All posts by Mitchell Gatzke

You See a PED Cheat. I See a Gigantic Loophole.

If you’re mad at individual players for using PEDs, you’re missing the point and misplacing your anger. Focus on the penalty, or lack thereof, not the perpetrators.
Even on the off chance a guy gets caught, he only has to serve an 80-game suspension. And if he’s dumb enough to get caught twice he gets slapped with a season-long ban. That’s a 162 game, summer-long break that could actually rejuvenate a baseball player during a strenuous career.

[RELATED: You See Nelson Cruz, 20+ HR Guy. I See a PED Cheat. ~ From Matt Kline]

It really is, “3 Strikes and you’re out,” according Major League Baseball’s Performance Enhancing Drug Policy. Now to be clear, the Major League Baseball Players Association also helped shape these rules for repercussions, agreeing to them in a joint effort with MLB. A lifetime ban from the game is the result of being caught thrice. I think that’s one too many chances.

As Dunder Mifflin Regional Manager Michael Scott once mistakenly said, “You know what they say: fool me once, strike one. Fool me twice… strike three.” That’s obviously not the way the old cliché goes, but I think it’s appropriate in these cases.

There’s a difference between Ryan Braun, who lied about not taking PEDs yet ended up testing positive again later, and the other guys who have tested positive and served the suspension that was handed to them. Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, Jhonny Peralta and many others have all served their time and since come back to slightly decreased numbers, but still solid Big League production.

You can’t blame these ultracompetitive guys for taking something they think might give them the extra edge they think they need. On more occasions than not (at least according to the players), the banned substances are hidden in seemingly normal supplements that they try out. And you can’t fully understand how confusing proper supplement taking can be unless you’ve recently looked at the ingredients on the bottles in GNC.

Home run totals are down anyway.

Barring crazy breakout seasons from Chris Davis last year and Jose Bautista in 2010, nobody has hit 50+ dingers since Prince Fielder and twice caught PED-user Alex Rodriguez did it back in 2007.

I’m sure a lot fewer guys are using PEDs and not being found out too. Just think how many sluggers of the 90s were never caught. Plenty of guys were successful yet overshadowed by the spectacle of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa going head-to-head with each other repeatedly while they played in the same division.
You honestly think anyone who really cares doesn’t already know who’s tested positive for PEDs? I certainly hope each and every GM in MLB would know something so important when making a decision on a player.

Singling players out in the field is silly. And in a city like Detroit where our team has maintained a consistent classic look for decades, the proposition of sewing on distracting extra letters to individual players would be considered more a defilement of art than any sort of justice. Of course, you’ll needlessly embarrass countless fathers who take their curious youngsters out to the ballparks but can’t field their questions about the strange letters only one or two players have all over them.

Again, the real issue is with the penalization, not the players. If you want to punish the guilty players, that’s fine. I’m all for that, but let’s do it in the right way. Kick them out immediately after they are proven cheaters. If they weren’t worthy of a second chance, why give them a third?

Tigers Rough Slide Continues as BoSox Come to Town

Two and a half weeks ago, the Detroit Tigers looked as close to unbeatable as it gets in baseball and appeared to be running away with the American League Central division. Now the club finds itself stuck in one of those ruts where almost nothing goes your way.
The Tigers are a miserable 4-13 since sweeping the Orioles and Red Sox on the road three weeks ago. They have been swept out of Cleveland, dropped three of four to Texas at home, split a four-game set in Oakland, salvaged just one in Seattle, and returned home in time to face the scorching hot Toronto Blue Jays.

Toronto left town the same way they came in, the hottest team in baseball. The Tigers meanwhile, are left with a 14-14 record at Comerica Park this season. While playing .500 baseball at home makes it immensely difficult for a club to make the postseason, suffering a sweep at home might be the wakeup call Detroit needs, for both players and fans.

The first and most important lesson there is to learn about this year’s Tigers team is that they will go as far as the starting pitchers take them. A rotation that is frequently referred to as the best in the game right now needs to pitch like it and lead the way. With the offense struggling and the bullpen woes fully documented, it’s up to the starters to get the team back on the winning track.

