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Baseball Notes

Clemens’s reputation goes on trial this week

By Nick Cafardo
July 3, 2011

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To this day, many of his friends remain loyal to Roger Clemens.

“Roger has always maintained that he never took steroids. He insists he didn’t and that when all is said and done, he’ll prove it,’’ said one of his Boston-area friends, who remains in close contact with the former Red Sox great. “Until I have reason to think otherwise I will believe him and root for him every step of the way. He’s done so much good for people that it makes me upset to think he has to go through this.’’

Clemens, who still makes his main residence in Houston, will begin defense of his reputation in US District Court in Washington starting Wednesday. Congress indicted Clemens on perjury charges, claiming he lied at hearings in 2008 when he testified that he had never taken steroids or human growth hormone.

Reputation may not be Clemens’s only concern. He is also facing a possible prison sentence if convicted.

A common discussion among baseball people is that the government is wasting its time and money going after a professional athlete over these charges, and that Clemens is being made an example of since so many other baseball players have skated without punishment.

That aspect is the part that appears most unfair to some baseball people, though granted, those players who got away with taking performance-enhancing drugs didn’t testify under oath before Congress, as did Clemens.

The government is using the platform to make two major points - that you don’t lie to Congress under oath, and that public scrutiny of the case will further dissuade and perhaps put an end to PEDs in all sports and for youngsters thinking about using them.

Whether Clemens, one of 85 players mentioned in the Mitchell Report, took them doesn’t change the fact that he was a Hall of Fame talent.

All you had to do was watch him. Same holds true for Barry Bonds, who was one of the best hitters of our lifetime. Same for Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader, who has not gotten into the Hall because he bet on baseball.

There’s a school of thought that their entire careers were enhanced and their numbers should not count heavily in Hall consideration, but if you also think that a majority of players took steroids in this era - which spanned from circa 1988-2003 - then you must also agree that the playing field was fair.

If you believe steroid use wasn’t as rampant as that, and that it was confined to a select few, then your case that Clemens’s or Bonds’s inflated numbers should never be heralded for entrance into Cooperstown has merit.

The steroid users caught by Mitchell investigators - mostly as a result of testimony by Brian McNamee and former Mets clubhouse employee Kirk Radomski - played during a time when there were no penalties or consequences for such activity. It wasn’t until the Players Association and Major League Baseball made a deal that if there were more than 5 percent positive tests from a random 2003 testing, punishment would take effect the following season.

The random testing produced more than 100 positive tests, and a strict policy and penalties were implemented in 2004. Players who tested positive after the policy was in place - Manny Ramirez (twice) and Rafael Palmeiro - will likely never get into the Hall of Fame despite outstanding numbers.

The main source for Clemens’s problems is his former trainer, McNamee, who supplied George Mitchell with information about Clemens and avoided prison time by squealing on his former friend. Clemens’s defense team sees McNamee’s questionable reputation as a possible launching point for acquittal.

McNamee has said that he injected Clemens with steroids and HGH in 1998, 2000, and 2001. Clemens’s attorneys are expected to ask Mitchell to testify and grill him on how he and his investigators questioned the witnesses who came forward. The defense will try to discredit McNamee’s information, which pointed the finger at Clemens and led to him being named 82 times in the Mitchell Report. The prosecution is likely to call several players who have admitted to PED use, including Clemens’s longtime friend, Andy Pettitte, who is retired from baseball. Pettitte admitted to HGH use and apologized publicly. According to the Associated Press, there’s also one player who will testify who made the decision not to take PEDs.

The Clemens legal team, led by Rusty Hardin, is also expected to go after Jeff Novitzky, the special agent of the Food and Drug Administration who got McNamee to become a government witness. Novitzky has also led the charge on the Lance Armstrong front, trying to prove that the cycling star also took steroids.

What this proceeding will do is confirm whether Clemens is indeed the Texas Con Man, as the late Will McDonough portrayed him even before allegations of steroid use. The best Clemens can hope for is that his lawyers can maneuver him out of this predicament.

It’s too bad, because in the 13 years this reporter covered Clemens’s career, the pure talent, drive, desire, and insatiable appetite he had to be great was off the charts. But his reputation will never be shiny again.

TIME RUNNING SHORT
Dodgers close to seller mode All indications from Dodgers baseball operations sources are that the team will wait about two weeks and then begin selling off players. The Dodgers are waiting to see whether they come out of their malaise and turn things around, but the reality is the Dodgers will be sellers very shortly, capping a horrible year.

