them in 2018.

Okay, it’s a little more complicated than that.

According to various media outlets (e.g. Cots, Tom Haudricourt, Joel Sherman, and Adam McCalvey), Garza is set to earn a base salary of $12.5MM between 2014 and 2017.  $2MM of salary in each of those years is deferred without interest, payable beginning in 2018.  But 2018 is also the year in which things get kind of … odd.

Garza has a vesting option for 2018.  There is nothing particularly unusual about this contractual device.  It basically means that, under a defined set of circumstances, the Brewers are willing to guarantee Garza a fifth year at a predetermined salary.  That salary is $13.5MM, and it will be due Garza under the following circumstances:

  1. Garza starts 110 games between 2014-17
  2. He does not end the 2017 season on the disabled list
  3. He pitches at least 115 innings in 2017

If Garza meets all of those requirements, he’ll get a fifth year at a nice payday tacked on the end of his deal.

Satisfying those three requirements won’t be easy, though.  Garza essentially can’t miss more than a year’s worth of starts between 2014 and 2017.  Garza has had several maladies over the past few seasons-the most troubling being a stress reaction in his elbow-and his mechanics could lead to future shoulder problems for the 30-year-old.  Between the 2010-13 seasons, Garza only made 105 starts, so if we were to go by his last four years, the first requirement would not have been satisfied.

But that’s not all.  Not only must Garza remain healthy for at least three years, but he basically has to pitch for at least half of the 2017 season.  And even then, any missed starts (i.e. a DL stint) can’t come at the end of 2017.  Pretty brilliant contractual maneuvering by the Brewers to get out from under the option if Garza breaks down at the end of his deal.  Remember, most teams wanted to give Garza only  three guaranteed years.

But what’s really bizarre is what happens if the option doesn’t vest.  Then, according to the previously mentioned media sources, the vesting option becomes a $5MM team option.  In other words, even if Garza does break down, the Brewers can choose to bring him back anyway at a substantially reduced rate.  Even as things stand now, Garza wouldn’t have to do much to be worth $5MM, and who knows how much a win will be worth in 2018.

But if Garza misses a lot of time between 2014 and 2017, the Brewers get him in 2018 at an even bigger discount!  If Garza lands on the disabled list for 130 days in any 183-day span of time, the Brewers’ team option is reduced to a paltry $1MM.   The only scenario in which I could see the Brewers declining that option is if Garza’s arm is completely shredded and he just can’t pitch any more.  I don’t recall ever seeing a provision like this, in which a player essentially agrees to give the team a year of his time for next to nothing if he fails to take the mound due to injury.

The cheap rates on the potential team options have led some to speculate that these are actually buyout amounts for a $13.5MM team option that springs to life if the option doesn’t vest.  That’s now how they’ve been reported, though.  And if you think about it, it makes sense that the Brewers would hedge their bets against future injuries.  If the Brewers would wind up picking up the $1MM option, it would mean that Garza has spent nearly a full season or more on the DL at a $12.5MM salary; why shouldn’t they attempt to recoup some value on the back end of the deal?  Conversely, Garza has the ability to earn substantial additional salary if he remains generally healthy for the duration of the deal.

It’s always interesting to see the final result of extensive negotiation, and the Garza contract looks like the parties did a great job of balancing risk.

Chronicling the Brewers On Deck Experience

By Nathan Petrashek

A while back, Disciples of Uecker writer Steve Garczynski and I had a healthy debate about attending the Brewers annual fanfest, On Deck.  His position was that the event is (or should be) primarily for kids, where they can meet players and the like, and Steve lamented the fact that many adults have seemingly co-opted the event as a blatant autograph grab.

Steve and I are largely on the same page there (although, as you’ll see, I do get autographs), and that’s not a unique criticism I hear.  So I thought it might be interesting to run a sort of journal of my experiences this year (which I didn’t find to be really uncommon from past years I’ve attended), and perhaps that will help others decide if this is an event for them in the future.  This will also preserve some of Mark Attanasio’s and Doug Melvin’s comments about the organization, which I’ve shared on Twitter, in a more permanent form.

Departure – 9:00 AM

We leave for On Deck, which starts officially at 10.  In the past, we’ve left much earlier, but the Brewers have done a good job of staggering events throughout the day instead of trying to pack everything in the morning.  So we didn’t really feel any time pressure.