Anibal Sanchez is currently the one player on the roster playing to his potential. He’s been lights out in his last three outings. In a combined 22.1 innings pitched he has surrendered 3 earned runs on only 10 hits, and 1 walk, while striking out 19. These numbers should be good enough to get a pitcher a win in each of the three ballgames, he’s gotten two no decisions instead.

The Tigers started their season on a 27-12 tear. The starters’ earned run average during that stretch was 2.64. Yet, during the current 4-13 skid that number has ballooned to 6.01 (7.33 excluding Sanchez). Yikes.

Certain things simply cannot happen if you want your team to make a postseason push. Your team can’t make a habit of losing series to weaker teams who don’t even get to throw their ace at you. Without taking anything away from the Seattle Mariners, they’re a team the Tigers should have been able to take two from, especially considering Felix Hernandez didn’t make a start during the visit.
Your closer can’t strike fear in everyone who’s wearing your team’s colors. He’s supposed to scare the other guys. The closer role has been the achilles heel for the Tigers for years now and Joe Nathan has not yet shown he can be the guy to reverse the trend of shaky ninth innings.

A 2-5 record since Nathan’s blown save last Wednesday in Oakland means I was unfortunately right about the heartbreaker having a lasting effect. One of the five losses, the opening game against Toronto, did nothing to ease the late-inning worries. Nathan came into a scoreless ballgame in the ninth only to give up 2 hits, walk 2 more, and surrender 4 runs. That rally propelled the Blue Jays to a 5-3 victory which set the tone for the remainder of the series.

Now the Boston Red Sox come to Detroit for a weekend series, fresh off of being swept out of Cleveland. They’ve been streaky as of late, but if there’s one team in the league that can exploit the opposition’s bullpen and shut down a lineup with theirs, it’s the Red Sox. If the starters go deep into games the Tigers should be right where they need to be. If not, it could be a long weekend with the Sox before having to meet each team in the Central over the next couple of weeks.

The Tigers are alright for now despite playing some awful baseball recently. However, if the bleeding doesn’t stop very soon the upcoming slate of games could mean that it’s time to amputate.

Joe Nathan's Blown Save a Big One at a Bad Time

West Coast road trips are hard enough to endure during a baseball season. That’s without your veteran closer blowing a save by giving up a game winning blast on his sixth pitch of the night, after coming in with one out in the ninth already. Joe Nathan just made the Detroit Tigers’ week-long, two-city tour that much longer.

The Tigers had lost 7 of their last 9 coming into Wednesday. The list of defeats during the skid includes a sweep in Cleveland, dropping 3 of 4 at home to Texas, and then the opener in Oakland. In those nine games the Tigers were outscored by a combined thirty six runs. Their opponents putting up sixty seven runs to their measly thirty one.

This loss meant the masterpiece of a game that Anibal Sanchez threw was wasted. His outing was the best from a Detroit starting pitcher in a week and a half, the only other decent one coming in Sanchez’s previous start. If there’s one positive thing about the Tigers right now, it’s the way Sanchez is pitching even coming back from minor injuries on a couple separate occasions.

There are turning points in each club’s summer-long journey through a Major League Baseball season. It’s easy to see how this loss could be one.

When your ball club loses the opener of any road trip 10-0 that is deflating. To have the guys come back to win a great game the next night is inflating. The obvious absolute last thing you want to happen the following night is to surrender the lead on the last pitch of the contest despite leading the whole way.

Lucky for the Tigers this is a four-game series. First of all, that would have been a miserable way to end a series and board a flight for Seattle. Also, Oakland being a potential postseason opponent, it would be great to tie up the season series at two before the Athletics come to town for a three game set the first week of July. Things like that don’t matter much, but I do think the players take notice of who plays tough against them or consistently beats them.

No loss in May will cripple a team’s season, but one like the Tigers suffered on Wednesday night sure hurts. I’m not saying Nathan’s blown save will send the team into a massive downward spiral for the rest of the summer. This was however they type of loss that can have an effect on a team’s psyche for a week or two. Even if it does, we won’t know for sure because the players likely won’t admit it. And if the team starts to win again, which I’m sure they will, it’ll all be a non-issue.

