But now we have that smoking gun. And while it should matter more that the weapon in question was obtained by an illegal leak of sealed testimony, there's simply no way to stuff the genie back into its lamp at this juncture. Giambi's revelation may not be legally admissible, but it's enough to convict him both in the court of public opinion and, perhaps, in the corridors of baseball's power structure.
What I am most surprised about is the candor of Giambi's testimony relative to that of Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield, the two other high-profile ballplayers. While both Bonds and Shef denied knowing that what they were using were in fact illegal substances (with lesser or greater believability), Giambi has admitted that he had already knowingly used an injectible steroid by the time he crossed paths with Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, who supplied him with "the Clear" and "the Cream," the two previously undetectable substances at the center of the BALCO debacle. From the San Francisco Chroniclearticle reporting Giambi's testimony:
In his testimony, Giambi described how he had used syringes to inject human growth hormone into his stomach and testosterone into his buttocks. Giambi also said he had taken "undetectable" steroids known as "the clear" and "the cream" -- one a liquid administered by placing a few drops under the tongue, the other a testosterone-based balm rubbed onto the body.
The 33-year-old Yankee said Anderson had provided him with all of the drugs except for human growth hormone, which he said he had obtained at a Las Vegas gym. Anderson also provided him syringes, Giambi said.
At this point, I'm sad for Giambi rather than morally outraged, as he's simply the tip of a huge, huge iceberg, a convenient scapegoat at which MLB and the media can now point fingers with the full confidence of his culpability. As I read the news on Thursday morning, I fired off an email to a few friends. "Pass the Match-Lite," I wrote, "MLB can't touch him, but the dude is going to get fucking barbecued. In the words of Hunter S. Thompson, the hog is in the tunnel, the fat is in the fire."
My lack of outrage stems from the fact that while I don't condone the use of illegal performance enhancers, I'm uncomfortable with the potential violations of privacy involved with testing (violations which we've see are not merely hypothetical), and I view the MLB Players' Association's reluctance to endorse a testing policy before this year as simply a card that they haven't had to play. As I wrote back in March:
While I want to see the game I'm so passionate about come up with a sensible way to handle the problem, I see the failure to do already in the context of a labor-versus-management war that has waged continuously for the past 35 years. The owners have historically shown a strong aversion to bargaining in good faith and produced union-busting tactics such as collusion and replacement players, and they've offered up a general dishonesty about the game's financial state as well. None of this justifies the players' use of such substances, but the owners' actions haven't engendered the kind of trust necessary for the Major League Baseball Players Association to join the owners in constructing an effective and proactive means of combatting their usage either. While the players' conduct in this matter hasn't ben exemplary, their hands have yet to be forced, and the MLBPA didn't get to be the most powerful labor union in history by selling out its rank and file just to appease a casual fan's notion that everything was a chemical-free hunky dory.
So rather than outrage, my first thought as the news broke was simply, "void his contract." I spend a lot of time studying the Yankee payroll, and I've referred to Giambi's portion of it as an albatross whether or not he's able to regain some semblance of his former productivity. As the market has shifted dramatically and it's become increasingly clear that Giambi's body is breaking down, the contract (seven years, $120 million, signed in December 2001) looks worse and worse:
The dollar amounts are in millions, of course. S.B. is the signing bonus, broken down based on the info here. MDMW stands for "marginal dollars per marginal win," calculated as Giambi's salary minus the minimum divided by win above replacement level. In 2002, the Yanks paid just under a million dollars per win above replacement for Giambi. In 2003, that figure rose to over 60 percent to about 1.6 million per win, and in 2004, well, it's an ugly $13.4 mil per win. Over the three years, the Yanks have paid $1.86 million per win, already a high figure -- that's like paying $18.6 million for a player who's 10 wins above replacement, obscene dollars for a level that's All-Star but not MVP in productivity. That's a figure that's unlikely to improve; to beat that in 2005, Giambi would have to put up 8.7 WARP, which might be attainable if the lights are with him all the way, but it's up to 10 WARP for a 35-year-old G in 2006, and 11.4 WARP for a 36-year old in '07. Absent some magic potions -- the problem to begin with, of course -- that isn't going to happen, and so any above-the-board opportunity for the team to get out of this deal (as opposed to some Howard Spira-type dirt-digging) should be pursued.
