What started in a strip mall in Miami, Florida, at a drug-dispenser called Biogenesis, has led to this. According to reports, 12 more MLB players will be stripped of games, of salary, of built-up reputations. Alongside Ryan Braun, already slinking into the shadows, big names like Jhonny Peralta, Nelson Cruz, and, of course, Alex Rodriguez, will now forever be etched into the record books of baseball’s war on steroids, not just Anthony Bosch’s handwritten records.
Those handwritten records and mountains of evidence led Peralta and Cruz to accept 50-game suspensions in silent defeat. Reportedly, Rodriguez faces a much longer suspension, through the 2014 season, and plans to appeal.
There will be time to digest this news and consider what it means for the game of baseball. But in the immediate aftermath of the Biogenesis scandal and investigation, a more tangible impact can be measured.
The American League playoff landscape just shifted.
And as with tectonic plates, the smallest shift can lead to cataclysmic change, to earthquakes, to shattered ground, or in the case of players seeking October mortality, shattered dreams. The impact of Peralta’s, Cruz’s, and Rodriguez’s absences could go far beyond their pocketbooks and into the standings.
The Detroit Tigers saw this coming.
As the impending suspension of their shortstop loomed, the Tigers spent the last hours of the MLB trade deadline finding Peralta’s replacement. Former Red Sox wunderkind Jose Iglesias arrived just in time to soften the blow for division-leading Detroit.
Or did he?
Peralta has been a key piece in the Tigers’ ascent to perennial AL-Central favorite. This season, he’s stepped up to another level, hitting .305 (.361 OBP), providing some pop with 11 home runs, and producing runs with 50 scored and 54 batted in. Those numbers, and average defense (which compared to the rest of Detroit’s infield is a godsend) has led to a 3.5 WAR (Wins above Replacement) for Peralta. If he kept pace, that would translate to a value of about 2 additional wins for the rest of the season.
Considering that the Tigers are only three games ahead of a surging Cleveland Indians team in the AL Central, two games could be the difference between a trip to the playoffs or an early vacation.
Some will claim that Peralta’s offensive impact was sure to fall off, as his .379 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was well above his career average (.315). But Peralta was also boasting a career high line drive rate of 29%. Sometimes, hitting balls harder means they’ll find more gaps.
But even if Peralta, the 2013 All-Star, kept up his torrid pace, the Tigers aren’t exactly dependent on him for offense. As their +137 run differential indicates, they score at a ridiculous rate, ranking 1st in the American League in batting average, hits, and on-base percentage and ranking 2nd in runs scored. With mainstays like Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Austin Jackson, and Torii Hunter, who needs an above average shortstop? Even if you removed ALL of Peralta’s runs and RBIs (which is silly unless you assume his replacement would have been a sack of potatoes), the Tigers would still have a positive run-differential. Their offense is that good.
Their defense –not so much.
Enter Jose Iglesias. The Boston Red Sox youngster was drawing eyes in New England with his fantastic defense at shortstop. While reps at third base hurt his defensive numbers, all reports claim he has potential to be a perennial Gold Glove contender.
That’s good news in Detroit, where horrid defense, according to one metric, has cost the team 40 runs this season. One of the worst offenders is the league’s best hitter, Miguel Cabrera, who has amassed -11 defensive runs saved this year. Adding Iglesias to that side of the infield gives Detroit a much needed janitor, more than capable of cleaning up the litter that Cabrera drops.
But there’s a tradeoff. Detroit is about to lose a lot of offensive production at the shortstop position.
Currently, a quick look at Iglesias’s batting stats look promising. But rest assured; his .323 average (.367 OBP) and 27 runs scored are a myth. These solid numbers arrive on the back of a .366 BABIP, and unlike Peralta, Iglesias isn’t hitting line drives all over the outfield (just an 11% LD rate). This is baseball’s version of getting lucky.
And Iglesias is already coming down from that high. Just look at his downward decline:
March/April: .450 BA/.476 OBP/.550 SLG (in limited action).
May: .423 BA/.448 OBP/.538 SLG (in limited action).
June: .395 BA/.453 OBP/.523 SLG, 17 runs, 34 hits in 25 games.
July: .205 BA/.247 OBP/.217 SLG, 4 runs, 17 hits in 24 games.
These numbers tell us that Iglesias will hardly be Peralta’s offensive equal. Considering also that Iglesias only has one home run and 19 RBI, it seems reasonable to suggest that run production from the position will go down considerably.
While Iglesias’s defense will bolster a miserable infield, it’s not unlikely that the Tigers will lose a win or two in this transaction. That’s one of the beauties of baseball. It’s a team sport, and the most valuable of players are worth a handful or less of wins in such a short span.
Another beauty of baseball: in the playoff race, that handful of wins is the difference between a chance to play beneath the brightest lights, and being on the outside looking in.
The Tigers just got closer to straddling that fence.
In the wild, wild, AL West, the Texas Rangers just lost some ammunition in their standoff with the Oakland Athletics. All-Star right-fielder Nelson Cruz will serve a 50-game suspension. The offense he leaves behind might now face an equally long drought.