Detroit Red Wings 2014 Off-Season pt. 3

Part one was a rundown of how the past season turned out, and the beginning of the problem identification phase. Part two elaborated on those problems and offered a glimpse at how they could be fixed. Now for part three I will go over my proposed moves, and list some backup plans in case the top targets are somehow unattainable.

The Wings have an open spot on their roster that needs to be filled by a guy who can play on the top forward line and fill up the net while doing it. Sure it would be fun to go out and sign Marian Gaborik, but I highly doubt that can happen. First off he’ll want a deal spanning too many years with too much money. Secondly Gaborik, with the flash and all the publicity, isn’t exactly the type of player Detroit goes after.

A more viable, and ultimately better, option in my opinion would be Ales Hemsky. He’s been in the NHL since the 02-03 season, but participated in the playoffs just twice. Unfortunately for him he was stuck in Edmonton for ten years. Hemsky has also been a mainstay on the Czech Republic national team throughout his career. He was paid $5.5 million this past season and $4.5 the year before. He’ll be thirty-one years old by the start of the new season. All these factors taken into account, I could see a simple 4-year deal worth around $20 million total pleasing both sides.

Defensively, it’s no secret that the Red Wings could use a bit of help. They need to stabilize the back end, and add a scorer who can blast slapshots from the points on the power play. Matt Niskanen might very well be the guy to do the job.

The twenty-seven year old is coming off the best season of his career. That means the numbers on his new deal will most likely end up being bigger than they should be. I’d throw about $30 million over 5 or 6 years at him and see if he bites the bait. If others offer more money, I’d have to think about whether or not to match their offers.

The development of Petr Mrazek has been quite promising. It’s looking like he can, and will be given a chance to, backup Jimmy Howard next year. This obviously means the Wings need not pursue a second string netminder.

Right wing Ryan Callahan is also a free agent, and would be a great addition to Detroit’s top line. He was dealt from the Rangers to the Lightning as a part of the Martin St. Louis trade. This probably means Tampa Bay will do all they can to resign him long-term. If they don’t, Detroit would be a great landing place for the gritty veteran.
A couple backup plans for Niskanen might be Dan Boyle and Andrei Markov. Both are now in their upper thirties, certainly entering the decline phase of their careers.

However, a look at the point totals tells their stories. They contribute. Neither will be the elite defenseman that they might have been years ago, but they score and help others do the same. And that’s what the Wings need more than anything heading forward.

Red Wings owner Mike Illitch is growing old quickly. He has been dumping money into the Detroit Tigers for the past few seasons as he chases an elusive World Series championship. He’s got a couple Stanley Cups already, but this off-season is a great opportunity for Mr. Illitch to take the same approach with his hockey team. The moves made in the next few weeks will tell us how badly the owner wants to add another Cup to his collection.

Detroit Red Wings 2014 Off-Season Pt. 2

In Detroit Red Wings 2014 Off-Season Part 1,  I revealed some of the Detroit Red Wings current weaknesses entering the 2013-14 off-season. Now in part two, I will describe how I would go about addressing those issues. I hope General Manager Ken Holland is reading.

Veterans David Legwand, Daniel Alfredsson, Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Clearly, Kyle Quincey, and Jonas Gustavsson are unrestricted free agents with their contracts now expired. So which guys get to come back and which ones will have to move on?
Well, I’d be surprised if Legwand doesn’t return to Detroit. He grew up in the area, played great at the end of the season, and I don’t think the Wings would have traded for him if they weren’t interested in signing him to a long-term deal. However, center is the deepest position for the Red Wings so there may not be enough room for him.

Alfredsson may leave town as he continues his chase for the Cup that’s eluded him his entire career. Bertuzzi, although a nice guy to have around because of his experience, might be reaching the final year or two of his playing career. Therefore, I’m not sure he’s a candidate for re-signing.

Clearly is aging quickly. His numbers have significantly fallen each of the past four seasons and I think his time in Detroit is done. Quincey should go too, for his sake and the Wings’. Gustavsson could very easily find himself starting somewhere next year after filling in nicely for Jimmy Howard periodically throughout the season.

Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, and Danny DeKeyser are also free agents, restricted because their rookie deals have expired. These guys need to be brought back for a few more years. They’ve all shown they can and should be a part of the Wings’ young core.

