Piazza may never get into Hall due to unfair PED backlash

Ken Davidoff

Ken Davidoff

Piazza may never get into Hall due to unfair PED backlash

By Ken Davidoff

January 8, 2014 | 7:45pm

Mike Piazza cut through some thicket Wednesday, and that’s no small matter, not when you look at how many other holdover candidates lost ground as first-timers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas earned their Hall of Fame inductions.

Nevertheless, the Mets legend’s path to immortality remains tricky after two years of eligibility, and I found myself more pessimistic for him after listening to Thomas discuss the forever nuclear issue of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

“They’ve got a strong stance against anyone doing steroids,” Thomas said of his fellow Hall of Famers, during a telephone news conference. “They do not want them in. For those guys, this Hall of Fame means a lot to them. … To be honest, I’ve got to take the right stance, too. There shouldn’t be cheaters allowed to get into the Hall of Fame.”

Piazza joined Long Island and Seton Hall product Craig Biggio as the only two returning candidates (of 17) to gain ground in the quest for 75 percent of the vote, as Piazza climbed from 57.8 percent to 62.2 percent and Biggio jumped from 68.2 percent to an agonizingly close 74.8 percent.

“On behalf of the organization and our fans, Mike is a true Hall of Famer,” Mets COO Jeff Wilpon said in a statement. “We proudly display his plaque in the Mets Hall of Fame, and we’re hopeful that he’ll soon have one hanging in Cooperstown.”

You’d think he would, eventually; next year will be challenging again with the welcoming of great first-time candidates Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz. The Baseball Writers Association of America is in discussions to expand the ballot beyond the current maximum of 10, which could help.

Yet ballot space probably isn’t Piazza’s primary obstacle at this point. That would indeed be the suspicions concerning whether he used illegal PEDs, which surely has influenced his inability to get in so far. This year’s results, as well as Thomas’ words, could further embolden those who are prone to exhibit a “better safe than sorry” approach on the illegal PEDs topic.

There’s no legitimate public evidence Piazza actually used steroids; he denied doing so, although in his autobiography last year he admitted using amphetamines. Those with more explicit illegal PED résumés, meanwhile, suffered hits.

All-time studs Barry Bonds (36.2 to 34.7) and Roger Clemens (37.6 to 35.4), both of whom fared better in actual court than in the court of public opinion, dipped slightly. The confessed sinner Mark McGwire went from 16.9 to 11.0, and his highly suspected 1998 pal Sammy Sosa dropped from 12.5 to 7.2. Rafael Palmeiro, the first big-time player to fail a test for these drugs, is now off the BBWAA ballot, after his fall from 8.8 to 4.4 put him beneath the 5 percent threshold required to stick.

Astros slugger Jeff Bagwell, who like Piazza carries a whiff of speculation without any real allegations, also went south, from 59.6 to 54.3.

So how did Piazza’s support actually increase? There probably were some voters who thought he wasn’t a “first-ballot Hall of Famer” last year and then checked him off him this year. I screwed up my statistical analysis of Piazza a year ago and left him off, then remedied that and voted for him in 2014, although I’m confident my tale is uniquely idiotic.

The question now becomes: How difficult will it be to tally that final 12.8 percent? Especially when this year’s winners validate the tough-on-drugs crowd with their seemingly pristine legacies and Thomas’ words in particular.

Thomas always has been virulently anti-illegal PEDs — he was the one active player who participated in the farcical Mitchell Report — so he just kept that going Wednesday. His take is understandable. If he truly reached his great numbers through only legal means, then you can appreciate how frustrated he got by those who chose different paths.

“I think I was one of the guys who made those guys go in that direction,” Thomas boasted, and maybe he is right.

With the blessing of Thomas and other Hall of Famers, will a significant enough contingent of voters go the “guilty until proven innocent” route and figure they’d better keep out Piazza, just in case new information emerges? I fear it’s a real possibility.

Perhaps Wednesday’s forward movement for Piazza means more than we realize right now, and he’ll work his way up just as Barry Larkin did and Biggio surely will next year. Right now, though, the only trend that seems certain is anti-illegal PEDs. And Piazza, unfairly or not — I vote for “unfairly” — finds himself very much in that conversation

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PED-linked players losing ground in Hall of Fame vote

PED-linked players losing ground in Hall of Fame vote

By Kevin Kernan

January 8, 2014 | 9:41pm

Slip, sliding away.

It’s a slippery baseball slope for the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and other star players linked to PEDs, and on Wednesday the Baseball Writers Association of America voters sent yet another strong message to those seeking the Hall of Fame with a shadowy past:

And stay out.

