Carmona’s Story is the American Way

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I’m shocked by the fact that others are shocked that players from the Dominican Republic use fake names to get themselves signed by big league clubs.

In spite of the attempts MLB has made to rein in the rampant malfeasance than has gone on forever in countries not subject to the MLB draft, it’s still tantamount to the Wild West. Clubs aren’t going to be interested in a player who is above a certain age, so a determined player finds a way around that obstacle. These young, uneducated and dirt poor kids aren’t worried about the future and “what happens if I get caught?” They see an opening and they take it. Some of them—Fausto Carmona and Leo Nunez AKA Juan Oviedo—make it to the big leagues, get multi-million dollar contracts and craft a nice life for themselves.

Like the holier than thou response to those who used PEDs to keep their jobs or advance themselves—and make a lot of money—we see the same thing with the players who’ve used the names of others and lied about their ages as critics eagerly profess their own the concept of “right” and “wrong”—a concept that’s easy to say, hard to live by.

“Oh, I’d never do that!”

Really?

Never?

Carmona, whose real name is Roberto Hernandez Heredia and is 31 rather than 28, is the second player who’s been outed as using an alias since last summer. Leo Nunez of the Marlins was revealed to actually be Juan Carlos Oviedo. At the time, the Marlins had been receiving calls from teams interested in trading for Nunez and they turned them down flatly. Only later was it revealed why they weren’t talking about dealing him. What I don’t understand is why Nunez was allowed to pitch after the Marlins knew he wasn’t who he said he was, was living in the United States and working illegally. Shouldn’t the Marlins have been held accountable for affecting the outcomes of games by using a pitcher who didn’t have the proper documentation to be their employee? It all sort of went away and Oviedo is still with the Marlins and under contract.

That’s the point.

If Nunez/Oviedo couldn’t help the Marlins with his arm, there would’ve been greater outrage and “punishment” for deceiving them and everyone else by getting rid of him. Because he’s a power arm who strikes out a lot of hitters, all is forgiven.

With Carmona/Heredia, do the Indians really care all that much that he’s not who he said he was and is older than his stated age of 28?

Not if he gives them the 190-200 innings they’re expecting from him.

It’s an inconvenience but not a tragedy. The Indians exercised Carmona’s contract option for 2012 at $7 million in spite of him having pitched, at best, inconsistently since a 19-win season in 2007 in which he finished 4th in the American League Cy Young voting. He’s durable and can be quite good, so he’s worth the $7 million as Carmona or Heredia.

You can bet that if it were a pitcher with an onerous contract like A.J. Burnett or John Lackey, their respective teams would be so livid and offended that they’d have no choice but to nullify the contracts—it would be the “right” thing to do.

Plus they don’t want to pay them or keep them because they’ve pitched poorly.

If it was a fringe big leaguer or an organizational minor leaguer, it’d be much easier to make a great show of indignation by releasing the player for doing wrong. Since they’re established big leaguers, those inconvenient “rules” are flexible and based on what suits the team.

Whether Carmona/Heredia are allowed to pitch in the big leagues after this is the question and we don’t yet know the answer.

I don’t blame anyone who lies about his age or tries to find a way to get off the island and out of poverty by playing baseball. For many of them, it’s all they know how to do. Are they hurting anyone by using any means necessary to achieve their goals? They wanted the American dream and they got it. If you look at most major successes and dissect them, it’s unlikely that the story is neat and tidy. Moral ambiguity sometimes requires wiping away blood and fingerprints.

As for the clubs themselves, the Marlins made their decision with Oviedo and the Indians will probably make a similar decision with Carmona/Heredia. The AL Central is winnable for the Indians and if they’re going to contend, they’ll need that pitcher—whatever his name is. Since he can still fire a baseball at 90+ mph, he’ll be forgiven. When he’s no longer able to do that, he’ll be gone.

That too is the American way.

This is baseball—the National Pastime in more ways than one.

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The Marlins Sign a Name—Heath Bell

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If any team exemplifies the ability to find someone (anyone) to accumulate the save stat and do a reasonable job as the closer it’s the Florida Marlins.