Dodgers scouts have been told to begin gathering lists of prospects from other teams who would be the most desirable for some of their veteran players.

Those who work there just shake their heads about how badly things have gone, not only due to the ownership mess, but the performance on the field. It’s an awfully tough position to have put Don Mattingly, but the rookie manager has begun to get better strategically with more experience. Much of his time has been spent having to answer questions about the latest Frank McCourt saga, and none of it has been pleasant.

It doesn’t appear the Dodgers would sell off Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, or James Loney, but the players who are available would include pitchers Hiroki Kuroda, Jon Garland, Ted Lilly, utililtymen Casey Blake and Jamey Carroll, and when and if he returns from the disabled list, closer Jonathan Broxton.

The player who might get the most attention is the 37-year-old Carroll, who is having a very good season (.301 with a .372 OBP) and can play multiple positions.

“There are several teams who could use a player with his versatility and one who can give you some offensive boost as well,’’ said one prominent American League pro scout, who believes the Dodgers should have a wide selection of solid return packages available for Carroll, who might be a good fit for the Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies, Giants, or Braves.

As for the bigger names, the feeling is Dodgers fans would rebel if some of their star players were sold off and would like to see the organization make a commitment to re-sign Ethier, for instance, who can become a free agent after next season.

There have already been reports of the Indians being interested in reacquiring Blake to share the load at third base, though they recently pulled the plug on the Jack Hannahan experiment and went with rookie Lonnie Chisenhall.

With Garland (currently on the DL with shoulder soreness) and Kuroda, AL teams are trying to evaluate whether they could thrive in the junior circuit. Lilly is more of a proven commodity in the AL.

CENTER OF ATTENTION
Reyes’s future a red-hot topic Jose Reyes has become the most talked-about player in baseball.

Executives are split over the will-they, won’t-they aspect of whether the Mets will deal Reyes, who is arguably the NL’s best player this season. Reyes, who will become a free agent at the end of the season, and the Mets have valid positions in negotiations and they are likely the same issues general manager Sandy Alderson and his staff will discuss in the weeks to come.

“It’s the most positive time for the Mets in months,’’ said one AL assistant GM. “They have taken a beating in the media and Reyes has given them hope and some life to the point where they feel they’re not out of the race for the playoffs. I would be surprised to see him dealt.’’

Said one NL scout, “Bottom line is, can they afford him? This is what those of us on the outside don’t know. We hear about their finances not being very good, but can they risk losing their best player? I think when the time comes, they’ll do it because they have to.’’

“Sandy Alderson won’t be swayed by public or media opinion,’’ said one AL scout, who is a former GM. “He’ll try to make the best deal possible. [Reyes has] had a great year, but do you trust he will remain that way and not revert back to a guy who didn’t always give it max effort or the guy who would pout and miss time over injuries? He’s an electric player, but a long-term deal for him at Carl Crawford-type money would scare me.’’

General managers have to move cautiously with Reyes, because even though he is 28 and entering his prime, he has an injury history. In fact, he left yesterday’s game against the Yankees because of a tight left hamstring. The smart ones know that he’s in his contract year and there are endless examples of GMs being duped by this.

Mets owner Fred Wilpon may not be correct in his assessment earlier this season that Reyes would not get Crawford money. In fact, he might get more. Reyes is a year younger than Crawford and plays a premium position. Think about it. There aren’t too many “total packages’’ at shortstop. Reyes is certainly one of them, and may be the elite one.

ETC.
Apropos of nothing 1. Wonder how Manny Ramirez is spending the $2 million deferred payment the Red Sox made to him on Friday and will make every July 1 until the year 2026?; 2. If you missed it, Sox seventh-rounder Cody Kukuk would be the eighth palindrome if he makes it to the big leagues. The last Red Sox was Johnny Reder in 1932; 3. Applause to the Lowell Spinners for their great promotion last week when they broke the world record for simultaneous flossing - 3,014 people; 4. How did Jose Lopez’s career sink so fast?; 5. Marco Scutaro is one tough, gritty hombre who plays through a lot of pain.

Updates on nine 1. Vladimir Guerrero, DH, Orioles - Any time an older player gets into a slump, there’s always the thought that his career might be coming to an end. Guerrero hasn’t been very productive with a soft .280 average, a low .310 OBP, and .381 slugging percentage. He’s also been a disaster with runners in scoring position (14 for 63) and he’s hit into five double plays. Guerrero is tricky in that late in his career he’s had uneven performances. His swing is so unorthodox and can look so bad, but he’s tough to evaluate because to can turn the other way so quickly.

