Melky Cabrera and the Most Costly Failed Drug Test of All Time

Major League Baseball announced yesterday it would be suspending San Francisco Giants’ outfielder and All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera for 50 games following his testing positive for the performance-enhancing substance  testosterone. The news will be all over television screens, newspapers, and the minds of baseball reporters, fans, and executives—for a day or two at least. But with Cabrera in the midst of a career year and eligible for free agency this offseason, it could well haunt him for the rest of his life.

Cabrera is hitting .346 with 11 home runs, 60 RBI, 13 stolen bases, and a league-leading 159 hits for the Giants this season, his first in San Francisco. He came to the team from Kansas City after being traded for left-handed pitcher Jonathan Sanchez in November and quickly signed a one-year, $6 million deal to avoid arbitration. Cabrera enjoyed similar success playing for the Royals in 2011, hitting .305 with 18 home runs, 87 RBI, and 20 stolen bases. In the prime of his career at age 28 and coming off two great seasons at the dish, Cabrera was sure to receive a multi-year, big money contract this winter. The failed drug test and suspension will change that.

The statistical surge in his breakout season last year came in large part as a result of increased power numbers. Along with career highs in home runs (18) and OPS (.809), Cabrera hit 44 doubles, 16 more than his previous best. It’s impossible to measure what effect his use of testosterone had on those numbers, and even more difficult when it comes to its impact on his even more dramatic spike in batting average. It’s hard to argue that being bigger or stronger helps put the bat on the ball. Nonetheless, teams in need of a good hitter this offseason will be deservedly wary of giving a long-term contract to a player whose output may (or may not) have been significantly affected by his violating the sport’s drug policy.

Before this development, Cabrera might have been looking at a deal along the lines of those signed by (the arguably overpaid) Torii Hunter (five years, $90 million) or (the definitely overpaid) Aaron Rowand (five years, $60 million). But his current prospects will be closer to a few other outfielders on the list of players suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. Namely Mike Cameron, Jose Guillen, and Manny Ramirez. It’s important to note that none of the players on the list of PED suspensions has ever signed anything longer than a two-year contract after failing a drug test. Most had to play it one year at a time for the rest of their careers, as teams were unwilling to grant them anything long-term both for PR reasons and the aforementioned suspicion that their stats would shrink absent the drugs. By failing this drug test the Melk Man has gone from being a name close to the top of every team’s letter to Santa to one who will be lucky to have more than a team or two willing to take a short-term flyer on him in the hopes that he can sustain his production. When things are all said and done, this one failed drug test could end up costing Cabrera more than $60 to 70 million and a whole lot of the peace of mind that comes from knowing where your next paycheck’s coming from.

And hey, that’s just the effects it’ll have on Cabrera and his wallet. Let’s not forget that baseball is a team sport, and that the 50 game suspension comes at a time when the 64-54 Giants are just one game behind the Dodgers in the NL West and deep in the midst of a playoff (and maybe even pennant) run. But the team only has 44 games left in the season, meaning Cabrera will also miss the play-in game should the Giants capture a wild card spot and at least part of their division series (if they make it that far) regardless of the nature of their playoff berth. That is, assuming they get one at all without Cabrera, who has been a large, but ultimately indefinable part of the team’s success. One thing is certain, the San Francisco front office comes off looking like a bunch of future-telling baseball geniuses, as the team traded for Hunter Pence in July. Without Pence, the team would be left with an incredibly shallow outfield. I mean, they were already shallow back there in the grass, that’s why they were willing to let go of Tommy Joseph, one of their top two or three prospects to get Pence in the first place.

Before I sign off, I’d like to note one more thing. As soon as the report of his failed drug test was released, Cabrera released a statement through the players’ union to apologize and admit his mistake, saying, “My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used. I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and I will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down.” Whether his words and regret are genuine or not, at the very least, Melky didn’t make excuses or try to hide behind lawyers, his union, or an appeals process. For that at least, I give him credit.

Follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

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Should Brandon Belt crack the Giants’ Opening Day lineup?

Giants’ first baseman Brandon Belt is the 26th ranked player on writer Jonathan Mayo’s Top 50 Prospects List for 2011.

If there are 25 prospects having a better spring than Belt, then I need my eyes checked.

