Hicks, Arcia are keys to respectability for Twins

After three straight seasons with 90-plus losses, the uphill climb that the Minnesota Twins face entering today’s season opener has become very steep.

There is hope for the future, which I touched on in our season preview in today’s paper. The Twins farm system is highly ranked by a number of sources, including Baseball America.

But in terms of 2014, two young players who will play significant roles in Minnesota’s fortunes are outfielders Aaron Hicks and Oswaldo Arcia.

Hicks and Arcia – who were among those top-ranked prospects entering last season – debuted in 2013, with Hicks struggling mightily and Arcia providing mixed results.

Hicks forced his way onto the opening day roster last season with a big spring, but hit only .192 in 81 games. The same spring scenario played out again this year, with Hicks once again the starting – and, like last year, lone – center fielder.

Arcia came up midseason and provided some pop with 14 homers in 97 games. But he also struck out 117 times in just 351 at-bats.

John Manuel, who is the editor in chief of Baseball America, spoke at length about the team’s prospects in today’s Forum story. But he also touched on Hicks and Arcia, saying he’s much more bullish on Arcia’s potential moving forward.

“I’m pretty excited about Arcia,” Manuel said earlier this month. “… I believe he will hit at the big league level. He impacts the baseball with consistency. I’m fairly bullish on him.”

As for Hicks, Manuel said: “Aaron Hicks is a much tougher guy to read. Didn’t read some good things about him when he got sent to Triple-A. The buzz around Hicks and how he was handling his struggles and his demotion was not great. … He had about as bad of year as you can have last year. He had to deal with a lot of failure. And indications were he didn’t handle it well. Generally the track record for guys who have a year that bad is not good.”

When looking at this team, I think the Twins – thanks to Glen Perkins, Casey Fien, Jared Burton and company – should have a solid, dependable bullpen. And while Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes probably won’t produce like the Nos. 1 and 3 starters that they are on the Twins, this is a veteran staff. And I think it’s a predictable staff. Not a great staff, but I think we know what to expect.

The hope is that Nolasco, Hughes, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey can at the very least pitch deep enough into games to keep the top bullpen arms fresh and productive.

The lineup has the greatest amount of question marks. How much will Josmil Pinto play? Can Trevor Plouffe and Josh Willingham return to their 2012 forms? Who is the leadoff hitter? Who is the No. 2 hitter, for that matter?

But Hicks and Arcia are the keys. Right now, this feels like a team that will go 68-94. Pitching has been elusive for the Twins in recent years, and now the lineup looks like, even with a good start, that it might struggle to consistently produce enough runs each game to win.

Twins Caravan leftovers

Nothing really beats talking baseball on a cold January night like we endured in Fargo-Moorhead last night. The Minnesota Twins Winter Caravan stop at The Hub couldn’t have come at a better time.

Third baseman Trevor Plouffe, reliever Anthony Swarzak, Twins broadcaster and Baseball Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, bench coach Terry Steinbach and Twins President Dave St. Peter were in attendance Monday.

I wrote a couple of stories that ran in today’s Forum, with one focusing on the team’s pitching upgrades and the other a notebook that touched on the team’s prospects, payroll and Metrodome memories.

I had plenty more that just didn’t make the print edition. A few more notes for you diehard baseball fans out there:

Swarzak’s emergence

I mentioned in the main story that Swarzak led MLB relievers last season with 96 innings out of the bullpen. In fact, his relief innings total last season was the most for any major league pitcher since Scott Proctor tossed 102 1/3 innings out of the New York Yankees bullpen in 2006.

On a team that won only 66 games and had the worst starting pitching in baseball, Swarzak was a true unsung hero last season, posting a 2.91 ERA.

If you’re a sabermetric type, his bWAR (Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement) of 1.7 was second on the team’s entire staff behind closer Glen Perkins’ 2.1.

But Swarzak – as good as he was in the bullpen – said he still “wants to be a starter one day again” and hoped that he would get that opportunity again someday.

Next in line behind Gardy

Steinbach talked at length with me about last night regarding last season, which was his first as a major league coach of any kind.

One thing to keep in mind with the role of bench coach is that Steinbach is the quote-unquote manager when manager Ron Gardenhire gets ejected from games. And we all know Gardy doesn’t shy away from that.

Steinbach was very quick to point out that while he might be manager under that scenario, he relies more on the rest of the coaching staff than someone in that position normally would. He pointed out the extensive coaching experience of guys like Scott Ullger and Rick Anderson.

Steinbach added that he is looking forward to Year 2 on the bench and hopes last season’s time proves invaluable to him.

Offense needs plenty of help too

It slips through the cracks because of the immense ineptitude of the starting rotation, but the Twins lineup has really struggled each of the last couple of seasons. And having an entire year without a guy like Justin Morneau puts this group in a bigger hole of other players don’t emerge.

Minnesota has ranked in the bottom five in the AL in runs scored each of the last three seasons.

“Last year we had a lot of guys come up and get that experience,” Plouffe said. “It’s not easy to come up and have success right away.”

