Projecting MLB Futures of Each Suspended Star, 1 Year into Biogenesis Scandal
This week marks a very important anniversary for Major League Baseball. It was one year ago on this day the world learned about a Miami-based anti-aging clinic known as Biogenesis and the man who ran it, Anthony Bosch.
On Jan. 31, 2013, Tim Elfrink of the Miami New Times broke the story about Bosch, the clinic and various performance-enhancing drugs that were provided to athletes in various sports.
The MLB players listed in the report included Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Nelson Cruz, Jesus Montero, Gio Gonzalez, Everth Cabrera, Francisco Cervelli and Antonio Bastardo.
After more than seven months of investigating the clinic, MLB handed down suspensions for 12 current players. Two of them, pitchers Fautino de los Santos and Jordan Norberto, were/are free agents. Five others, including Montero, Fernando Martinez, Sergio Escalona, Cesar Puello and Jordany Valdespin, were/are in the minors.
Alex Rodriguez was initially given a 211-game suspension, but he appealed it and played the final 44 games of the year. An arbitrator has since ruled on A-Rod's case, suspending the third baseman for the entire 2014 season.
Ryan Braun accepted a season-ending suspension on July 23, sitting out the final 65 games of 2013. Gio Gonzalez was cleared of any wrongdoing in the case and avoided a suspension.
With the entire scandal now in the rear-view mirror, aside from A-Rod's last-ditch appeal effort in federal court, it's time to move forward by looking at what we can expect from the suspended players.
If a player is not on a team, like de los Santos, Martinez, and Norberto, he is excluded from the list. Aside from Jesus Montero, who is a known commodity, the rest of the minor leaguers will be on one slide.
New York Yankees 3B Alex Rodriguez
Trying to figure out Alex Rodriguez's future is like trying to keep the ending of Bioshock Infinite straight.
The controversial third baseman has said that he thinks MLB did him a favor suspending him, "because I’ve played 20 years without a timeout." He doesn't sound like someone who is entertaining retirement.
At 38 years old, Rodriguez didn't look bad in 44 games last season. He hit .244/.348/.423 with seven home runs in 156 at-bats. His bat speed continues to decrease, as evidenced by the 43 strikeouts.
There is also the question of whether the New York Yankees can entice A-Rod to retire, or accept a buyout and look for another job in 2015. He will have three years and $61 million remaining on his deal after 2014.
The New York Daily News reported that Rodriguez approached the Yankees about a buyout last season, only for the team to reject the request because of the investigation.
Rodriguez certainly seems like a player who is going to do everything in his power to play in 2015, but given the way the Yankees have tried to distance themselves from him, it's hard to imagine a scenario where he plays again.
Projection: Forced retirement
Milwaukee Brewers OF Ryan Braun
While he didn't exactly get out in front of everything that has happened over the last two years, Ryan Braun recently commented on his situation during an appearance at the Milwaukee Brewers' fan event on Sunday.
There's no specific, 'This is how you deal with a situation like this.' Not a lot of people have been through something like this, so, certainly, [this is] a unique and challenging set of circumstances. But I've never been afraid of a challenge. I'm looking forward to everything the future holds.
No one is going to expect much from Braun this season, which strikes me as odd because he's still a 30-year-old perennial All-Star who is just two years removed from finishing second in the NL MVP voting.
Don't forget, before Braun's suspension and injury problems last year, he was still hitting .298/.372/.498 in 61 games. His power wasn't what it was, but that can be attributed to a hand injury that put him on the disabled list.
Braun is still one of the most talented hitters in Major League Baseball. He's a superstar when healthy, so don't assume his career is going to fall apart because of what happened in 2013.
In fact, using the Oliver projection system, Braun is expected to pick up where he left off two years ago by posting 4.7 wins above replacement with a .301/.373/.533 slash line.
Projection: Multiple All-Star appearances
St. Louis Cardinals SS Jhonny Peralta
A 50-game suspension certainly didn't hurt Jhonny Peralta's production. He returned to the Detroit Tigers before the postseason and hit a robust .333/.353/.545 in October.