Whether the Yanks can remove Giambi from their rolls completely or simply use their leverage to negotiate a buyout, any of the remaining $82 million they can free up is essentially house money. But doing so won't be easy for a number of reasons. As ESPN's Jayson Stark has pointed out, there are two clauses in the Uniform Player Contract which may apply here:
• The player must agree to keep himself in first-class physical condition and adhere to all training rules set by the club.
• The use or misuse of illegal or prescription drugs can be interpreted to mean the player is not keeping himself in first-class physical condition.
But one problem the Yankees will face in their quest to void the contract, a quest that's already underway, is that Giambi's admission has been leaked from sealed testimony under a guarantee of immunity and a promise of confidentiality; only if he's called to testify in a trial or if it's submitted as evidence in same is it supposed to be public knowledge, and there's no grounds for legal punishment. Baseball can't discipline him under its drug policy because he hasn't tested positive, though Commissioner Bud Selig could invoke his broad "best interests of baseball" powers. That would be a sure ticket to a showdown with the players' union, adding yet another ring to this already-growing circus.
For those reasons, the New York Times' Jack Curry suggests the buyout path may be more palatable:
A buyout could be attractive for the Yankees because it would sidestep the fact that Giambi's admission of illegal steroid use, contained in an article in The San Francisco Chronicle about Giambi's purported grand jury testimony in the Balco case, amounts to hearsay at this point and carries no legal heft.
On the other hand, any buyout plan would have to win the approval of the Major League Baseball Players Association, and that might not be possible, no matter what the terms.
... The union's approval of any Giambi buyout would be needed because it would represent a devaluation of an existing contract, as was the case with [Alex] Rodriguez [in the failed negotiations which would have sent him to Boston last winter]. And a devaluation cannot occur without the union's approval, regardless of the player's desire.
If the Yankees no longer wanted Giambi, the union would undoubtedly maintain that the club should simply release him and pay him the remainder of his contract. Giambi would then be free to sign with any team he wanted, with that team owing him only baseball's minimum salary.
Getting back to the UPC, the Yanks can pursue their case along the lines of what Curry is reporting:
For the moment, the Yankees are incensed with Giambi. A baseball official who was briefed on a meeting between the Yankees and the commissioner's office on Thursday said the Yankees felt Giambi misled the team's medical staff while he was being treated for an intestinal parasite and a pituitary tumor last season. The official said the Yankees told the commissioner's office that the team questioned Giambi about possible use of steroids and that he denied using them, which had an impact on the medical treatment he received.
In our little email coffee klatch, my brother (a frequent and intelligent contributor to the comments section of this site) pointed out the inherent contradiction of the Yanks pursuing some recourse against Giambi when they never attempted to discipline Sheffield. But the two cases aren't parallel for a number of reasons. First, there's a significant contrast to their culpability in their own testimony, and to their levels of admitted involvement in the use of illegal substances. Second, there is little to suggest that the time Sheffield missed in his lone season with the Yanks was due to that steroid use, though the man's spotty injury history over the course of his career certainly invites speculation as to whether his vulnerability to injury was chemically related. On the other hand, there are now well-connected dots regarding Giambi's time missed while under contract with the Yankees, especially with regards to his medical treatment last summer, hence the team's desire to terminate the deal.
Ugh. Enough of this distasteful subject for now. I'm ass-deep in three separate research projects at the moment, two for Baseball Prospectus (one is another Hall of Fame ballot rundown using the Jaffe WARP3 Scores -- JAWS -- while the other is... something very cool that I can't divulge yet), plus one for this site on the Yankee bullpen, and I've got to knock at least one of them down before I head off to Anaheim for the Winter Meetings. And don't even get me started on how much wedding-related stuff I have to get done before the holidays...