The Marlins signed Heath Bell to a 3-year, $27 million deal with a vesting option for a fourth year at $9 million; this is more about getting a “name” and “personality” to drum up fan interest than acquiring someone whom they can trust as their ninth inning man for a club that clearly has designs on contending.

To be clearer, the Marlins have an intent on looking like they’re trying to contend.

So it was that they made offers to Albert Pujols, Jose Reyes and made a great show in hosting C.J. Wilson.

What the offers were and whether they’re truly competitive enough to snag any of those players is a matter of leaks, ignorant guesswork and storytelling.

The Marlins traded for a feisty and successful “name” manager as well when they acquired Ozzie Guillen from the White Sox.

They’re doing a lot of stuff.

Bell will be at least serviceable as the Marlins closer and probably good. $27 million over 3-years isn’t a ridiculous amount of money, but if the Marlins were still running the team as they did under Jeffrey Loria in the days of saving money and collecting revenue sharing fees while putting forth the pretense of being broke and desperate for a new (publicly financed) stadium, under no circumstances would they have paid Bell.

And that’s the point.

On an annual basis, the Marlins closer was dynamic and interchangeable with a bunch of journeyman names that changed (in more ways than one considering the situation of Leo Nunez AKA Juan Oviedo) and were decent at an affordable price.

Braden Looper, Ugueth Urbina, Armando Benitez, Todd Jones, Joe Borowski, Kevin Gregg, Matt Lindstrom, Oviedo—all were the Marlins nominal closer at times. Some were very good; some were mediocre; some were bad. But all accrued saves for a team that was on the cusp of contention for much of that time and they did it cheaply. Would the Marlins have had a better chance to make the playoffs had they been trotting Mariano Rivera to the mound to the blistering tune of “Enter Sandman”? They might’ve won a few more games and it might’ve made a difference, but Bell is not Rivera.

This is something the stat people don’t understand when they say “anyone” can get the saves. It’s true, but not accurate in full context.

The 2008 Phillies could’ve found someone to be the closer, but that closer wouldn’t have been as great as Brad Lidge was in the regular season or the playoffs and with them teetering on missing the playoffs entirely, they might not have made it at all without Lidge.

Rivera’s aura says that the game is essentially over upon his arrival; his ice cold ruthlessness behind a pacifist smile and post-season calm provides the Yankees with a not-so-secret weapon; the biggest difference between themselves and their closest competitors during their dynasty was Rivera.

The Phillies could’ve kept Ryan Madson to be the closer and saved a few dollars rather than paying Jonathan Papelbon, but with the way they’re currently built around starting pitching, it made no sense to risk blowing games or overuse those starters because of an untrustworthy closer. Their window to win in within the next 3-4 years and they needed someone with a post-season pedigree and the known ability to handle a high-pressure atmosphere like Philadelphia.

That’s aptly describes Papelbon.

With the Marlins, they have so many other holes to fill that Bell is a nice bauble to acquire; he’ll generate some headlines and send a signal to the rest of baseball and the free agent market that they’re not putting on a show to garner attention, but are legitimately improving. They could’ve done it in a different, cheaper way, but it’s not about Bell and Bell alone—it’s about several things including public relations, media exposure, selling tickets and that aforementioned message to the other free agents to say, “hey look, we’re not doing this just so people talk about us.”

Whether it works and they lure free agents to Florida is another matter; and if they’re going to do that and get Reyes, Wilson, Prince Fielder, Mark Buehrle, Pujols or any combination of the group, they’ll have to write them a check substantially higher than the $27 million they just handed Bell.

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The Ryan Madson Free Agency Profile

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Name: Ryan Madson.

Position: Right handed relief pitcher.

Vital Statistics:

Age-31.

Height-6’6″

Weight-200.

Bats: Left.

Throws: Right.

Transactions: Drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 9th round of the 1998 MLB Draft.

Agent: Scott Boras.

Might he return to the Phillies? No.

Teams that could use and pay him: Boston Red Sox; Baltimore Orioles; Chicago White Sox; Kansas City Royals; Minnesota Twins; Texas Rangers; Seattle Mariners; New York Mets; Florida Marlins; Cincinnati Reds; Los Angeles Dodgers.