Arrival – 10:00 AM

Rollie Fingers in deep thought before his autograph session

Rollie Fingers in deep thought before his autograph session

If you’ve been at On Deck before, you know all the standing around is thirst-inducing.  This year, the new policy is not to allow any outside beverages, which snags a couple of my friend’s Coke Zeros and what was apparently a really expensive bottle of green tea that he doesn’t want to give up.  I persuade him to hand over the beverages and we’re on our way upstairs.

Everyone entering is given a coupon to enter the lottery for a “premiere” signatory.  This year, there are six: Ryan Braun, Bob Uecker, Yovani Gallardo, Robin Yount, Rollie Fingers, and Jonathan Lucroy.  My friend enters the lottery for Lucroy and doesn’t win, while my girlfriend wins a Braun autograph.  More on that later.

Yovani Gallardo – 10:30 AM

I entered the lottery for Gallardo, which basically turned out to be “show up and you get one.”  Not enough people even requested an autograph, which is pretty unusual … maybe a combination of the drunk driving offense and a down year.  I had him sign one of his bobbleheads from 2012.  Gallardo didn’t seem really interested in being there, which I’ve found is pretty consistent with his general demeanor.

The event is sparsely attended right now, which is a bit of a surprise.  I pretty much expected the free admission this year to draw out masses of humanity, but it’s very pleasant and there’s plenty of room to move around.  Lines are not packed and there’s space aplenty for sitting.  Incidentally, the team looks to have dramatically expanded seating areas this year.

Merch booths – 11:00 AM

I almost pulled the trigger on this Bud Selig baseball just for the accompanying picture

I almost pulled the trigger on this Bud Selig baseball just for the accompanying picture

One of my favorite activities at On Deck is browsing the merchandise booths, with vendors bringing in all kinds of memorabilia and autographs.  Lately, I haven’t bought much, but a few years ago I found Willie Mays and Willie McCovey signed balls for an absolute steal.  Anyway, these stands will basically have anything you can imagine, from a game-used Stan Musial jersey to Milwaukee Braves scorecards from the ’50s.  The cool, old school stuff usually carries a pretty hefty price tag; for example, this year I saw a 1959 Milwaukee Braves pennant for $225, and a bat signed by the entire ’57 Braves team for $700.  But there are some absolute steals, too; my friend Jason bought a Nolan Ryan ball for $50.  Usually there are stands selling autographed balls by current Brewers for between $10 and $20; by the time you factor in cost of a baseball ($32! at the Brewers team store … always bring your own) and time standing in line, you’re way better off picking up one of these if you don’t much value the (sometimes nonexistent) fan interaction.

Jim Gantner signs for a fan

Jim Gantner signs for a fan

Khrush, Stormin’ Gorman, and breaking news – 12:00 PM

While my girlfriend offers to grab a Khris Davis autograph, Jason and I try to snag Jim Gantner.  Gantner is scheduled at noon, but he’s late to the event and Gorman Thomas (who I also wanted) starts signing in his stead.    The guy immediately in front of me is carrying a portfolio of poster-sized photos, and he pulls out three with other signatures from the ’82 team already on them for Thomas to sign.  After Thomas signs them all, he gets back in line and racks Thomas for autographs a second time.  Unfortunately, that isn’t all that unusual; you see lots of obvious dealer-types milking autograph system.  I get one of Thomas’s old bobbleheads signed, then head over by Khris Davis.

After Davis wraps up his signing, we split up again; I head over to snag Jim Gantner, now arrived, and the others get in line early for Segura, who doesn’t start until 2:30.  There are already 30 or so people in line for Segura when they get there at 12:45.

 The Brewers annually do a large interview session at the main stage, with Bob Uecker emceeing a dialogue among Mark Attanasio, Doug Melvin, Craig Counsell, and a handful of others.  This event begins as I wait in line for Gantner.  Soon after the front office folks take the stage, news ripples through the crowd that they’ve made the long-delayed Garza signing official.  It will be 4 years and $50-some million.  This gets folks excited.  Including, as I look in front of me about 30 people, Portfolio Man, who is now at the front of the line for Gantner.