Looking back at the list of free-agent and trade-bait starters, one of the first thing that stands out is the dearth of lefties (indicated with asterisks, as is the custom) and the, er, craptacularity of the ones beyond Randy Johnson who seem to be on the Yankees' radar. Of those nine southpaws, only four have dERAs appreciably better than the league average ERA (4.30 in the NL, 4.63 in the AL): Johnson, Glendon Rusch (who reupped with the Cubs), David Wells, and Odalis Perez. The two vaunted Oakland lefties, Barry Zito and Mark Mulder, straddle that AL league average, while Al Leiter, Eric Milton, and Shawn Estes are well above the NL average.
Johnson we've discussed previously. Boomer you know all about -- how his amazing control (5.05 K/W) and ability to work fast (to his fielders' delight) cover up for a subpar strikeout rate and a lack of conditioning. Even at 42 (which he'll turn in May), even with all of the headaches he brings, from reneging on handshake agreements to getting in brawls when he should be in bed, he's still not the worst idea out there. ESPN Insider reports that six teams, including the Padres, the Yankees, the Dodgers and the Phillies are all interested. At last report the Phils have improved what was originally a $5 million offer.
As I wrote in a Baseball Prospectus Triple Play, I'm surprised that the 27-year-old Perez isn't drawing more interest. Young lefty pitchers who have averaged 201 innings over the last three seasons at an ERA 12 percent better than the league average, and with decent peripherals to boot... well, there aren't many of them on the market. He's shown glimpses of brilliance for the Dodgers, and pitched well in some big games down the stretch as well. But it's likely that his postseason shellacking at the hands of the Cardinals knocked him down a peg. Furthermore, concerns about his shoulder -- a stint on the DL with rotator cuff inflammation (though he still made 31 starts), and enough workload-related issues that Will Carroll red-lighted him as an injury risk -- may keep him there.
In the context of the starter market, the two Oakland lefties look like little more than LAIMs -- League-Average Inning Munchers -- with unimpressive strikeout rates, mediocre control, and a vulnerability to the gopher ball. Both have track records that show better days on their resumes, but it's certainly fair to wonder if their heavy workloads have caught up with them, Oakland's vaunted reputation for "prehab" or no. Zito has averaged 222 innings a year over the past four seasons, and while his strikeout rate regained a bit of lost ground, his control is really nothing to write home about, and his homer rate spiked up about 50 percent higher than his career average. Ick. He's been getting by in part due to extremely low BABIP numbers (.245 in 2002, .239 in 2003), but luck and defense caught up with him this past year, and he now looks like a far cry from the carefree Cy Young Award winner of 2002. Pass.
Poring over Mulder's stats, it's more of the same except for the shiny W-L record. Falling K rate? Check. Decreased control? Big check (his K/W went from 3.2 to 1.69 last year). Rising homer rate? Check. Injury concerns? Mulder was a mess in the mechanics department and was lacking velocity as well. His ERA after the All-Star break was 6.13. That may not spell injury, but it certainly hurt the A's, and I wouldn't touch him in a deal right now.
The two lefties who have been linked with the Yanks in rumors are two lefties that have been linked with the Yanks before -- both were products of the team's development system but were traded away. Al Leiter came up to the Yanks in 1987 and spent parts of three seasons in pinstripes, showing some promise but ultimately serving as trade fodder like so many other Yankee farmhands of that era (the more things change, the more they stay the same). Sent to Toronto for Jesse Barfield, he soon underwent elbow surgery, and it wasn't until 1993 that he made a real dent in the majors. He was a teammate of Kevin Brown's and Gary Sheffield's on the 1997 World Champion Florida Marlins, starting Game Seven of the World Series but geting a no-decision. During the team's post-championship fire sale, he was traded to the Mets in a deal which sent A.J. Burnett the other way.