Cruz was hitting .269/.330/.511 with 27 home runs, 76 RBI, and 49 runs scored before baseball lowered the shaft on the once-playoff-hero. The brash Ranger was one of the few consistent run producers (alongside Adrian Beltre) on a struggling offense, bringing home 19% of baserunners that stood on the paths when he stepped to the plate.
Meanwhile, the Rangers have been sputtering.
Once a murderer’s row in the Execution State, Texas’s lineup has skidded to a halt this season. Of 15 AL teams, they are 9th in runs scored at only 4.25 runs per game. They are only in contention thanks to an outstanding team ERA of 3.70.
In the last 20 games, the Rangers have failed to reach five runs 16 times. So when they win, it isn’t by much. On average, they win by 0.55 runs. On average, Cruz scored .44 runs per game and drove in .68. Losing him may be enough to swing these close games in the other direction.
And unlike the Tigers, the Rangers didn’t find a replacement at the deadline.
In-house candidates include Craig Gentry and Jeff Baker, quality subs not likely to step in and replicate Cruz’s offensive production –or anything close. Gentry is a career .270 hitter (.241/.331 this season), but has about as much power as an Amish farmhouse. In his entire career (277 games), he’s hit three home runs.
Baker is more interesting. As a spot-starter and platoon player this season, the utility man has hit .310 (.373 OBP) with nine home runs in only 110 plate appearances. But his career numbers suggest that average will come down giving more playing time, especially considering his dismal numbers against right handers (batting .238; Gentry is even worse against rhp at .177).
Unless the Rangers can make a move on waivers, it looks as if their local talent pool consists of decent right-handed batters, meaning that their lineup, already suffering, will now have a dearth of power that can handle righties, which Cruz did at an above average rate.
As the Orioles displayed in 2012, and the Pirates are currently proving in 2013, win-loss records in close games are important to success, especially for teams with ho-hum offenses. Without Cruz, the Rangers may have crossed the line from an offense that’s good enough to an offense that comes up short.
As of this afternoon, Arlington’s boys of summer stand at 0.5 games back in the AL Wild Card race. Despite boasting a strong rotation fronted by Yu Darvisch and Matt Garza, a Rangers team sans Cruz can hardly be expected to cruise to the playoffs.
In the coming days, more ink will be spilled on Alex Rodriguez, his shattered legacy, and the stain he’s left on the game of baseball and every jersey he’s ever wore. By the end of the week, I will explore his precipitous fall from the game’s favorite phenom to the game’s biggest villain –from the face of baseball to the face of PEDs.
But today, the Yankees face a more immediate reality.
Barring an appeal that allows Rodriguez to play while his suspension is contested in arbitration, the unprecedented 211-game absence through 2014 will begin in earnest on Thursday. And despite the media headache and the constant drama that surrounds #13, the Yankees needed him back if they hoped to contend in 2013.
And the Yankees, born and bred as Steinbrenner disciples, always want to contend –at any cost.
The Boss never would have stood for the offense that now attempts to run the bases at Yankee Stadium. Of 15 AL teams, this hodgepodge of former stars and injured veterans ranks 13th in runs, 14th in hits, 14th in home runs, 14th in batting average, and dead last in on-base plus slugging percentage. The putrid effort has led to a negative run differential that suggests the Yankees will even regress from this status of a barely-contending, just above .500 team.
Much of that dismal production can be traced to third base, where A-Rod’s absence has not just reached the press box, but the box score. Yankees third-basemen are combined this season to bat .215/.272/.285 with four home runs, 32 RBIs, and 40 runs scored. If those totals were prorated to a 162 game season, the New York hot corner would only contribute six home runs, 47 RBI, and 59 runs. These numbers are bad for catchers batting eighth –much less a power position.
A-Rod, in his worst season to date in 2012, still managed to bat .272/.353/.430 with 18 home runs, 57 RBIs, and 74 runs scored. And that was in 122 games. Say what you will about the mercurial former-superstar, but don’t claim the Yankees don’t miss his production.
The Yankees are already 4.5 games back in the AL Wild Card race. Derek Jeter is hurt again. Mark Teixeira may never come back. And A-Rod now may be shelved for the rest of the season. This is a team that can’t score.
Their chance at October was already a long shot. But with Mo Rivera facing his final curtain call, it still seemed possible. The Alex Rodriguez suspension may be the final blow. And even if he plays under the umbrella of his appeal, the distraction, media circus, and New York’s obvious reluctance to give him a larger role may be enough to keep him from making the impact necessary to raise this team to old heights.
This day of reckoning has been a long time coming. Some inside and outside the game will breathe a sigh of relief, as if to say, it’s all over. But it isn’t. The impact of the Biogenesis backlash is just beginning. Reputations will fall. New rules will be written. A new era of baseball will begin.
But before any of that happens, these teams have to play the games.
They have to weather the storm and stand in its wake, combating feelings of betrayal, of loss, of anger and confusion.
And they have to chase those October dreams, knowing they can no longer buy a few wins from a distant strip mall in Miami, where the doors, and the case, have closed.