Belt went 3-for-4 with an RBI double and a solo home run in a win over the White Sox on Wednesday. It was his second dinger of the spring and he’s now hitting .302 with 10 RBI over 43 at bats. The kid is absolutely tearing the cover off the ball and making the Giants’ decision about whether or not he should break camp with the big league club.

But there are a couple of problems.

Problem I: Aaron Rowand
Rowand still has two years left on his ridiculous contract and if Belt makes the Opening Day roster, he’ll force Aubrey Huff to move into an already crowded outfield. The Giants would likely either have to eat Rowand’s contract and/or bend over and take less value in a trade, neither of which they seem ready to do.

Problem II & III: Nate Schierholtz and Travis Ishikawa
Both are out of minor league options and one can make a case that both deserve a roster spot. Schierholtz has a cannon attached to his right arm and is a left-handed bat, while Ishikawa plays an outstanding first base and proved to be a nice bat off the bench last year. Teams would probably be more interested in trading for Schierholtz than either Rowand or Ishikawa, but if the Giants were to keep Belt then they would need to part with at least one other player. (Thus, Belt, Schierholtz, Rowand and Ishikawa are all fighting for two roster spots.)

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Should the Phillies consider trading for Aaron Rowand?

San Francisco Giants Aaron Rowland (33) gets high fives at the dugout after scoring in the fifth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at the NLCS at AT&T Park in San Francisco on October 19, 2010. Rowland doubled and was batted in by Freddy Sanchez as the Giants defeated the Phillies 3-0. UPI/Terry Schmitt

Paul Hagen of the Philadelphia Daily News has an idea on how the Phillies can fill the hole left by outfielder Jayson Werth, who signed with the Nationals this offseason. I’m just not sure it’s a good one.

There are several outfielders who could be available before Opening Day, but it says here that the best option just might be a blast from the past: Aaron Rowand.

The Phillies would want the Giants to pick up most of the $24 million he is owed the next 2 years, and that could be a sticking point. The Giants could reason that if they’re paying the money anyway, they might as well keep him around. They might not be impressed by what the Phillies could offer in return. Or they might be reluctant to help a team they had to beat in the National League Championship Series to get to the World Series in the first place.

But if there’s a will and a way, Rowand might be a perfect low-risk, high-reward move. He’s coming off a terrible year but is a righthanded batter who hit .309 with 27 home runs, 45 doubles, 105 runs and 89 RBI the last time he played his home games at Citizens Bank Park. He’s still just 33. He’s a good clubhouse guy who would be an antidote to the complacency that manager Charlie Manuel sometimes worries about.

The thing Hagen is overlooking is that Rowand isn’t just coming off a terrible year – he’s coming off of three terrible years. And when he was in Philadelphia, his .309-27-89-105 season came in a contract year. Once he got paid, AT&T Park swallowed him whole and nobody has heard from him since.

Hagen’s right: Rowand is an excellent presence in the clubhouse. He’s also one of the few major leaguers that plays hard every day and his defense is still above average. But his offensive numbers have been declining since his magical ’07 campaign and there are no signs that he’ll regain form. A trade back to Philadelphia may rejuvenate him, but I highly doubt he’ll suddenly transform into a .300 hitter. He’ll hit more home runs at Citizens Bank Park than at AT&T, but that’ll be about it.

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Roy Oswalt, Jimmy Rollins help Phillies even up NLCS

Philadelphia Phillies all-star pitcher Roy Oswalt delivers a pitch during first inning San Francisco Giants-Philadelphia Phillies NLCS Championship game two at Citizens Bank Park October 17, 2010.  .  UPI/John Anderson Photo via Newscom

And that’s why you pony up for a veteran starter like Roy Oswalt when he’s available via trade.

Oswalt was brilliant in Game 2 of the NLCS on Sunday night, striking out nine batters over 8 innings while allowing just one run on three hits in the Phillies’ 6-1 win over the Giants. His only blemish came in the 5th inning when Cody Ross took him deep to tie the game at, 1-1. But Oswalt has nothing to be ashamed of there, because Ross has proved this postseason that he’s the greatest baseball player ever to have walked the face of the earth. (The home run off Oswalt was his fourth in the playoffs and his third in back-to-back nights in Philadelphia.)