Bonds and Clemens trended downward in the balloting. Bonds, who was at 36.2 percent of the vote his first year on the ballot, dropped to 34.7 on Wednesday. Clemens was at 37.6 his first year, and the Rocket propelled backwards this year, garnering only 35.4 percent of the 571 votes cast. Candidates need 75 percent of the vote to make it into the Hall.

That was nothing to how steep some others dropped. Mark McGwire, in his eighth year on the ballot, plummeted to 11 percent after registering 16.9 percent last year. Candidates must muster 5 percent of the vote to stay on the ballot. Sammy Sosa is clinging to Hall of Fame ballot life with just 7.2 percent of the vote after getting 12.5 percent last year.

Rafael Palmeiro was not as fortunate. In his fourth year on the ballot, Palmeiro received 4.4 percent, after getting 8.8 percent in 2013. He is off the ballot.

The strong rookie class of 2014 factors into some of this shrinkage — with Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas sailing into the Hall on Wednesday. But the bottom line is voters are looking at more than the bottom line of statistics when it comes to those tainted by PEDs. Essentially, voters are saying, taint, no thanks.

Bonds is baseball’s all-time home run leader with 762. He is a 14-time All-Star and a seven-time NL MVP. Clemens won seven Cy Youngs. McGwire hit 583 home runs. Those numbers could be made of dust, considering the voting record of the BBWAA.

Thomas made it clear where he stands on steroid users with a number of comments Wednesday.

“As for what they did, I don’t think any of us will ever really know,” he said, “but I can just tell you, what I did was real and that’s why I’ve got this smile on my face right now because the writers, they definitely got it right.”

Real and right is a pretty good combination. If this trend continues, some of the biggest names in baseball history will not be allowed into Cooperstown without first buying a ticket. For now, there continues to be a steep price to pay for those connected to PEDs. And those already in the Hall of Fame have made it clear they want no part of those tainted players. The voters have sent the same strong message.

A-Rod’s situation makes Frank Thomas very, very sad

Kevin Kernan

Kevin Kernan

A-Rod’s situation makes Frank Thomas very, very sad

By Kevin Kernan

January 9, 2014 | 3:37pm

Frank Thomas never has been afraid to speak his mind. The Big Hurt called out Alex Rodriguez and other players with PED pasts.

“Things spiraled out of control in the late ’90s, 2000s era, and it’s sad because Alex was such a great talent,” Thomas said Thursday at the Waldorf-Astoria — where he formally was introduced, along with Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, as the next inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

An arbitrator will rule any day on Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension.

“I can’t speak for Alex and what he has done,’’ Thomas said. “I just hope baseball does what’s right. I know the type of player Alex was. This is a sad day today that we are talking about this and just what baseball has come to. We’re sitting here talking about Alex going to court and arbitrators deciding on his future. Honestly, with that type of talent, why are we there right now?

“No disrespect to Alex because I respected him as a player, if these things are true, it’s a sad, sad day.”

He’s so right.

Thomas is looked upon as baseball’s Mr. Clean and proudly stands behind all 521 of his home runs. He also stands behind other Hall of Famers who want no performance-enhancing drug cheaters in Cooperstown.

“We live this life with rules and regulations,” he said. “You break the law, you go to jail. In baseball, you break the law, you’re not going to the Hall of Fame, that’s just the way it is right now.”

Thomas addressed the Mike Piazza situation. Despite hitting more home runs than any other catcher ever, Piazza has not yet made the Hall. Piazza is slowly moving up the ladder in his quest to get 75 percent of the vote, clawing his way from 57.8 percent on the ballot last year to 62.2 percent in his second year.

Piazza, like a few other candidates, never actually failed a test but have been suspected of PED use. That makes their cases for the Hall a bit tricky.

“The thing is, a lot of people suspect it,’’ Thomas said of candidates such as Piazza. “If people are starting to suspect things, then someone is fueling that fire.

“I’m just so glad, today, getting in the Hall of Fame that I made the right choices. There are no shortcuts, you got to work your butt off,” Thomas said. “We’re going to the Mount Rushmore of baseball. I’m so happy and proud.”

Thomas has been at charity events with some of the biggest legends in the game the past two years and talked about the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

“I had that debate with [Hall of Famers] about a couple players and they said, ‘Yeah, we understand how good they were, but they made that decision to do what they did and we don’t want them in Cooperstown.’ That was eye-opening for me because a couple of those guys being investigated and everything else, are two of the greatest players we’ve ever seen.’’

