The Rundown: Fallout from Al Jazeera Doping Report, Potential Breakout Season for Soler, Various and Sundry Baseball Tidbits

Top Of The First

Just a friendly reminder that I love and appreciate the comments on my Rundown articles. I’m no expert when it comes to the Cubs or to baseball in general, but I am 100% in favor of the expression of sound opinion, no matter how large or small the comment. So keep ‘em coming!

Fallout From The Al Jazeera Doping Report

Maybe you don’t care about Charles Sly. I certainly don’t. He comes across as a sort of conniving individual who got more than he bargained for when his undercover interview was purposed into an article by Al Jazeera reporter Deborah Davies on the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports The article specifically named Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning, Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmeman, Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, and former Cubs catcher Tyler Teagarden as having received illegal substances. Others were named as well.

Sly has since recanted, stating on December 26th that the videos obtained by Al Jazeera were filmed secretly and that he was intentionally misleading Liam Collins, the former British hurdler who was questioning Sly about his internship at the Guyer Institute. “To be clear,” Sly said, “I am recanting any such statements, and there is no truth to any statement of mine.”

Sly also said he never saw any documentation to support what he had said about Manning.

On Tuesday Zimmerman and Howard filed defamation lawsuits against Al Jazeera. Manning is considering a lawsuit as well. Sly was apparently unaware he was being used as a stooge, or so he says.

Major League Baseball is launching an investigation as well.

I have three thoughts here:

  1. Where there’s smoke there’s usually fire. It’s possible Sly could have simply been attempting to oversell his accomplishments, though there are more ethical ways to do that — certainly ways that won’t end up in a courtroom or that may lead to libel lawsuits — and there are lesser athletes that he could have named before he recanted.
  2. Denials and/or lawsuits are the understood response to any allegations of wrongdoing. We have yet to see any athlete, once accused, immediately raise his hand and say “I messed up” when it comes to doping accusations. The denials and rebuttals are often laughable, though it seems athletes are finally learning that a simple “no comment” is the best and most appropriate response.
  3. It is almost impossible at this point to believe anything Charles Sly says. There is probably some mindful purpose to that type of misdirection.

I talked about PED usage in yesterday’s Rundown and provided a little more depth in the comments section. Athletes have always found ways to “game the game” in order to get an edge on the competition. It is unfathomable to me that only a handful of players are actually cheating. Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez may be the poster boys of doping in Major League Baseball, but my instincts tell me the practice of doping is a lot more commonplace than fans choose to believe.

Performance-enhancing drugs are now used in high schools and colleges across all levels of sport and are readily available through underground means in many independent facilities. They’re here to stay. Suppliers will always find ways to stay a step or two ahead of any testing regimen.

Breakout Season Ahead For Jorge Soler?

Baseball scribe Anthony Castrovince named Cubs OF Jorge Soler the Cubs’ biggest X-factor as he examined sixteen of baseball’s most fascinating players to watch in 2016. Castrovince believes that Soler’s “playoff performance (1.705 OPS in 19 at-bats) [offers] a window into his capability level that, to this point, has been sullied by injury.”

True, there is a lot of work that needs to be done on the defensive side, though I don’t think Soler is quite the butcher that he is made out to be. His right arm is a cannon, as Nolan Arenado will attest. Jose Tabata is a believer as well. Soler’s arm was a game-changer in the NLDS series against St. Louis too, come to think of it.

When all is said and done, I think the embattled right fielder will be better than average defensively with an arm that could potentially impact any game. I think at times we forget that Soler has played just 119 games as a big leaguer. In fact, he only has 165 games on his minor league resume. Clearly, Soler is still a work in progress.

As far as offensive projection, Christina Karl of ESPN predicts 60 extra-base hits for Soler in 2016 with a slugging percentage north of .500.

Soler is a rare commodity on a contending team because he offers immense upside while remaining under the radar because the Cubs’ lineup is so incredibly stacked. Evan Altman looked at Bill James’ projections back in November — before the additions of Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward — and concluded that one through eight the Cubs are a monster offensively. Soler is certainly not required to carry this lineup and he may thrive in such a setting.

Fact, Fiction, Truth or Rumor

Big League Stew says Ken Griffey Jr. will not be a unanimous selection for the Hall of Fame. History is certainly working against him. Of all the ballots made public so far, I am surprised not one writer has publicly omitted Griffey Jr., if just for the notoriety alone. Narcissism, after all, fuels social media.

Dan Szymborski feels that the 1990’s and 2000’s are not represented enough in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Analysis by Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight Sports backs him up.

This is NOT a bat flip by Mickey Mantle, at least as a means of showing up a pitcher or celebrating a big hit. Mantle flew out in this instance. Further, it looks like the sheer velocity of his swing caused the bat to ram him in the back of the head on his recoil. So cool your jets.

Six weeks until pitchers and catchers report and the following free agents are still available: Yoenis Cespedes, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Davis, Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Ian Desmond, Dexter Fowler, Ian Kennedy, Howie kendrick, Denard Span, Gerrado Parra, and Yovanni Gallardo. With Scott Kazmir setting the one-year opt-out precedent and with players not willing to sign pillow contracts, we may see more agents and front offices copycat the Kazmir deal on some of these remaining players. Cespedes on a one-year opt-out would be extremely intriguing, though I doubt that will happen.

That’s correct: Six weeks until pitchers and catchers report.

The NFL Cleveland Browns just hired baseball executive Paul DePodesta as CSO, and it may change football forever. Meanwhile, former Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been hired to play an unspecified role in the Dodgers’ front office, which now boasts a virtual all-star team of former baseball general managers.

The Blackhawks’ John McDonough has enjoyed tremendous success since leaving the Chicago Cubs in 2007.

Bottom Of The Ninth

If anyone has an extra pass for Cubs Convention, I am looking to purchase one or will gladly fill in if your wife or girlfriend thinks that anythingCON is as lame as it probably sounds.

Kudos to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History for their announcement yesterday of a multi-year collecting initiative, “Latinos and Baseball: In the Barrios and the Big Leagues,” to identify artifacts that reflect the social and cultural influence of the game on Latino communities.

Three 2016 events in California and New York will reach out to local communities about preserving baseball history.

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