Peralta parlayed a successful 2013 season, suspension aside, into a four-year, $52 million contract with the defending National League champion St. Louis Cardinals.
The Cardinals had one need, shortstop, which they were able to fill. Peralta is a frustrating player to watch, because consistency has never been his forte. Dating back to 2008, here are his season-by-season OPS totals: .804, .690, .703, .824, .689, .815.
On the bright side for the Cardinals, even if Peralta has one of his "down years," he's still going to be a significant upgrade over Pete Kozma's .548 OPS in 2013.
Don't anticipate Peralta repeating his 2013 stat line because his strikeout rate of 21.9 percent was the highest since 2007 and batting average on balls in play was a career high .374.
He will be 32 in May and has lost some power, hitting just 24 homers the last two years after hitting 21 in 2011. There will be frustrating times and moments of brilliance, which is the story of Peralta's career.
Staying at shortstop will be imperative for Peralta to hold value for the duration of his contract with St. Louis. He's not a good enough hitter to profile at third base, but his body doesn't seem like one that will age gracefully for a shortstop.
Projection: Solid-average regular at shortstop
Free Agent OF Nelson Cruz
Before Nelson Cruz can worry about what to do after getting back into the swing of things following a 50-game suspension last season, he must find a place to play in 2014.
There really hasn't been a market for the outfielder, though Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said at a fan event over the weekend (via MLB.com) that he's had discussions with Cruz's agent.
I've had a lot of discussions with Adam Katz, his agent. There's an economic factor tied to that, as well as losing your Draft pick. Would I like to have him here? Absolutely. I'd love to have Nelson Cruz in this lineup. But how much do you have to pay him, how many years is it going to be and are you willing to lose another Draft pick? Those are the things you have to factor.
That's hardly a glowing endorsement and yet another signal that draft compensation for free agents probably isn't doing the players any favors.
Cruz is in an interesting spot. He's 33 years old, has hit at least 22 homers every season since 2009 and slugged over .500 in four of the last five years. He's also missed at least 38 games in four of the last five years, has lost 70 points from his slugging percentage since 2010 and is a horrendous right fielder (minus-21 defensive runs saved since 2011).
Given his raw power, Cruz is still going to hit a lot of home runs. It probably won't be as many as he was hitting in Texas, where the ball carries well, but he could still be a 20-25 homer player for at least one more year. Just don't count on a lot of help in rate stats.
Projection: Average outfielder in 2014
San Diego Padres SS Everth Cabrera
The simple narrative around Everth Cabrera will be that a slow start in 2014, if he gets off to one, can be attributed to being off performance enhancing drugs following the 50-game suspension.
It's too bad that logic doesn't hold water, especially when you look at how Cabrera lost steam as 2013 went on. He was an All-Star shortstop in the first half of last season, hitting .291/.373/.396 with 21 extra-base hits and 34 stolen bases.
For a player who has never shown that kind of hitting acumen at any point in his career, Cabrera either turned a corner or was due for a fall from grace. The latter turned out to be true, as the 27-year-old hit just .250/.268/.309 in the second half before being suspended.
Cabrera's best offensive seasons in the minors, 2009 and 2011, came when he was playing in two hitter-friendly environments in the California and Pacific Coast Leagues.
Cabrera isn't as good as his 2013 first half suggested, nor is he as bad as the second half shows. He's somewhere in between as a speed-first player who will steal a lot of bases and play average defense at shortstop.
Eventually that speed will go away, rendering Cabrera all but useless as a starter since he doesn't hit for average or power. He's still young enough that we are years away from that happening.
Projection: Fringe-average regular until age 30
Seattle Mariners C/DH Jesus Montero
I'm still baffled by what's happened to Jesus Montero. He was supposed to be the can't-miss hitter in New York's system before being traded to Seattle, where the 24-year-old was supposed to be a fixture in the middle of the lineup and fix the Mariners' offensive woes.
Two years after that trade, Montero has hit just .252/.293/.377 in 663 plate appearances with the Mariners and spent most of 2013 in the minors before getting suspended 50 games.