Bonds and Clemens lost ground this year among Baseball Writers Association of America voters.

“It’s sad that they are not going to be in the Hall of Fame probably, but I have to respect the leaders and the Hall of Famers because their legacy is what they have,’’ Thomas said. “They said, ‘Don’t be feeling sorry for [them]. This is Cooperstown. There is a reason we have rules and regulations, and the people here earned it the right way, and we are not going to let guys in that did drugs. That’s just the way it is.’

“They’re harsh about it,’’ Thomas said. “The PED era kind of hurt me a little bit because people didn’t understand how big my career was at certain times because guys were hitting 50 and 60 who didn’t deserve to hit 50 and 60. I’m not mad at anyone. I’m the youngest member of the Hall of Fame right now. I’m floored to hear that. I’m humbled to hear that.’’

Yes, the Big Hurt and his strong opinions and beliefs will be around for a while.

 

ESPN host loses Hall of Fame voting privilege after online stunt

ESPN host loses Hall of Fame voting privilege after online stunt

By Reuters

January 9, 2014 | 11:14pm

A veteran journalist was stripped of his Baseball Hall of Fame voting privileges after giving his ballot to an offbeat sports website, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America said on Thursday.

ESPN Radio host Dan Le Batard said that, as a form of protest over the voting process, he turned the ballot over to Deadspin, which polled its readers to fill out the ballot. The BBWAA said Le Batard’s membership, earned from his previous years as a Miami Herald columnist, was being suspended for one year and that he would no longer be allowed to vote on Hall of Fame candidates.

“The BBWAA regards Hall of Fame voting as the ultimate privilege, and any abuse of that privilege is unacceptable,” the writers’ organization said in a statement.

Le Batard, who said he was not getting paid by Deadspin for his vote, wrote on the website that he felt as though his vote had been devalued in the face of voting attitudes.

“I feel like my vote has gotten pretty worthless in the avalanche of sanctimony that has swallowed it,” Le Batard wrote.

Le Batard said he was disturbed by “all the moralizing we do in sports in general,” especially given the shunning of baseball greats such as seven-time MVP Barry Bonds and seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens, who have been linked to steroids. His ballot did not affect any Hall of Fame candidate’s election bid in the balloting by BBWAA members with at least 10 years of membership.

The worst players to get Hall of Fame votes

The worst players to get Hall of Fame votes

By Justin Terranova

January 9, 2014 | 1:25pm

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Forget “who got in” as the biggest Hall of Fame controversy, it’s how the heck did these guys get votes.

They are the players that someone out there miraculously thought was deserving of a spot in Cooperstown, even though you wouldn’t trust them as your closer or No. 3 starter or be afraid to pitch to them.

(The list goes from most to least deserving, though none of them deserved a vote)

10. Lenny Dykstra (1 vote in 2002)

Had some very strong seasons with the Mets and Phillies, then crumbled after an out-of-nowhere power season in 1993. Since receiving that one vote it’s gone straight south for “Nails” – linked to steroids, jail time and overall scumbaggery.

9. Danny Tartabull (1 vote in 2003)

The outfielder hit over 30 home runs three times and over .300 twice in his 14-year career and played in one All-Star Game. Not even his impressive “Seinfeld” cameo can save him.

8. Mark Davis (1 vote in 2003)

This voter was in a coma for every year except 1989 because that was the only season Davis put up anything Hall of Fame-worthy. That year, Davis won the Cy Young saving 44 games with a 1.85 ERA for the Padres, but he was a bad starter before that and a middling reliever after.

7. Tony Phillips (1 vote in 2005)

My guess: Some hardline sabermetrics voter was trying to make a point, here because Phillips was strong when it came to on-base percentage. There’s not a lot else to work with, though. This has nothing to do with the voting: Phillips got into a fight while playing independent baseball for the Yuma Scorpions in 2012 at the age of 52. The manager of the Scorpions: Jose Canseco.

6. Steve Sax (2 votes in 2000)

Five-time All-Star, two-time World Series champion, truly terrific in the softball episode of “The Simpsons,” but intangibles alone can’t carry you to Cooperstown.

5. Kenny Rogers (1 vote in 2014)

Rogers started (Rangers) and finished strong (Tigers), but was a inconsistent, at best, during what should have been the prime of his career. He will not be remembered fondly by fans around New York for struggling through three years with the Yankees and for walking in the winning run in Game 6 clincher of the 1999 NLCS for the Mets against the Braves.