Once everyone who wore the jersey is taken care of, then it’s time to look for guys to add. The list of free agents on the market this off-season is packed full of players who could help in addressing the holes on the roster.

Due to continued good business, the Red Wings have nearly $20 million in cap space entering this off-season. This allows two things: offering players higher salaries, and writing about this without much attention to exact numbers. Assuming the proposed moves above are made, the Wings still have a couple needs to address. They could really use another scorer at right wing to play with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on the top forward line, and a defenseman to play with Niklas Kronwall on the top defensive pairing.

I think the two guys the Wings should pursue the hardest this off-season are Ales Hemsky and Matt Niskanen. Hemsky’s career has been up and down for the most part, but much of that has to do with his being trapped in Edmonton where he was expected to be the team’s scoring leader. Finally he was moved at the deadline to Ottawa this past year. He played twenty games with the Senators, and registered seventeen points. Hemsky finished the season with a combined thirteen goals and thirty assists. Even though these numbers don’t jump out at you, he would have still ranked toward the top in both categories on the Red Wings.

Niskanen might be more of a stretch to sign. He’s coming off a breakout season with career highs in goals, assists, and obviously points. There will be plenty of teams bidding for his services and the price will be high. If he comes to Detroit though, he and Kronwall could be lethal together on the blue line. Of course, chances are things don’t go exactly according to plan. That’s when it’s helpful to have backup plans. For my “Plan-B” signing ideas, look for part three of this series sometime next week. Until then, enjoy the Conference Finals.

Detroit Red Wings 2014 Off-Season Pt. 1

The good news coming out of the Detroit Red Wings 2013-14 season is they made the playoffs, which extended their playoff appearance streak to twenty three consecutive seasons.  Unfortunately the appearance wasn’t much more than that, and the Wings were ousted in five games by the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Boston Bruins.

It’s fair to say that without some of the younger players stepping up, the Red Wings would not have been able to overcome the injury bug that seems to bite hard each season.  Breakout seasons from Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan, and Tomas Jurco eased the pressure which was mounting due to Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and Jonathan Ericsson all playing less than fifty games this season.

One issue with the team is the sporadic scoring.  Some of the team’s top scorers seem not to have any impact on games for weeks on end.  No player is accused of this more than Johan Franzen.  “The Mule,” as he is affectionately known in Detroit, can be one of the league’s most dangerous scorers when playing well.  However, he’s been known to fall into lengthy scoring droughts.  There are other guys underperforming, but not many of them are getting paid the $5 million Franzen got last year and will get next.  Some think he could be replaced, and for a cheaper price.  It’s becoming difficult for me to disagree.

The real questions that remain for the Wings exist on the blue line.  It’s time to question whether Niklas Kronwall can be the anchor of the defense.  He’s played well and no one can be expected to fill the skates Nicklas Lidstrom hung up a couple years ago, but there might be someone who’s a better fit out there. Fellow defenseman Brendan Smith was bullied by the Bruins skaters like I have never seen before in a Stanley Cup Playoff series.  Too frequently he looked like he was lost on the ice and didn’t belong out there.  It made me seriously wonder if Smith can be a top four defensemen for Detroit.

Last off-season Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland did more of a pencil dive than a cannonball into the free agency pool.  Signing Daniel Alfredsson for a season and inking a five-year deal with Stephen Weiss (who played just 26 games this season) were the only real moves made.  Cap space limitations were a driving force behind the lack of expected big moves.  Without getting into specifics, Holland should have roughly $20 million to play with this off-season.

Before looking into the players around the league who are becoming available, teams normally try to take care of the ones on their roster whose deals are expiring or already expired.  Veterans David Legwand, Daniel Alfredsson, Todd Bertuzzi, Kyle Quincey, and Jonas Gustavsson are unrestricted free agents with their contracts now expired.  Tatar, Sheahan, and Danny DeKeyser are also free agents, restricted because their rookie deals have expired.

So which guys get to come back and which ones will have to move on?  Everyone has their own opinion on that.  Next week, I’ll reveal the moves I would make during the off-season if I was the General Manager.  In the meantime, enjoy the Stanley Cup Playoff action.