Q & A with the front office staff – 1:00 PM

20140126_110756

Jerry Augustine led instructionals for kids throughout the day

After I finish up with Gantner (another bobblehead), I head over to watch the Attanasio/Melvin/Counsell session.  They’re joined by Gord Ash and two new Brewers, 1B Mark Reynolds and LHP Will Smith.  The first audience question I catch is about payroll, in response to which Attanasio quips, “I haven’t counted.”  Attanasio declines to say whether they’d be willing to push the payroll further after Garza, but does say they’ll be opportunistic, citing Garza and last year’s Lohse deal.  Earlier, Roenicke indicated he plans to factor Rickie Weeks into the plans at second base, and the next question asks what they’ll do for flexibility since most position players are one-trick ponies (i.e. Khrush, Scooter/Weeks/Ramirez/Segura).  Counsell gives a PR-ish response, but does cite Logan Schafer and Reynolds as examples of versatility (Reynolds can also play 3B, albeit poorly) and suggests that positional flexibility will be key in competition for final roster spots.

Robin Yount signs for a young fan

Robin Yount signs for a young fan

Then come a flurry of questions about the generally poor state of the farm system.  Attanasio says the Brewers don’t lobby for their players like other teams do (he prefers his front office guys be focusing on their jobs, he says).  According to Attanasio, there’s a large marketing component to prospect rankings and the Brewers don’t hype their guys.  Attanasio cites Scooter and Khrush as guys that had success but didn’t appear on most prospect lists.

Doug Melvin picks up on this theme, indicating that organizations that publish prospect rankings can become echo chambers for other lists, overlooking good players that don’t have the a hype machine or premiere pedigree.  Melvin doesn’t seem to put much stock in outside assessments of the farm system, noting that some teams with what others consider remarkable farm systems still spend hundreds of millions on their big-league clubs.  He’s basically saying that if your system is supposedly so good, you shouldn’t need to spend all that money.

Final questions revolve around the newly signed Matt Garza and the delays.  Attanasio mentions there are multiple layers of approval, including MLB and MLBPA.  Both Attanasio and Melvin dismiss the timing of the announcement as coincidence, with Melvin even remarking that if it had been planned, Garza would have been at On Deck.

The prodigal son returns – 2:45 PM

After the Q & A session ends, I chat with some folks and then head back to the Segura line to reunite with my party.  We soon learn that my girlfriend was selected for the Braun autograph sessions, so we head over to the other end of the convention center.

The crowd around Braun, after it has died down a bit

The crowd around Braun, after it has died down a bit

Remember when I mentioned attendance was pretty sparse?  Not anymore.  The center has been steadily filling throughout the day, what will turn out to be a record-setting attendance of more than 14,000 people.  The line for Braun is already forming when we arrive shortly after the announcement, and as the time gets closer it becomes an absolute circus.  The media has nearly encircled the area where Braun will eventually be signing, adding to the huge crowd that has come to see him make one of his only public appearances since the suspension.  The entire area is jam-packed, and will remain that way for 45 minutes until Braun appears.

Braun is delayed even more as he signs autographs and stops to talk to fans on his way to the stage.  As he appears, there is a huge chorus of cheers and it’s pretty apparent he’s going to have a friendly crowd.  Nonetheless, the numbers have prompted plenty of additional security, who surround the stage and keep everyone without an autograph ticket at least seven or eight feet away.

Braun was more than willing to take photos with fans

Braun was more than willing to take photos with fans

To their credit, neither the Brewers nor Braun’s folks ask fans with tickets to refrain from discussing his suspension.  If a fan does broach the subject with Braun, I don’t see him visibly react, and in general he’s what you’d expect: smiling, gracious, polite.  He’s shaking hands and getting names, talking things up with the fans he meets.  Whereas most players simply sign the autograph, Braun seems to take a minute or so with every fan, prompting an event staff member behind me to say his session will go twice as long as it’s supposed to.  “It’s okay,” another responds.  “He needs this.”

As the session wears on, the media lose interest and begin to wander off.  We finish up at about 4:15, when Braun was supposed to end his session, with a huge line still behind us, and make a break for the exit.

Matt Garza heads north … maybe?

By Nathan Petrashek

280px-MG_9144_Matt_GarzaAfter laying in the weeds most of the offseason, the Brewers signed right-handed starter Matt Garza to a 4-year/$52 million contract on Thursday.  So for a while, we get to discuss something other than minor-league invitations to spring training.

Garza was MLBTradeRumors.com’s #7 free agent, listed just behind Masahiro Tanaka and Ervin Santana, which is a pretty nice coup for the Brewers.  Unlike Kyle Lohse last year, Garza didn’t cost a draft pick, so he won’t hurt future rebuilding efforts.  At a $13M average annual value, his contract is pretty reasonable and may be tradeable later on.  Of course, the caveat is that we don’t yet know how that breaks down in terms of an actual payment schedule, and the Brewers may have deferred a significant amount of his salary.