4. Brad Radke (2 votes in 2012)

This is where things get real ugly. Radke went 148-139 with a 4.22 ERA in his 12-year career with the Twins. He gave up 326 home runs, which inspired this commercial.

 

3. Aaron Sele (1 vote in 2013)

The curveballer had a 4.61 ERA and zero 20-win seasons over 15 years. There’s nothing else to say.

2. Jacque Jones (1 vote in 2014)

Jones is the first guy on this list whose awards section on Baseball Reference is completely blank.

1. Armando Benitez (1 vote in 2014)

First, the good: Benitez did have 289 career saves and a respectable 3.13 ERA. But would you ever want to trust him in a big game? No, no, no and no.

This is the kind of stuff that happens when you do.

 

Masahiro Tanaka arrives in U.S. to meet with MLB teams, including Yankees

Baseball

Masahiro Tanaka arrives in U.S. to  meet with MLB teams, including Yankees

Up to a dozen teams  are expected to sit down with the Japanese ace who went 24-0 last season with  the Rakuten Golden Eagles.

  By      / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Published: Thursday, January 9, 2014, 1:17 PM
Updated: Thursday, January 9, 2014, 7:11 PM

The team that comes to terms with Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka — the deadline is Jan. 24 at 5 p.m. — will have to pay the $20 million posting fee to his current club, Rakuten.

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty  Images

The team that comes to terms with  Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka — the deadline is Jan. 24 at 5 p.m. — will have to  pay the $20 million posting fee to his current club, Rakuten.

Now pitching, the New York Yankees — and everyone else.

Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka, one of the Yanks’ primary offseason targets,  arrived in Los Angeles Wednesday and the frenzy to sign him is finally ready to  begin with the Yankees and perhaps as many as 11 other teams planning to meet  with him, according to a baseball official with knowledge of Tanaka’s plans.

The official would not say where or when any of the teams’ meetings would  take place and there is a hint of secrecy about the process. The deadline to  sign the 25-year-old Tanaka, who was 24-0 last season for the Rakuten Golden  Eagles, is Jan. 24 at 5 p.m. or he’ll return to Japan.

The Yankees and other big-city teams may have some sort of edge going into  the early part of the process, considering that there is a perception among some  in baseball that Tanaka is primarily interested in the larger markets. That  could make sense, considering that Tanaka’s wife, Mai Satoda, is in a Japanese  pop music group and has appeared on popular quiz shows in Japan and could be  looking to continue an entertainment career here.

In varying media reports, the Mariners, Dodgers, Angels, Cubs, White Sox and  Diamondbacks have been linked to Tanaka, who is represented by Casey Close.  Close, who also reps Derek Jeter, likely will be able to draw in other teams,  too, and there have been reports of interest from the Blue Jays, Rangers and  Twins as well.

Masahiro Tanaka, 25, goes 24-0 for his Japanese club last season.

Danny Moloshok/REUTERS

Masahiro Tanaka, 25, goes 24-0 for  his Japanese club last season.

Boston GM Ben Cherington told Weei.com that the Red Sox have been in touch  with Close and added, “We’ll see how it plays out,” when asked if Sox would meet  with the pitcher.

CBSSports.com reported Thursday that Tanaka has meetings set with Arizona,  both LA teams and both Chicago teams, in addition to the Yankees. The website  also said that Tanaka is going to be examined by an LA area doctor to provide  updates on his health to possible bidders. Fox Sports reported that the exam  took place at the Kerlan-Jobe clinic and that the agents want to get one medical  report to give to clubs.

Still, with some estimating that Tanaka’s contract will soar well over $100  million, it seems unlikely teams wouldn’t insist on their own doctors checking  him out, especially because his heavy workload in Japan is a concern for some  clubs. Tanaka, for instance, threw 160 pitches in Game 6 of the Japan Series  last season and pitched in relief the next day.

Whatever team comes to an agreement with Tanaka – some in baseball believe  the Yankees will go to extremes to get him – must pay a $20 million posting fee  to Rakuten.

Much of the rest of the Yankees’ off-season depends on how the Tanaka  sweepstakes are resolved, as well as how the ruling on Alex Rodriguez’s  arbitration hearing turns out. The Yanks’ rotation needs help and signing Tanaka  would be a huge boost. The Yanks’ goal of getting their payroll under $189  million could be affected if they sign Tanaka.

Hulk Hogan Still Has Massive Value to WWE for Potental WrestleMania Return

By

(Featured Columnist) on January 9, 2014

 

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Scott Gries/Getty Images

Hulk Hogan may be one of the most controversial figures in all of sports entertainment, but he is also still one of the most, if not the most, well known names in the history of the business.