After seven successful seasons in Shea Stadium -- where he averaged 30 starts a year and was under the adjusted league average in ERA each time -- he's become involved in a very public drama over the Mets declining his $10.2 million option. It's typical. The 39-year-old Leiter is intelligent and well-spoken -- he made a fine analyst in the postseason -- but his reputation for being a clubhouse lawyer and his media savvy make him one of those players whose situations always get played out in the papers. A poor man's Curt Schilling, perhaps.
If only he could pitch that well, he might be worth the gamble. Leiter put up a low ERA last year, but he averaged less than six innings per start, and along with a declining strikeout rate (from 7.6 in 2002 to 6.9 in '03 to 6.1 last year), he walked a ton of batters (5.03 per 9) and threw the most pitches per hitter (4.33) of any ERA qualifier. His low ERA would also appear to be a product of luck as well, as batters hit only .240 against him on balls in play. All in all, his peripherals scream that his chickens are rounding third and heading home to roost. At one point, the Yankees appeared convinced that Leiter was determined to return to Shea, and the Marlins reportedly put an offer on the table for $7 million a year. Now the Yanks are reportedly offering him a one-year deal between $5 and $6 million plus incentives. Pray he skips town.
If Leiter looks like a gamble, then Eric Milton looks torn from the Big Book of Bad Ideas. The team's first round draft pick in 1996, Milton was traded to the Twins in 1997 in the Chuck Knoblauch deal. Throughout his career, he's never really risen above the level of a LAIM; his career ERA+ is at 99, a tick below the adjusted league-average. His biggest problem is gophers; he allowed an astronomical 43 homers last year and 1.45 per nine innings over the course of his career. His strikeout rate is respectable -- it was actually the best of his career -- but he walks too many batters, and coupled with the long balls, that's a recipe for disaster.
Two weeks ago it appeared that the Yanks were headed for a deal with Milton in the range of two years at $6-7 million per. That urgency subsided long enough to offer some hope that reason would carry the day, but the wheels seem to be turning again even with the team's renewed interest in Leiter. Just because the Yanks scouted and drafted Milton is no reason they should be obsessed with him now. They made the right decision to trade him seven years ago, and those three championship and four pennants that Knoblauch helped them win should serve as a reminder no matter where the Lil' Bastard is these days.
The bottom line among these unmulleted lefties is that there isn't a single one who offers a whole lot of upside without a great deal of risk, all of which puts even more pressure on the front office to work out a trade for the Big Unit; right now the big sticking point is how much of Javy Vazquez's $34.5 million the Yanks would assume.
In any event, it appears we have three basic scenarios to fill out the Yankee rotation. In order of desirability:
1. Trade for Randy Johnson with a package that includes Vazquez: If the Yanks do this, their need to hook another big free-agent starter dissipates; they could get by with secondary signings. With Johnson and Mike Mussina at the top of the rotation, they can bring back Jon Lieber and Orlando Hernandez, perhaps take a flier on Odalis Perez (though they're more likely to wind up with Leiterfluid or Milton), and hold onto Kevin Brown until the market settles a bit. They'll have to sign Johnson to a one-year extension, which will likely not be the worst $17 million or so they spend in 2006 unless the wheels fall off. It will be another old rotation, and they'll still need to scare up an insurance starter once they jettison Brown.
2. Sign Pedro Martinez: While not as appealing as acquiring Johnson -- Martinez can't carry a team on his broad shoulders anymore -- this is probably a necessity if they can't swing a deal with Arizona. The bonus is that it would hurt the Red Sox, at least in the short term. To do this, the Yanks will need to go beyond the Mets' entry into the sweepstakes, a three-year, $38 million guarantee with a vesting option for a fourth year. Of course, they'll also need the Sox not to dramatically increase their offer, and for the two parties to decide not to go to arbitration. All of this is doable; in fact the Yanks are perfectly poised to swoop in should they desire, though they're certain to overpay for a pitcher whose long-term outlook isn't so hot.