Positives:

He has a good fastball and excellent changeup; Madson’s herky-jerky motion is all arms and legs and makes it difficult to pick the ball up out of his hand; he’s been mostly durable apart from some silly injuries from kicking things; he throws strikes and has experience in the post-season and with a difficult fanbase in a passionate sports town. Madson is good against both lefties and righties.

Negatives:

That herky-jerky motion isn’t gentle on one’s body and is especially stressful on his arm; he’s been heavily used since 2004. Madson wants star closer money with a limited closer pedigree; he’s struggled at times and can be prone to allowing the long ball; his strikeout numbers are fewer than one-per-inning.

What he’ll want: 4-years, $44 million.

What he’ll get: 3-years, $34 million with a vesting option for a fourth year at $12 million.

Teams that might give it to him: Red Sox; Orioles; Royals; Twins; Rangers; Marlins; Reds; Dodgers.

The Red Sox are not going after Madson unless his market crashes and he’s willing to take 2-years with an option.

The Royals are on the list because there’s a chance they trade Joakim Soria and if that’s the case, they’ll need a closer.

Dan Duquette likes having a legitimate, proven reliever at the back of his bullpen; Buck Showalter has had both a foundling-type short reliever and has used multiple people in the role; he’s also had that “one guy” and Madson can get out hitters from both sides of the plate.

The Rangers will sign a closer and move Neftali Feliz into the starting rotation.

Jeffrey Loria is putting it out there that the Marlins are going to spend big with offers to Jose Reyes and Albert Pujols; they have to sign someone and with the questions surrounding Juan Oviedo/Leo Nunez, Madson fits.

Francisco Cordero might not return to the Reds as a free agent and Madson is about as good as he is.

The Dodgers somehow find money to spend despite their ownership mess; Javy Guerra did well as the Dodgers closer but Ned Colletti likes veterans and Madson is a veteran despite being relatively inexperienced in the job.

Would I sign Madson? The back-and-forth regarding Madson’s “agreement” with the Phillies and their denial that there ever was such an agreement is comical.

I detailed my suspicions when it happened, but here’s what I suspect, briefly: Madson and Phillies GM Ruben Amaro agreed to a contract; Amaro needed approval from team president David Montgomery; Montgomery wanted to know why the Phillies were paying so much for Madson when a bit more could get them Jonathan Papelbon; the deal was nixed; they went after Papelbon and got him.

Now Madson’s looking for work.

And the Phillies are better with Papelbon.

At a reasonable price I would sign Madson, but given that he’s represented by Boras and wanted 4-years and $44 million and that the Phillies preferred the more expensive Papelbon, I’d be extremely cautious before committing to Madson long-term. I don’t trust him and for that kind of money, a team needs to be sure they know what they’re getting.

Will it be a retrospective mistake for the team that signs him? If they guarantee $40 million, yes. If they get him for, say, 3-years at $27 million with incentives, no.

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Jose Reyes And The Truth Of Lies

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It was entirely believable that Jose Reyes signed with the Marlins so early in the free agent process; without seeing what other offers were out there; declining to go to the Mets and seeing whether they could and would match or surpass the Marlins deal.

After all, the Marlins have a history of…signing…big…name…free…age…

Um…well, they signed Carlos Delgado after the 2004 season. The contract was heavily backloaded and didn’t have a no-trade clause, so naturally they traded him—to the Mets, whom he’d spurned to sign with them—following the 2005 season.

Never mind that.

They have sane ownership widely respect…ed…in…base…ball…circl…

Actually, Jeffrey Loria is petulant, disingenuous, capricious, bullying and sneaky.

Well, okay.

They’ve known on-field stability with their man…a…gers….

So, Ozzie Guillen is the seventh managerial change that Loria has made since taking over as Marlins owner in 2003 and that’s not counting Bobby Valentine, who essentially had the job until he got into an argument with team president David Samson (Loria’s son-in-law) during Valentine’s interview.

The players enjoy the…at…mos…phe…

Alright, Logan Morrison has filed a grievance because the Marlins demoted him for reasons he and the Players Association think were based more on his use of Twitter than for his play.

There’s an air of professionalism perm…e…at..ing…the…tea….