For WWE, this means marketability.

For all the haters out there, there are just as many people who would pay to see the Hulkster back in a WWE ring, even if it is in a non-wrestling role.

Hulk has passed his days of being able to sell a big match, but his name alone is still worth a lot to WWE, and having him at the 30th WrestleMania would only be appropriate.

For all intents and purposes, Hulk Hogan is wrestling. We might not have a WrestleMania at all if it weren’t for Hogan’s popularity driving in the profits.

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His time in TNA probably didn’t help him or the company very much, but a lot of that is because he was used wrong.

TNA has a track record of not knowing how to use names that are bigger than the company itself, and that is why WWE would make better use of him. Even with all of Hogan’s fame, he is not bigger than WWE, not anymore anyway.

The rumors of a WWE return have always surrounded Hulk, and right now seems like the best chance he has at a comeback even if he isn’t actually wrestling much.

Hogan would not only be great for a WrestleMania appearance, but there are plenty of other ways WWE could use the red and yellow warrior.

A manager, authority figure and commentator are all roles Hogan could probably thrive in, and his experience and popularity would help a lot of young talents he would be associating with.

The WWE roster is a lot different from the last time Hogan was in a WWE ring. Many of the guys who are headlining shows grew up watching Hogan, and in some cases even hung around with him as a kid due to their family being in the business.

Hogan probably knew guys like Roman Reigns and Cody Rhodes when they were just old enough to walk, and we all know Hogan’s history with Randy and Bob Orton.

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Hogan being in programs with these guys would be a great way to appeal to older WWE fans who loved Hogan as a kid as well as the younger audience who has no idea who he is yet.

Believe it or not, a large percentage of the WWE audience wasn’t even born when Hogan made his last WWE appearance in December of 2007. It’s been six years since Hogan was inside a WWE ring.

All the Internet wrestling fans and TNA fans are aware of what he has been doing in that time, but most of the WWE audience doesn’t watch TNA and that means Hogan has simply been AWOL in their minds.

There were rumors of Hogan being in attendance for the big WWE Network announcement on Wednesday, but Hogan claims he was elsewhere.

Hearing “Real American” blast through the speakers in a WWE arena for the first time in over six years would pop any crowd and make even the most cynical fan flashback to happy memories from their childhood as a Hulk Hogan fan.

Whether you first knew Hogan in the wrestling boom of the ’80s, the NWO years in the ’90s or his various appearances in the ’00s, it is a fair bet that Hogan is someone you loved at some point.

Young fans would finally get to see the guy they had always heard about, and anyone old enough to remember him would see one of their heroes return to his old stomping ground.

Yes, he’s cheesy. Yes, he’s almost a parody of himself. And yes, he has made a lot of mistakes in his career. But with all that said, he is still one of the greatest of all time.

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Nothing can keep this guy down. Steroid scandals, a messy divorce, jealousy, ego problems among his peers and the finger poke of doom couldn’t kill Hogan. He still has life left in him and WrestleMania 30 is the perfect time for WWE and Hogan to benefit from the time he has left as a marketable character.

His ability to get a crowd hyped up is second to none, and his legacy in the sport should not be considered damaged by any of his recent years in TNA.

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If Hogan does return, it’s not as if he will be main eventing the show. He will either be in some kind of tag match with limited ring time or a non-wrestling role—so the fans who have no desire to see another Hogan Mania can calm down.

Hogan has wrestled on six continents in front of millions of people. He is one of the most recognizable faces in the world. WWE would be stupid to pass up the opportunity to bring in a fan favorite of that level for the biggest show of the year.

His image is so marketable that he could slap his name on a coffee pot, call it the “Whatcha gonna brew, brother!” and people would buy it.

What do you think? Does Hulk Hogan belong at WrestleMania 30, or has he lost all relevancy in his absence from the company? Or do you just not like him enough to care?

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Miley Cyrus poses for Marc Jacobs campaign along with ‘dead girl’

Miley Cyrus poses for Marc Jacobs campaign along with ‘dead girl’

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Miley Cyrus poses with ‘dead girl’ in new Marc Jacobs campaign
Marc Jacobs

The “Wrecking Ball” singer features in the moodily lit Spring 2014 campaign, but there’s something up with her co-star.

Thursday 09 January 2014

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All that air-kissing and awards snuggling appears to have worked for perennial twerk-a-holic Miley Cyrus.