With Martinez, Mussina, and Vazquez in the fold, the Yanks will need to find themselves a lefty, and again, I'll reiterate that David Wells is a far better choice than the two ex-farmhands. They could resign Lieber and Hernandez, figuring that they've got some insurance against balky backs and cranky shoudlers, or they could choose one of the two and save some money for the great Carlos Beltran chase while scaring up insurance elsewhere.
3. Scramble if they can't land their ace: If they can't get Johnson or Martinez, the Yanks will use smoke, mirrors, and cash to divert attention away from that fact. The danger in this scenario is that somewhere it becomes as much of a PR move as a baseball one; the Yanks have to come back and say, "See, we did get our man," and they're not going to impress anybody with the likes of a Jaret Wright or a Matt Clement as their shiny new toy. Call it a hidden cost of New York, that every move will get scrutinized to death by the dozens of wags who just love to pile on the Yanks. C'est la vie.
If it comes to this scenario, my money is on Carl Pavano. Though their strikeout rates tell the opposite story, Pavano is probably a better long-term bet than Wright from a makeup standpoint. The most recent Baseball Prospectus Triple Play had this to say about the two contrasting views of Pavano today:
[H]e is an excellent example of a player over whom scouts and statheads will clash, and his great 2004 will give the scouts more ammo. You might look at Pavano and see a guy who's been healthy and effective for a full year exactly once in his career, with a declining strikeout rate and a career year probably helped by a fluky low BABIP. I might look at Pavano and see a workhorse with the cojones for big-game success and some serious heat that he can bring again and again.
This writer will throw a dissenting voice into the mix and say that there is something to what the scouts see. Some pitchers are just late bloomers, and don't deserve to have their history held against them too strictly. Unfortunately, the attention being lavished upon Pavano right now all but guarantees that whichever team signs him will fall prey to the Winner's Curse.
Should the Yanks desire Pavano, they'll obviously have to outbid several teams to get him, including the Red Sox and the spend-happy Orioles. If they fail to net that particular fish, a late run at Brad Radke would make sense given that the Twins are scrambling to adjust their bid (3/$20) in the wake of the Mets' drastic overpaying for Kris Benson.
If they sign Pavano, they'll have Moose and Javy on board, of course. The lefty Wells would make the most sense in this context, as he's the only available southpaw who's anything close to a front-of-the-rotation type, and without a true ace, having one more of those wouldn't hurt. Again, they could do Lieber, Hernandez, or both here.
I should add that while I've put the decision on the Yanks' shoulders regarding Lieber in all three cases, he may choose to go elsewhere given the way they've handled his situation. Considering they've pencilled him in for about $6 million a year, not signing him gives them some money to play with, and they could plausibly net Wright with that kind of scratch. Failing that, there's a whole mess of options which could be cheaper and perhaps less desirable, but not entirely without merit.
For example, I haven't even broached the three available starters -- Cris Carpenter, Woody Williams, and Matt Morris -- who helped take the Cardinals to the World Series. Journeyman-turned-ace-turned-bystander Carpenter had a heck of a year before a biceps strain sidelined him for October; concerns that the injury could actually be similar to Brad Penny's -- a nerve irritation -- may cloud the issue. Williams has had an unheralded run in St. Louis, and though he's 38, he could probably provide something Lieberesque at the back of the rotation. Morris is only 29 but he's been on the decline for four straight years, and I wouldn't go there.
Anyway, expect the Johnson/Martinez dramas to hang over our heads for another couple of weeks, first past the December 7 arbitration deadline and then likely into the Winter Meetings of December 10-13. The Yanks may hedge by signing either Milton or Leiter before then, which is sure to leave us banging our heads in distress until the big news comes down.