It was also a great night for shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who has struggled mightily at the plate of late. In the seventh inning, he drove in three runs on a double to deep right off Giants’ reliever Sergio Castillo, who was trying to mop up the mess left by starter Jonathan Sanchez (who allowed Oswalt to reach on a base hit) and Ramon Ramirez (who gave up a single to Placido Polanco, which scored Oswalt to give Philly a 3-1 lead). Rollins’ double scored Chase Utley (who had been intentionally walked), Polanco and Jayson Werth (also intentionally walked) to essentially put the game out of reach at, 6-1.

For everyone but Ross, it was a night to forget for the Giants, who seemed rather content with taking Game 1 of the series and heading back to San Francisco after earning a split. Granted, that’s what road teams are supposed to do in a seven-game series and the loss certainly doesn’t diminish what the Giants did on Saturday. But they had a huge opportunity to put the Phillies in a hole and instead they came out rather flat. Even Ross’ home run was short lived as Sanchez gave up a run in the bottom half of the inning.

It’ll be interesting to see if Bruce Bochy makes any changes to his lineup for Game 3. Pablo Sandoval drew a walk in the top of the 8th after coming in to replace Mike Fontenot in a double switch in the bottom of the 7th. Maybe it’s time to give Sandoval a start to see if he can’t shake out of his season-long funk and provide the Giants’ offense with a spark. Andres Torres is a huge reason why San Fran is still playing right now, but he looks completely overmatched at the plate and the Giants don’t lose anything with Aaron Rowand in the outfield. Rowand has been brutal at the plate this year, but he has postseason experience (he won a World Series with the White Sox earlier this decade) and would be motivated to beat his former team. (The only problem is that if you bench Torres, the Giants don’t have a true leadoff hitter.)

Now isn’t the time to panic, but the Giants need more offense. Matt Cain will oppose Cole Hamels in Game 3 on Tuesday afternoon.

Giants’ Sabean throws all logic out the window, acquires Jose Guillen

April 12, 2010: Kansas City Royals' Jose Guillen (6) during the MLB baseball game between the Kansas City Royals vs Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan.

Jose Guillen can’t play defense, can’t get on base and he can’t hit for average.

So naturally Giants’ GM Brian Sabean had to have him.

On Friday, the Giants acquired the 34-year-old former Royal, who is well known for having a poor clubhouse reputation. That’s something the close-nit Giants don’t need right now heading into a huge weekend series with the first place Padres (the team the Giants are trailing by 2.5 games in the NL West).

Clearly hypnotized by his 16 homers this season, Sabean felt the need to add the outfielder despite the fact that Guillen is more useless than a chair with only two legs. Plus, his acquisition means that Aaron Rowand, Travis Ishikawa (assuming Aubrey Huff moves back to first base) and Nate Schierholtz will receive less playing time than they already are, which is befuddling when you consider that Guillen isn’t a better option than any of them.

If I punch myself in the side of the head enough times and squint hard enough, I might see the need for Guillen as a pinch hitter. But there’s no way that the Giants actually believe this schmuck is a starter. Do you know how much ground there is to cover in right field at AT&T Park? Guillen would be an absolute train wreck and for what? A couple of home runs down the stretch? I thought that’s what Pat Burrell was for? Didn’t Sabean already acquire Pat Burrell already? I’m confused.

The worst part is, Sabean traded away two capable outfielders earlier this season in Fred Lewis and John Bower – two homegrown players that were better defensively than Guillen and who came with zero baggage. How does trading Lewis and Bowker and trading for Guillen make any sense? Tell me what the difference is between those players, or how Guillen makes the Giants better than Lewis and Bowker? And what happens to Schierholtz? The kid entered spring training as the favorite to start in right field and after a poor couple of weeks at the plate, he became Lewis’d, Bowker’d and Kevin Frandsen’d in the blink of an eye. If I were a Giants’ farm player, I’d want to be dealt immediately because Sabean will eventually block my position with a crusty old vet. It’s only a matter of time.

Sabean doesn’t have the slightest clue what it takes to build an offense. For every Burrell, Huff and Juan Uribe, there’s a Rowand, Edgar Renteria and Mark DeRosa (who clearly wasn’t healthy when Sabean decided to hand him a two-year deal this past offseason). For every Bengie Molina trade, there’s a Guillen, Ryan Garko and Freddy Sanchez deal right around the corner.

I’ve never see a man make so many stupid decisions and yet retain his job for 14 years. If Brian Sabean were the President of the United States, half the nation would be underwater right now.

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