 

The pop star has scored her first major fashion campaign with Marc Jacobs, the label revealed via its Twitter page last night.

The “Wrecking Ball” singer features in the moodily lit Spring 2014 campaign sporting an embroidered jacket and custom black sneakers. But there’s something up with her co-star.

David Jason: ‘Miley Cyrus epitomises eroding standards in society’

In the background of the shot, one zombie-ish blonde model stares vacantly into space, while a seemingly lifeless redhead plays dead on the ground to her left.

A second shot shows Cyrus pouting in sunglasses as again, a pale, limp model lies in the background.

The shoot is bound to stir some controversy – but no more than Cyrus is used to.

Stars from David Jason to Kate Winslet have waded in on the great debate about Miley and her hyper-sexualised pop star antics of late.

Earlier this week, the Touch of Frost star described her as an example of the eroding standards of modern society.

Cyrus pouts in sunglasses as again, a pale, limp model lies in the background. Cyrus pouts in sunglasses as again, a pale, limp model lies in the background. “She has done it to break the mould,” he told The Sun on Sunday. “I can understand why, but we have given her the oxygen of publicity and encouraged it, so young girls will think it is the right way to attract men. We’ve lost our standards.

“Once upon a time if you said this or did that, you’d be off the air. They wouldn’t dare show it.

“It slowly drip feeds, erodes standards of politeness, manners and morality,” he continued.

“It just drips and it takes us further and further down, and instead of inspiring us to look up, we are all going down.”

Kate Winslet on Miley Cyrus: ‘God, Who Is Looking After These People?’

“You hear horror stories where you think, ‘God, who’s looking after these people and why does it seem like they’re losing their way?'” Winslet similarly told Psychologies magazine.

“I mean, you think about someone like Miley Cyrus, and I said to my daughter the other day, ‘I’m this close to opening my mouth about what’s going on with that girl’. Who is actually saying, ‘Stop for a second, what do you want, who are you?'”

Their comments come after Cyrus released her latest talking point: the music video for “Adore You”. In it, the singer is seen writhing around scantily-clad under bedsheets while she simulates masturbation.

But she’s not all sex and no substance: the star showed her support for the LGBT community by posting a photo of herself wearing a pro-gay rights campaign T-shirt designed by Marc Jacobs on Twitter two days ago.

How A-Rod, Arbitrator Agreeing to 100-Game Reduced Ban Would Impact Yankees

By

(MLB Lead Writer) on January 9, 2014

 

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Rodriguez could be willing to accept a suspension of 100 games or less without any further legal action. Elsa/Getty Images

On the surface, the New York Yankees would seemingly benefit greatly from a suspension that would keep third baseman Alex Rodriguez out for the entire season and possibly beyond—he is currently appealing a 211-game ban and a decision from the arbitrator is expected any day now.

For one, they wouldn’t have to pay him his $24 million salary for the upcoming season, which could have an effect on how their offseason concludes. With several holes to fill, including at least one in the rotation and two in the bullpen, having that extra money at their disposal would certainly help.

Secondly, no Rodriguez in 2014 would mean no potential for any distractions that could come with continued questions over his alleged usage of performance-enhancing drugs and his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, his declining performance, bloated contract or his commitment to the team.

But let’s put all that on hold for a minute.

What if his suspension is decreased to a number that would allow him to return at some point during the 2014-15 season? Wallace Matthews of ESPN.com reported that Rodriguez could accept a penalty of 100 games or less without putting up any more of a fight.

What if he’s granted an injunction—he’s expected to file for one if his suspension isn’t overturned to his liking, according to the New York Daily News—that would allow him to start the season with the team and play until another decision has been made?

While they’d have less money at their disposal to help fill out their roster, it’s really not all that bad of a scenario to have the 38-year-old manning the hot corner for at least part of the season.

As was the case in 2013 when Rodriguez missed the majority of the season recovering from hip surgery, the Yankees’ backup plan at third base isn’t a very good one.

Overall, Yankees third basemen posted a .633 OPS with 12 homers and 52 runs batted in last season. It was worse without Rodriguez.

In 27 games at third base after returning to the field in early August, Rodriguez had a .906 OPS with five homers, six doubles and 10 runs batted in. His return, regardless of the sideshow that came along with it, had a major impact on the lineup.

 

In 2014, Rodriguez’s backup plan includes some combination of Eduardo Nuñez, who has a career .692 OPS, only 62 career starts at third and a .933 fielding percentage as a third baseman, and Kelly Johnson, who made his first 12 career starts at the position in 2013 and is also currently slated to share time with the oft-injured Brian Roberts at second base.