Okay. Hanley Ramirez is a diva who’d make Madonna look reasonable; doesn’t play hard all the time; and has taken the “prodigal son of Loria” act to its logical conclusion by acting like Loria.

Er…ah, so…playing the game fairly and in an aboveboard manner is the hall…mark…of…the Mar…lins…organ..i…za..ti…

Oh, well there’s that overblown issue of using Leo Nunez AKA Juan Oviedo while he was an illegal immigrant living in the United States and pitching for the club under an assumed name and that the team presumably knew about it and said nothing.

Aside from all that, it’s Utopia.

Are you getting the picture?

This whole “story” started when someone, somewhere said that Marlins had agreed to terms with Reyes, pending a physical.

The news blasted across the internet; Twitter went bonkers; people searched for information; Mets fans whined; Marlins fans rejoiced; those with a stake in roasting the Mets teed off.

It went on briefly and with a white hot intensity.

Then it stopped.

Because the report was a lie.

Typical of social media, it followed the script that a rumor based on nothing usually does: it’s reported; it’s repeated; it’s reacted; it’s refuted.

Fast, frenzied and embarrassing, if there was any shame or plausible deniability left for those with a clear and blatant agenda in Reyes leaving the Mets, it was extinguished with this bit of “news”. Prepared with their purposeful bashing, it came and went, did its damage and receded. The backtracking was half-hearted because, as a form of self-justification, we again saw the vitriol doled out on the Mets front office and ownership…even if there was none to be passed around.

Let’s just say, hypothetically, that the report was accurate and Reyes had signed with the Marlins.

What then?

Would it be because of his craving for the stability, sanity, atmosphere, adherence to rules and professionalism with the Marlins that was missing with the Mets?

Would it be the money?

Does it matter?

And how are the Wilpons and Mets GM Sandy Alderson to be held accountable if Reyes signed immediately with one of the first teams he visited before making the rounds and chose not to go back to the Mets with the offer to see if they’d match or surpass it?

What were they supposed to do if that had been the case?

The Mets and Alderson asked Reyes and his agents the Greenbergs what it would take to sign the player; they received silence in response; Alderson basically said, “okay, shop around and get back to us”.

If Reyes decided not to do that, who, if anyone, is to blame for that?

The argument that the Mets should’ve signed Reyes to an extension before this is ludicrous. Despite protestations to the contrary—using his games played from 2005-2008 as a basis—he is not a guarantee to stay healthy and perform as he did at his best over the first half of the 2011 season. He missed almost the entire 2009 season with a torn hamstring and 5 weeks of this season with more hamstring woes; he had hamstring troubles in his first two seasons and his 2010 spring training and part of that season were compromised with a thyroid condition.

This is not Lou Gehrig or Cal Ripken.

The idea that the Mets should have traded Reyes at mid-season is just as idiotic. They want to keep him; the number of players who’ve been traded and then return to the team that sent them away as free agents are limited and unimpressive (think Austin Kearns). Worst case scenario, he leaves and they take the draft picks; had they dealt him, he wasn’t returning and the hit the team would’ve taken for dealing Reyes, Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran wouldn’t have been worth the potential bounty unless a trading team got unimaginably desperate and sent them a Bryce Harper/Mike Trout-type, blue chip, can’t miss prospect.

So they kept him. He’s a free agent. They’re interested in making an offer when they know what the market is and if they can afford it.

That’s the way it is.

Reyes has a right to sign with anyone at anytime.

He’d be stupid to do it with such expediency unless someone offers a Jayson Werth contract of lunacy, but that has yet to happen. Because he hasn’t signed anything.

Not even on Twitter.

There’s a troubling rush to judgment and a stimulus response of rage inherent with any unverified statement presented and accepted as fact.

Reyes may stay with the Mets.

He may leave.

The decision was not made last night.

But we received a preview of the true face of those who have a vested interest of their own in the outcome.

It’s an ugly face.

It’s a duplicitous face.

Now that we know what it looks like, we can see through the subterfuge of what they’re selling.

And we can point it out and shun it.

In a sense, it’s worth the attention that it’s received as a means to uncover the truth.

The truth of lies.

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