If you are trying to be optimistic about Montero's future, since he is just 24 years old, keep in mind that he didn't hit in Triple-A after the Mariners sent him down. He played in 27 games with Tacoma, posting a .250/.327/.396 line.
The #Mariners are letting teams know that Jesus Montero, as well as Justin Smoak, are available in trades.— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 12, 2013
Making Montero a DH-only player, where he doesn't have to worry about the daily grind of catching and trying to do something he isn't physically capable of doing, would be a good step forward.
It's still too soon to give up on Montero completely, but the odds of him turning into an elite hitter are virtually non-existent.
Projection: Bench bat
Philadelphia Phillies LHP Antonio Bastardo
There aren't a lot of things that have gone right for the Philadelphia Phillies the last two years, but the performance of left-handed reliever Antonio Bastardo is something to take pride in.
The 28-year-old has struck out 128 hitters in 94.2 innings since the start of 2012. He's not a control artist, giving up 47 walks during that same two-year span, but there is something to be said for being effectively wild.
Given the always-volatile nature of relief pitching, it's hard to predict how long Bastardo will remain an effective MLB pitcher.
For instance, Cincinnati left-handed reliever Sean Marshall was one of the best relievers in baseball two years ago. posting a 74-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 61 innings. Injuries wiped out his 2013 season, limiting him to just 10.1 innings over 16 games .
That's just one test case, but if you look throughout recent baseball history, you will find that relievers rarely carry over performance from season to season unless their name is Mariano Rivera.
It's also concerning that Bastardo's strikeout rate went from 14.02 in 2012 to 9.91 last season and had the highest strand rate of his career (82.4 percent).
Steamer and Oliver projection systems listed on Fangraphs have Bastardo posting an ERA more than a full run higher than his 2013 mark (2.32) and being barely above replacement level.
Projection: Middle-relief specialist in 2014
New York Yankees C Francisco Cervelli
Not that it was expected to continue, but Francisco Cervelli wasn't that bad as New York's starting catcher last season. He only appeared in 17 games and hit .269/.377/.500 in 52 at-bats before injuries shut him down.
That small sample size, combined with the suspension, wasn't enough to convince New York that Cervelli could be a starting catcher, as the Yankees spent $85 million on Brian McCann.
It's probably a good thing the Yankees got McCann, as Cervelli has spent parts of six seasons in New York and posted a respectable-but-unremarkable .710 OPS in 542 at-bats. He has yet to play in more than 93 games, making it even harder to predict his future as a starter.
The Yankees are now in a spot with McCann, Cervelli and Austin Romine on the roster where they will have to make a decision about their backup catcher.
Cervelli likely has the inside track on the backup job given his standing with the organization and Romine's negative WAR total in 60 games last season.
Even if Cervelli doesn't get to be a starter, he shouldn't worry too much about playing time. Given McCann's shoulder problems the last two years and advanced age (he turns 30 in February), the Yankees will likely play McCann at DH more and add in extra days off to keep him healthy.
Projection: Backup role/second-division (non-playoff team) starter
Jordany Valdespin, IF/OF, Miami Marlins
Jordany Valdespin is one of those players who burns a bridge wherever he goes. He threw Mets manager Terry Collins under a bus after getting demoted.
Playing in winter ball this offseason, Valdespin reportedly quit the Tigres del Licey team after being pinch-hit for in a playoff game.
Good luck keeping a job in the big leagues with that kind of attitude, especially when you are a middling utility player who had a .566 OPS in 2013.
Projection: Career minor leaguer
Cesar Puello, OF, New York Mets
Not considered much of a prospect before 2013, Cesar Puello had a strong season before being suspended. He hit .326/.403/.547 with 39 extra-base hits in 331 at-bats.
Josh Norris of Baseball America said in a chat that Puello didn't even rank among the top 20 prospects in the Eastern League because people in the Mets organization "told me beforehand that they don’t really consider him a prospect."
He's only had one productive season and doesn't have a lot of tools to be excited about, so a career in the minors seems likely.
Projection: Career minor leaguer
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