While there’s still a chance that the team can bring back Mark Reynolds, or another free agent like Michael Young, neither is likely to have nearly the impact that Rodriguez would in 2014.

In a scenario where Rodriguez’s suspension is reduced to, let’s say, 100 games, the Yankees would still save close to $15 million in salary.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

 

For $15 million, the team could land a closer—Grant Balfour (pictured) shouldn’t cost more than the two years and $15 million he would’ve gotten from Baltimore had they not backed out of the deal due to medical concerns; Balfour claims he is as healthy as he was last year when he was an All-Star closer for Oakland—setup man and lefty reliever—Francisco Rodriguez shouldn’t cost more than $3 million on a one-year deal; Oliver Perez’s cost could be two years and $5 million—and re-sign Reynolds to a one-year, $3 million deal to help bridge the gap at third base until Rodriguez returns.

Not to say they couldn’t afford those players anyways—they are the Yankees, after all—but the savings from a 100-game suspension could technically still be re-invested into the 2014 team.

If they can land Masahiro Tanaka or one of the top free-agent starters, which they are trying to do regardless of the Rodriguez outcome, this roster has a chance to be very good by the time Rodriguez would return sometime in late July.

Starting Lineup 1 Jacoby Ellsbury, CF 2 Derek Jeter, SS 3 Carlos Beltran, RF 4 Mark Teixeira, 1B 5 Brian McCann, C 6 Alex Rodriguez, 3B 7 Brett Gardner, LF 8 Alfonso Soriano, DH 9 Brian Roberts/Kelly Johnson, 2B

Bench Francisco Cervelli, C Brendan Ryan, IF Kelly Johnson, IF/OF Ichiro Suzuki, OF

Starting Rotation 1 CC Sabathia, LHP 2 Masahiro Tanaka, RHP 3 Hiroki Kuroda, RHP 4 Ivan Nova, RHP 5 Michael Pineda, RHP

Bullpen CL Grant Balfour, RHP SU David Robertson, RHP SU Francisco Rodriguez, RHP MID Oliver Perez, LHP MID Shawn Kelley, RHP MID Cesar Cabral, LHP LR David Phelps, RHP

Money and potential sideshow aside, Rodriguez would likely give the 2014 Yankees a better chance of making the playoffs.

Is Jose Pirela a legitimate option for the Yankees at second base?

Is Jose Pirela a legitimate option for the Yankees at second base?

By                                  on Jan 8 2014, 11:00a

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Robinson Cano, the Yankees‘ best homegrown player in the past decade, is no longer with the organization. He has signed his 10-year mega contract with the Mariners and now the Yankees need to find a way to make up for him. They signed Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann to replace their best hitter in the lineup, but what about replacing his production at second base?

They have brought Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, and Dean Anna in, but it’s likely that the Yankees are still open to other options. The organization suffers from a lack of impact prospects, especially at the top levels, and especially when it comes to infielders. Perhaps one of their top in-house candidates is nothing but a fringe prospect at best and someone who might never end up reaching the majors. Can Jose Pirela be the replacement the Yankees are looking for?

Who he is

Pirela is a 24-year-old right-handed hitting second baseman who was signed out of Venezuela for $300,000 before the 2008 season and, though he’s been playing pro ball since he was 17, he still has only 24 plate appearances at Triple-A, a level he finally reached this past year after six years, and three full seasons in Double-A.

He made an underwhelming debut in rookie ball with a 5.8% walk rate, a sub-.300 OBP and a wRC+ of 66, but he showed potential the following year, hitting .295/.354/.381, while upping his walk rate to 8.3% and putting up a promising 114 wRC+ for  Staten Island. Pirela took a slight step back in 2010 with the Charleston RiverDogs, but he still showed promise. He hit .252/.329/.364 with a 102 wRC+, raised his walk rate again to 9.9%, managed to swipe 30 bases on the season, and hit 13 triples

In 2011, he moved up to Double-A and that’s when the bottom fell out. He hit a disappointing .239/.292/.353, his walk rate bottomed out at 4.8% and his strikeout rate lifted to a career-high rate of 16.9%. His 76 wRC+ proved that it wasn’t his worst year, but it was definitely a bubble-bursting season. He got another shot in 2012 and had possibly his best offensive season to date, hitting .293/.356/.448 with a 123 wRC+. He recovered some of his plate discipline, but didn’t see more than 82 games of action.

