In Defense of Cheating Major League Baseball

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Fox Sports

Padres General Manager and Vice President of Baseball Operations, A.J. Preller, was suspended 30 days without pay by MLB on Thursday, “following an investigation into his trade of left-hander Drew Pomeranz to the Red Sox,” according to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.

Per the original Buster Olney article on ESPN dot com:

Padres officials instructed their organization’s athletic trainers to maintain two distinct files of medical information on their players: one for industry consumption and the other for internal use, multiple sources told ESPN.

Trainers were told in meetings during spring training that the distinction was meant to better position the team for trades, according to two sources with direct knowledge of what was said.

This is real cloak-and-dagger shit. Basically Preller, the leader and golden boy of the San Diego Padres front office, actively sought a competitive advantage by withholding medical information from other clubs.

A.J. played it as well as he could have with the press, opting to go the “young and inexperienced GM” route:

“I want to emphasize that there was no malicious intent on the part of me, or anyone on my staff, to conceal information or disregard MLB’s recommended guidelines… This has been a learning process for me.”

There are some important consequences to consider with A.J. Preller. Aside the fact that he’s suspended for 30 days without pay, which is real money for a GM, it’s fairly obvious that other MLB general managers aren’t going to line up to discuss trades with Preller in the future. Remember in July, the Marlins acquired RHP Colin Rea from San Diego and he had to leave his first start with an arm injury. Out of good faith A.J. Preller reacquired Rea and returned a prospect to Miami, but the damage had already been done.

Olney notes the Red Sox, Marlins, White Sox, and at least one other team “reached out to the commissioner’s office with a complaint.” That’s 13% of the league, and that’s only that we know of.

Now for bias: I am a huge A.J. Preller fan. Before becoming GM of the Padres he worked in the Rangers front office as the head of international operations, and was suspended in 2010 for shady dealings in Latin America, where Preller originally found his calling card, and where he made himself a target for other MLB organizations.

Jason Parks, the former lead prospect writer for Baseball Prospectus who is now a scout for the Chicago Cubs, wrote this in 2012 of the Rangers international powerhouse under Preller (emphasis mine):

The past indiscretions I speak of might have happen [sic], or they might not have happened, and I’m not in a position to comment with any authority on the validity of the claims. Director of Player Personnel AJ Preller is often the leading man in these industry whispers, and he’s been under the microscope for several years in the market for behavior that some teams have taken vocal offense to. (And trust me, when I say vocal, I mean a full choir in a big room with fantastic acoustics.) From the Ynoa signing by the A’s, to the Guillermo Pimentel signing by the Mariners, to [Jurickson] Profar, to Leonys Martin, to [Nomar] Mazara, to [Jairo] Beras, the Rangers are the dirty word on the page labeled Latin American process, and it has created an ugly cloud around the organization, giving them the label of unscrupulous giants in a region stacked to the ceiling with unscrupulous dealings.

The prolonged investigation by Major League baseball into the Beras situation was a punitive measure to remind the Rangers that you can’t always win, and that when you piss off powerful teams and powerful people, you eventually have to pay the tolls. The market is corrupt, and the Rangers aren’t saints and they know how to play the game. But they’ve been winning the game, and teams like the Yankees (among others) don’t like losing the game. Unfortunately, the rest of the league didn’t get their wish; yes, the Rangers had to sit out the J2 rush, missing on several targets because of the nebulous Beras situation, but the signing was eventually approved and the organization were able to secure the best player on the market in recent memory. The secondary punishment is a yearlong game ban, preventing Beras from playing in league accepted game action until next July, but that will hardly temper his development. The Rangers come out ahead, yet again. You can actually see the disdain on the faces of some teams around the league.

A.J. Preller is not clean, and naturally his competitors aren’t in favor of an uneven playing field. Since the very beginning, or at least since some point when he was in the Rangers organization, Preller broke bad. He became baseball’s version of a dirty cop, or cooked lawyer.

If you pay any kind of consistent attention to this blog, you know I stand contrary to most fans with my view on performance enhancing drugs, for instance. I believe, before steroids were being tested for, roughly 80% of baseball players were using them in some form. And so, in turn, I think singling out guys like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens for the crime of being record-breaking good is kind of retarded.

But that is to suggest Major League Baseball was ever “clean” or “pure” in the first place. In the 50’s and 60’s players were using amphetamines at an alarming rate, but this was decades before any drug testing program; it was, begrudgingly, the last major sport to integrate black players; it’s also been subject to a gambling scandal during a World Series.

Nothing about baseball has ever been pure. So to expect, in 2016, for every player or front office member to be a choir boy is simply farfetched. Each sport has its baggage, but baseball in particular — where even the slightest competitive advantage can be the difference in winning games, or making an appearance in the playoffs — seems geared towards minds who look to exploit market inefficiencies.

Tim Flannery wrote a long, rather unlettered note on Twitter last night, but the crudeness of the writing almost makes it feel more authentic:

We can argue about the “sacred game” that goes through illegal back channels to convict players of PED use, but that also allows rapists and woman-beaters to play, for another day. What’s interesting is what A.J. Preller did was a fireable offense, and a major part of me is surprised that he wasn’t.

Since he did not lose his job, it makes me think the Padres ownership believes something along the lines of what I’ve tried to explain over the course of this article: A.J. Preller is really good at what he does. So the Padres either don’t care about what he did, or they decided that being without Preller makes them worse off than if he was there.

Baseball front offices are a fraternity. Had A.J. been let go, he would have been snatched back up by the Rangers, or probably a dozen other franchises that want their hands on the information Preller possesses. Which would be a totally reasonable business decision.

This is the first scandal in MLB since a 2015 investigation into the Cardinals hacking proprietary information from the Astros, but it really makes you wonder: What really goes down in baseball front offices? We know about the hacking scandal, and we now know Preller withheld medical information. But that’s just what we know.

I would like to be naïve and think the playing field is 100% even, that MLB front offices don’t try to bend the language of the rules. But then again, I don’t. Because being naïve is stupid.

There is so much we don’t know. And while that is neither a defense for what Preller did, nor tacit approval for breaking the rules at all costs, it is to suggest that if you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying. A.J. Preller is not the only general manager doing sketchy shit.

 

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