2. J.J. Hardy, SS, Orioles - Between now and the trade deadline, the Orioles will try to get a read on whether they can sign the 28-year-old to an extension. If they feel they can’t, don’t be surprised if he’s used as a major trade chip. Hardy, with a .903 OPS, has been a consistent performer, an infielder capable of hitting for power. He’d be less costly than Jose Reyes. The Reds, Giants, Brewers, and possibly Red Sox could be interested parties in the righthanded bat.

3. Brandon Beachy, RHP, Braves - His success (20 strikeouts, two earned runs in his last 12 innings) since returning from the disabled list may accelerate a possible deal to improve the Braves’ offense. Whether Beachy would be trade bait is anyone’s guess, but his emergence could make a veteran such as Derek Lowe available. The White Sox recently sent Dave Yokum, their fine assistant general manager/pro scout, to watch Beachy and Braves’ pitching, so we’ll see if there’s any match, and whether the White Sox would ever consider dealing Carlos Quentin.

4. Wandy Rodriguez, LHP, Astros - It’s no secret that he is being watched closely by the Yankees, who have sent a few people to watch some of his starts, including pro scout Tim Naehring, who just watched him pitch a shutout. While Rodriguez’s performance has been up and down, he shows signs of consistency that could land the Astros a bonanza at the deadline. Brett Myers also remains on the Yankees’ radar, but Myers has not had a very good season.

5. Erik Bedard, LHP, Mariners - Until he recently went on the disabled list with a left knee sprain, Bedard had pitched extremely well. He’s a tough guy to commit to because of his numerous injuries, but he could be the one the Mariners deal to bring some much-needed offense. The Mariners had scored three or fewer runs in 16 of their last 22 games entering the weekend. Bedard has made 15 starts and is 5-3 with a 2.82 ERA (1.111 WHIP).

6. Jeff Francoeur, OF, Royals - The reason he makes some sense for the Red Sox is that he’s a terrific right fielder with a strong arm. In fact, the Royals’ outfield of Francoeur, Alex Gordon, and Melky Cabrera leads the league with 31 assists, 17 on plays at the plate. Francoeur has hit lefties well this season (.333, 1.006 OPS) and shows some power. While Francoeur strikes out a lot (62 in 303 at-bats), a Francoeur-J.D. Drew platoon might yield some production.

7. Scott Baker, RHP, Twins - The Twins’ streaky season has them frozen on which way to turn with their trading deadline strategy. They had been on a great run until recently when they lost six out of 10. There are teams that would love to get their hands on Baker, who is 6-5 with a 3.15 ERA and who has seen five leads blown by his bullpen. But the likelihood is the Twins would deal Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano first.

8. Lance Berkman, OF, Cardinals - GM John Mozeliak and Tony LaRussa should receive major kudos for believing Berkman could be an effective middle-of-the-order hitter again and that he could play right field. Berkman never really recovered from knee surgery last season and was limited with the Astros and Yankees. While his average went down about 40 points in June to .296, he’s hit 20 homers and knocked in 58 runs.

9. Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers - Never underestimate speculation that the Yankees would be a player for Fielder when he becomes a free agent this offseason because he could easily be their DH. But the Yankees know at some point they have to leave that spot open to accommodate Alex Rodriguez and/or Derek Jeter. The Yankees will likely not re-sign Jorge Posada for the role next season.

Short hops From the Bill Chuck Files: “In 2007, when J.D Drew joined the Red Sox, he hit .293 when the Sox were in a one-run game. Since that time, his average has gone down every season: .281, .268, .206, and .188 this season.’’ Also, “As of June 30, Japanese youngster Yu Darvish is 10-2 with a 1.44 ERA, 116 strikeouts, five complete games, and four shutouts.’’ And, “Three scouts who have watched the prominent Cuban shortstops - Boston’s Jose Iglesias and Blue Jays prospect Adeiny Hechavarria - put the Jays shortstop slightly ahead. They’re comparable defensively and Hechavarria ‘right now looks like he’ll hit more,’ said one of the scouts. Hechavarria was hitting .234 with five homers and 30 RBIs for Double A New Hampshire, while Iglesias was hitting .227 with no homers and 17 RBIs for Pawtucket.’’ . . . Happy belated birthday to Dick Berardino (74) and his wife Kathy (73), who were born on July 2 a year apart. Also birthday wishes to Jeremy Kapstein (68), Frank Tanana (58), and Danny Heep (54).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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