According to Fangraphs, Garza has a pretty good slider and two-seamer, but the rest of his pitches-including a curve and a change-are below-average.  At age 30, his fastball shows some velocity decline, and perhaps as a result he’s come to favoring pitches with more movement.  Historically, he’s gotten the job done, sporting  a career 3.84 ERA, 3.98 FIP, and 18.1 fWAR over eight years

Garza’s market was presumably depressed by the fact that he’s a walking DL stint.  He missed the last half of 2012 with an elbow injury, and the first month-plus of 2013 with a muscle strain.  When he finally did pitch for the Cubs last year, though, he was on, accumulating a 3.17 ERA and 62 strikeouts over 71 innings.  Garza didn’t fare as well following a midseason trade to the Rangers; his ERA ballooned to 4.38 in the Texas heat.  That may have left a bad taste in some teams’ mouths, and Baseball Prospectus says his “arm slot screams shoulder issues” and condemns his inefficient mechanics.

Of course, there’s also this.  And this.  And this.  All of which reinforce my belief that even if the Brewers may not be the most competitive team in 2014, they’ll at least be one of the more entertaining ones.

*UPDATE*

Reports of a deal being done were apparently premature.  On Thursday night, the Brewers said negotiations were ongoing and there was no deal in place.  The timing certainly suggests the Brewers found something in Garza’s physical, which he took Thursday, but beat writer Adam McCalvey says that isn’t the case:

We’ll know more tomorrow, I suspect.

Axford departs

By Nathan Petrashek

play_g_axford1_sy_576John Axford is the only Brewers player I’ve booed.  I don’t remember when exactly it was, but I suspect it was some time in June or July of 2012, when his every other outing seemed to end in a (BS).  I’ve felt kind of guilty about that for a while now, because I’m usually a guy that likes to back up good players during their struggles.  Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Axford was traded to the Cardinals today, so his time as a Brewer appears about over.  The trade for a player to be named later was really more about finances than anything else.  Axford was pretty good trending to okay, but he was making $5M this year and has three years of arbitration eligibility left.

The money would have been easy to swallow if Axford was still pitching like it was 2011.  In the year that brought the Brewers to the brink of another World Series, Axford delivered a microscopic 1.95 ERA over 73 innings, all while striking out better than a batter per inning.  He placed 17th in the MVP vote, a showing that I didn’t (and still don’t) think truly represented just how absolutely crucial he was to winning the division that year.  It was one of the most memorable season-long pitching performances I’ve seen.  To say Axford was a lockdown closer that year doesn’t give him half the credit he deserves.

But Axford has his share of fleas too, and that’s why I’m fully on board with jettisoning him.  We kind of suspected it at the time, but 2011 looks increasingly like a well-timed aberration.  Where Axford once had three brilliant pitches, only his slider ranks as above average this year (and just barely).  And though he hasn’t really lost much velocity on his fastball, Axford’s biggest bugaboo is the same today as it was when he took over for Trevor Hoffman in 2010: command.  2011 aside, Axford has always allowed too many batters to reach via the walk, which is a real problem when you have a propensity for giving up the long ball.

And then there were the character issues.  Much of the time, Axford was fun, easygoing, and entertaining, and he usually owned it after he blew a save.  But man, when that guy took to Twitter, he could troll with the best of them, often responding in kind to neanderthal tweets.  To his credit, he’s scaled back on that a lot this year.

For me, John Axford does not leave a complicated legacy.  I’m going to carry those memories of 2011 fondly, one of the greatest relief seasons I’ve had the pleasure of watching in person.  But today, Axford is just a guy who makes too much money.   That (and the lack of a long-term contract) makes him expendable.  Though I wish Axford well with the evil empire, the Brewers made the right move.

A few thoughts on Ryan Braun’s statement

By Nathan Petrashek

Ryan Braun’s long awaited statement on his suspension has finally arrived, and it’s a doozy.  Literally.   The most remarkable thing about the statement is that it took him 943 words to say what could have been said in 17:

  • He’s sorry.
  • He’ll never do it again.
  • He did it only that one time.
  • He’s really sorry.

At the end of the day, it probably doesn’t matter what Braun had to say.  He destroyed every shred of credibility he had with his victory speech, so I won’t hold it against anyone if they believe he started doping at the University of Miami, or whenever.  His story has a lot of loose threads.