This year Pirela played his third season at the Double-A level, and still remained solid with a .272/.359/.418 batting line and a 118 wRC+. He had the highest walk rate (10.6%) and lowest strikeout rate (11.5%) of his career, stole 18 bases, and hit a career-high 10 home runs. He finally got the chance to play for Scranton over five games in July, where he collected seven hits in 24 at-bats before getting sent back down to Trenton.

To add to his resume, Pirela has routinely demolished winter ball, hitting .306/.372/.441 in the Venezuelan winter league over the last four years. The 2013-2014 season has brought the most success as he has hit .332/.415/.514 with six home runs and seven triples.

Platoons

As a right-handed batter, he also adds some value for the Yankees at the plate. The 2013 team hardly managed an 85 wRC+ against southpaws, which was only better than the White Sox and Marlins. This year’s lineup still lacks right-handed options to bat against left-handed pitchers. In six seasons, Pirela has a .278/.335/.372 batting line against them, though his line against righties isn’t too far off at .257/.324/.370. He gets on base more frequently against lefties, but he has significantly more power against righties, hitting 27 of his 33 career home runs against them. Pirela likely won’t be an incredible asset against one handed pitcher over another, but he’s not necessarily a platoon player either.

Still, there could be an argument made that he would benefit from playing in Yankee Stadium over PNC Field or Arm and Hammer Stadium. In 2013, the park factors for right-handed home runs at the Stadium was 122, while it was a below-average 95 in Scranton and a power-engulfing 76 in Trenton. While park factors for right-handed doubles and triples were a bit lower in Yankee Stadium, with a 94, it’s easy to see how much of a benefit Pirela could get hitting there instead of Trenton, where they reached an 85 in 2013. Even though playing in New York heavily favors left-handed hitters for its short right field porch, batting in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, regardless of their handedness, is much better than the environments Yankee prospects consistently hit in the minors.

Fielding

Jose Pirela began his career has a shortstop, committing 107 errors in five seasons (that’s like 21 errors a year!) before permanently being moved to second base, where he has made 31 errors over seven seasons (that’s only like 4.5 errors a year!). He played second all season for the first time in 2013 and made 16 errors, which would have nearly led the position in MLB.

Baseball America reported one scout saying at the time of the signing “he’s got all the raw tools to stay in the middle of the diamond. The range is exceptional, the hands are soft, the arm strength is slightly above average.” There was some belief that his arm strength needed to improve to stick at short, but given his trouble with his glove work, along with his bulky physique, it seemed that the transition to second had to happen.

Projections

Thrusting Pirela into the majors might be risky, but it’s not unheard of. Looking at his projections next to his competition might help show what the Yankees would be in for in 2014. I averaged their projections between Steamers and Oliver to get the average, where applicable.

Player AVG OBP SLG BB% K% wOBA wRC+
2013 Cano .314 .383 .516 9.5 12.5 .384 142
2014 Cano .294 .365 .476 9.2 13.3 .476 130
Johnson .235 .312 .407 9.5 25.0 .316 95
Anna .253 .324 .459 8.5 16.0 .305 92
Pirela .256 .316 .390 6.6 14.4 .311 92
2013 2B .257 .316 .376 7.3 16.6 .305 91
Roberts .243 .307 .361 8.2 15.5 .296 83

Obviously, none of the options are going to do better than Cano last year or this year. Compared to Anna, Johnson, and Roberts, Pirela will lead in batting average and have the lowest strikeout rate. He beats Roberts in every category, other than walk rate, and his strikeout rate will be much more manageable than Johnson’s, but the competition between he and Anna might be the most evenly matched, as both project to be about in line with what all second basemen hit in 2013.

So the potential is there, but he might not project to be much more than a league-average player in a reserve role. Removing Cano from the equation and looking at Oliver-specific stats, Pirela might look a little better.

Player WAR Def HR SB
Pirela 2.2 -1.5 12 11
Anna 2.0 6.4 6 4
Johnson 1.2 -7.1 23 10
Roberts 0.7 2.4 10 7

He leads his competition by WAR and stolen bases, while playing second fiddle in home runs. His defense could be a problem, but it might not be as bad as Johnson’s who is going to be counted on regularly in the field.

It had been believed that Pirela never had a place with the major league team because of the presence of Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano, but the best second baseman in the game is gone and the position is still kind of wide open. Pirela could squeeze himself into the equation, if the Yankees choose to believe in him. But should they? There’s definitely an argument to be made that he belongs on the major league team, especially if Brian Roberts is getting a job, but he’s not replacing Cano anytime soon.