Crippled Central

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In the past week two of the contending teams in the American League Central suffered losses of different kinds. The Tigers will be without DH Victor Martinez for the entire season after he tore a ligament in his knee, supposedly while training; the Indians have no idea when or if they’ll have Fausto Carmona AKA Roberto Hernandez Heredia for 2012 after he was arrested in the Dominican Republic for using a false name.

Where does this leave the division now that two teams are already compromised a month before spring training?

There’s an opening for every team to try and sneak their way to the top. They all have an argument as to why they shouldn’t be discounted as contenders and drastic flaws that would render them obsolete if they were in the AL and NL East as well as the AL West.

But they’re in the AL Central, an expanse of possibility.

The Twins are trying to recover from a 99-loss 2011 and while Terry Ryan has taken steps to get back to doing things the “Twins Way”, their starting pitching is, at best, mediocre and they haven’t repaired the bullpen to counteract that starting pitching and get back to their strategic template during their good years of competent starters and a deep, diverse corps of relievers.

The Tigers and Indians can hit and they’ve made incremental improvements with Octavio Dotel bolstering the Tigers bullpen and Derek Lowe joining the Indians as a cheap, innings-eater who was supposed to slide into the rotation behind Ubaldo JimenezJustin Masterson and Carmona.

But the loss of Martinez hurts the Tigers badly and Carmona is no longer Carmona.

Those that think the White Sox are going to be horrendous are wrong. Ken Williams is seemingly vacillating on how to move forward with a retooling and is straddling the line in an indecisive manner. A neophyte manager Robin Ventura, no closer and questionable offense are secondary to a division that might only take 85 wins to make the playoffs. Jake Peavy is in his contract year and if their starting pitching holds up, they’ll be hovering around contention.

Given this turn of events, the one team that should take a step back and reconsider their strategy of patience is the Royals. No, they’re not particularly good and the comparisons to the Rays of 2008 ignores that the Rays had more talent and a competent front office when it came to making big league acquisitions. As much as the Dayton Moore-led Royals have accumulated talent throughout the system, their decisions on which established big leaguers to pursue and retain have been bewildering.

That excess minor league talent could get them what they need: a name starting pitcher who’ll give them 200 innings. They also have some money to spend.

Matt Garza is available via trade. Roy Oswalt and Edwin Jackson are floating around in free agency looking for work.

If the Royals can get one or even two of them, they could vault right to the top of a weak division.

The key for a club making the innocent climb and building through homegrown talent and selective free agents is to know when to go for the deep strike.

Considering this week’s turn of events, the Royals should think very hard about seizing the opportunity and going for it now.

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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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