And what is Braun’s story, you ask?  Hampered by a calf strain in the summer of 2011, Braun said simply that he used “a cream and a lozenge” to speed his recovery.  Of course, he failed his test in October, so that must have been some strain.  And we don’t know how Braun hooked up with Tony Bosch and Biogenesis in the first place, though that’s probably (hopefully?) of greater interest to MLB in its quest to rid the sport of PEDs than to Braun’s ever-dwindling fan base.

Braun explains his actions following his failed test as “self righteous” and stemming from his belief that he was “wronged and attacked.”  This part of the statement I take at face value.  I’m sure in the months following his positive test, he did convince himself that he was in the right.  That even though he brazenly flouted the Joint Drug Agreement, Dino Laurenzi’s decision to store his sample in a plastic tub in his basement for days was somehow so much worse.  I’m sure Braun rationalized, diminished, even denied his own drug use until, encouraged by the false confidence he had instilled in others, Braun somehow believed he stood on the moral high ground.

And so Braun’s most grievous sin is not his drug use, it’s his arrogance.  He believed he could beat a system in which he had been caught red-handed.  And he did, for a time, but not before smearing Laurenzi who, even if he didn’t exercise the best judgment in handling Braun’s sample, certainly didn’t deserve the inference of tampering Braun tried to create.  Notably, Braun did not say he had “privately expressed” his apologies to Laurenzi, as he did to MLB and Players’ Association officials.

Braun’s ego was the problem, and it may still be.  But he can’t dodge the cameras and questions forever.  And when they finally catch up to him, he’s going to wish a calf strain was his biggest worry.

Finally, closure on Ryan Braun

By Nathan Petrashek

Braun“I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.”

With those words, the Ryan Braun PED saga finally reached its conclusion on Monday, as Braun accepted an unpaid 65-game suspension from MLB and will sit out the remainder of the season.

For more than a year, Braun has steadfastly maintained his absolute innocence, denying any connection to banned substances after a failed 2011 drug test.  That test was thrown out in a 2012 appeal, and Braun went on to declare himself vindicated, claiming, “If I had done this intentionally or unintentionally, I’d be the first one to step up and say, ‘I did it.’”  Many wanted to believe him. It was an unbelievable performance.

But as I’ve written previously, his spring training presser raised plenty of questions.  Braun attacked the character of the sample collector, Dino Laurenzi, Jr., saying, “a lot of things we learned about the collector, the collection process … made us very concerned and very suspicious about what could have actually happened.”  That Braun was attempting to create an inference of tampering was undeniable.  But what motive could Laurenzi have possibly had? And what about MLB’s claim that the sample arrived at the testing agency sealed, intact, and undegraded?  Braun only made matters worse when he declared there was a “real story” known only to his friends and family.

Braun, of course, did not offer any evidence to support those strong statements, and they so infuriated MLB that when Braun’s name was linked to an alleged doping clinic in Miami, it left no stone unturned in its subsequent investigation.  It made a sweetheart deal with the clinic’s drug-peddling owner, Tony Bosch, and ponied up cash to get testimony and documents from employees with equally dubious backgrounds.  And even though this mafia-style “investigation” looked like payback for Braun’s victory, there’s no doubting this: it was effective to the point that the union virtually conceded during the All-Star break that it would not put up much of a fight should MLB decide to issue suspensions.

That doesn’t make it right, though.  For those of us who defended Braun’s procedural rights throughout his appeal and the Biogenesis saga, Braun’s admission is a bit of a slap in the face.  Not because we thought he was innocent, but because he, and any other player, deserved the protections built into the Joint Drug Agreement.  I recognize that many knowledgeable baseball minds will disagree, but I wholeheartedly endorse strong discipline, including the possibility of a lifetime ban, for PED use.  But such strong punishment – depriving a player of his livelihood – deserves equally strong procedural safeguards.  Unfortunately, “effective” is now all anyone will remember about the MLB investigation.

As for Braun, he deserves what he has coming to him.  To anyone with a skeptical mind, it isn’t much of a surprise that he’s guilty; too many connected dots, and too many incomplete explanations.  I hope his acts of contrition include apologies to the teammates and front office personnel he personally deceived, and Laurenzi, whose name he publicly dragged through the mud.

And hopefully that’s the way one of the longest, most-scrutinized off-field dramas in Milwaukee Brewers history will end.