Expect Cruz and Peralta back if their teams need them for October
Will the Rangers and Tigers welcome back Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta when their drug suspensions expire this year? Both clubs say it's too soon to know, but what has become clear is that unlike Melky Cabrera, the hired gun who the Giants kicked to the curb last year, Cruz and Peralta have long-standing relationships with their clubs and are well-liked in their clubhouses. Their return will depend on whether they are needed at the time they are eligible to play. In other words, forget that they were booted off their teams during a pennant race for choosing to use PEDs; if the Rangers and Tigers need them for pure baseball reasons, they will be back.
Like all suspended players, Cruz and Peralta are allowed to train with their clubs every day up until the time ballpark gates open (generally 90 minutes or so before a game) and they can play up to 10 games in the minor leagues leading up to the expiration of their suspensions. In short, they aren't quite "banned," a serious flaw in the disciplinary protocols.
Cruz considered appealing his 50-game suspension if only to remain in the lineup for Texas down the stretch. However, he was told he might be facing a 100-game ban otherwise (a threat he did not regard very seriously) and then, as the days dwindled before the Monday deadline, found out if he did appeal he would be in the company of only Alex Rodriguez as the only players linked to Biogenesis who did not accept their suspension.
Cruz gave what one team source called a "tearful" goodbye to his teammates upon his suspension. Though the rules allow it, Cruz will not work out with the team. Next month he is likely to take live batting practice against Rangers pitchers recovering from injuries and play in simulated games or Instructional League games at the team's Arizona training complex.
Because Cruz was suspended with 50 games remaining, the first game he would be eligible to play in would be a postseason game if Texas qualifies. In the meantime, the Rangers are remaking themselves into a team that runs the bases and relies on a deep, power bullpen. Manager Ron Washington will rotate Jurickson Profar, Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler through the middle infield positions as well as DH, where third baseman Adrian Belte also will get one or two starts a week to help keep his hamstrings fresh. Texas has no interest in trading for the White Sox' Adam Dunn, who is regarded as a low-energy player with no defensive attributes, a profile that runs counter to the personality the club has adopted. (On Friday afternoon, Texas worked out a trade with the White Sox for Alex Rios.)
If the Rangers do get into the postseason, it will mean Texas is playing well and that forcing Cruz back into the mix after two months off could carry some risk to that momentum. However, Cruz also can be a difference maker, as he was when he was the MVP of the 2011 ALCS -- and that after missing most of September with an injury.
Like Cruz, Peralta is respected in his clubhouse and his return would not upset the Tigers. However, Detroit may find that it is a better team with Jose Iglesias at shortstop.
"Their pitchers will find out what a difference he makes," said one GM. "Detroit may be the best team in the league, but their one Achilles' heel is their defense. Iglesias immediately makes them better there."
Also, let's be careful how many bouquets we throw the way of the suspended players for being "good guys" who "owned up" to their "mistake." (Covert doping takes sophisticated planning and guile.)
Cruz said he took PEDs because he lost 40 pounds before spring training due to a gastrointestinal disorder. But the logbooks of Biogenesis director Anthony Bosch published by the Miami New Times referred to $4,000 in drugs Cruz purchased over months. The report said Bosch wrote once in reference to Cruz, "Need to call him, go Thurs to Texas, take meds from April 5-May 5, will owe him troches [oral lozenges] and ... and will infuse them in May."
There was a notation about Bosch seeing Cruz in Baltimore in May when Cruz was hitting .216; Cruz hit .500 over the next week. Bosch later made a notation about Cruz on May 29 that included his triple crown statistics at the time: .276, 7, 34.
As for Peralta, this is the statement he issued through his attorney after SI broke the news in February he was included in the Biogenesis investigation: "I have never used performance enhancing drugs. Period. Anybody who says otherwise is lying."
2. Teheran proving worth the wait for Braves
Julio Teheran was once the darling of the Braves' system. He was such a prodigy that he is one of only 18 pitchers in the past decade to start a Major League Game at the age of 20 or younger -- doing so in 2010. But minor injuries and mechanical flaws set him back a bit, and when he didn't make the team last year out of spring training, Teheran regressed to a pitcher with a 5.08 ERA and command issues in Triple A.
"One thing we did worry about was what would happen if he repeated Triple-A," said general manager Frank Wren. "He seemed to just try to throw harder, and the results weren't great."
After the trading deadline passed, Wren took one his top scouts, Dom Chiti, off the road and assigned him specifically to shadow Teheran for the remainder of the Triple-A season and in the Dominican winter league. Chiti, a pitching guru, was familiar with Teheran's mechanics since the Braves signed the righthander at age 16. While in the Dominican, Chiti and the Braves instructors introduced a sinker to Teheran, who largely had been trying to throw his high-90s four-seamer past hitters. Teheran immediately took to the pitch, and in spring training posted the lowest ERA of any National League starter.
Following three so-so starts to begin this season, Teheran is 9-5 with a 2.38 ERA in 19 starts with almost five times as many strikeouts (109) as walks (23). He has been throwing strikes on 68 percent of his pitches in that span, a very impressive rate. The sinker has made the biggest difference in his game, especially because Teheran no longer is blowing his four-seam fastball in the upper 90s, but rather at 93-94.
"We think the velocity will come back," Wren said. "It's mostly a function of pitching winter ball. Once you see a young pitcher consistently touch 96, 97, 98, you know it's still there, especially as he begins to fill out. We're very happy with the way he's throwing the ball."
Teheran may have been labeled a disappointment too quickly in a larger market. But in Atlanta, he has become a prime example of the power of patience. It is not such a rare story that sometimes a prospect has to go backward before he goes forward.
3. Collision course for change
Dioner Navarro is not a star and he did not break his leg, so nobody paid much mind to the Cubs catcher getting blasted when the Phillies' Chase Utley ran into him at the plate Wednesday. Apparently it is true that we need to have another star player go down with a mangled leg, like Buster Posey in 2011, to have a real conversation about protecting catchers and runners from the most senseless play in baseball, the home plate collision.
I wrote about the need for change in April when another low-profile catcher, Cleveland's Lou Marson, was lucky enough to escape a violent collision without a major injury. Marson did go on the DL with a strained neck, but only after the Indians let him remain in the game after Desmond Jennings of Tampa Bay trucked him.
The game somehow is beautiful enough on every amateur level without home plate collisions. The NCAA has a great rule outlawing collisions: a runner has to make an attempt to score, not to attempt to separate the baseball from the catcher -- and "contact above the waist that was initiated by the runner" is not considered an attempt to score.
Catchers play their entire lives making plays at the plate without collisions but when they turn pro they have to learn the "art" of absorbing body blows. Ray Fosse, Bobby Wilson and Brett Hayes had their careers ruined by runners plowing into them. Posey, Carlos Santana and Yadier Molina all suffered significant injuries that should have been avoidable.
I will repeat: You can't just intentionally plow into a fielder above the waist at first, second or third base, so why are we allowing it at home? (Catchers' equipment is designed to deflect baseballs, not 210-pound speeding runners.) Please don't wait for the next star to go down.