Joe Mauer is moving to first base, which fills the void left by Morneau last season. But that also opens up the catcher position, which – no offense to Kurt Suzuki, Josmil Pinto, etc. – has no chance of getting anywhere near the production that Mauer provided from that position.

But Plouffe said he thinks having Mauer at first base is a good thing.

“We want his bat in the lineup as much as possible,” Plouffe said. “If that’s what it takes to get his bat in the lineup, then we are all for it.”

Looking for outfield help

Touched on it in the notebook briefly, but St. Peter did say he would like to see the team add a little more offense still. He pointed out that players become available in spring training, which left me thinking that any upgrades there would probably just be platoon-type or bench players and likely won’t come until March when rosters start getting squeezed.

When pressed regarding what type of position he’d like to see improved, he mentioned the outfield.

The Twins have outfield options, but it’s anyone’s guess how that group will sort itself out. Josh Willingham – in the final year of his contract – is locked in at left.

No doubt the Twins would love to see Aaron Hicks emerge in center field after a dreadful rookie campaign. Alex Presley, who came over from Pittsburgh in the Morneau deal, should get a good look as well.

I thought Oswaldo Arcia, 22, had an encouraging rookie season, belting 14 homers in 351 at-bats. He was at times overmatched, as his 117 strikeouts will attest to. He should get plenty of at-bats in either right field or as the designated hitter. Jason Kubel is also on the team with a minor league deal.

Metrodome at least built memories that last

The Metrodome on its final MLB opening day in 2009.

There probably is no shortage of Minnesota Vikings fans lamenting Sunday’s victory against the Detroit Lions in the team’s regular-season finale. The Vikings were not in playoff contention, meaning the win only worsened the team’s draft position.

But I was glad to see the Vikings win in what marked the final major sporting event in the history of the Metrodome. The stadium deserved to go out with one last win.

The Metrodome was the stadium of my childhood. Often ripped by visiting players and coaches – and a lot of home fans too – during my youth for its appearance and its many shortcomings, there was no other place I’d rather be.

The eye-popping inflatable roof masked what was a pretty plain-looking stadium on the inside. The sightlines were terrible for baseball, which was more often than not the reason I was at the Metrodome. The turf – especially in its early days – looked like anything but grass.

But I sure loved being there. I first stepped into the Metrodome in the summer of 1987. My parents took my younger brother and I to our first Twins game. This was the summer that saw the Twins surprisingly in a fight for the AL West title. The season would end with Minnesota winning its first World Series.

But on that summer day, my mind was not at all focused on the standings. I was too in awe of the seemingly endless white roof over our heads or the big blue baggie in right field. There was Kirby Puckett in center field, the idol of my childhood. And, of course, who could forget the feeling of being pushed out of the stadium’s doors by air pressure when it was all over. Man, that was a rush, especially when you’re a first-grader going there for the first time.

My best memory was attending Game 163 in the 2009 season. MLB Network placed that game in its top 20 list that it broadcast a couple years back. It was a wild back-and-forth game that saw the Twins outlast the Detroit Tigers in a playoff tiebreaker, sending the Twins to the ALDS thanks to Alexi Casilla driving home Carlos Gomez for the winning run.

I remember after that game sitting at a Minneapolis bar with my co-worker Tom Mix and one of his friends. We had gone to the game just for fun, not to cover it. We were all just speechless afterwards at that bar, knowing we’d never go to a game quite as crazy as that one, especially considering what was on the line. I attended the ALDS Game 3 against the Yankees, which ultimately proved to be the final MLB game at the Metrodome, as the Twins got swept in the series.

The Metrodome was a lot of things. A baseball stadium should never have been one of them.

But it’s the big events that ultimately matter when you reflect on a stadium’s life. Whether it was watching the 1987 and 1991 World Series on TV or attending game’s like the 2009 AL Central tiebreaker, the Metrodome did have a lot to offer over the decades. And I’ll miss it. Target Field, TCF Bank Stadium and the new Vikings stadium have big shoes to fill.

The Bison in the spotlight again, our ESPN moment and more

I have had Aug. 30, 2013 circled on my metaphorical calendar for a pretty long time. I suppose that’s like many North Dakota State fans when the road game at Kansas State first appeared on the schedule, but for me, it had nothing to do with any plans to go to Manhattan, Kan.

The surest sign of the end of summer – and vacation season for me – is the start of high school football season. While there are a handful of Tuesday and Thursday games on opening week, the first big night is that last Friday in August, when most of the teams in our area take the field for the first time.

That’s when our training of new sports clerks gets accelerated. That’s when between 9 and 10:30 p.m. the phones ring off the hook and you literally lose 90 minutes of time, like in those “X-Files” abduction episode (If you’re under the age of 30 or not a nerd, I don’t expect you to get that reference.).

And you’re telling me that to go along with the high school football opener, NDSU is opening its season on that Friday night? And against the reigning Big 12 champs and a BCS bowl team from a year ago? I’ve been thinking for months, “Aug. 30 could be the craziest night of work we’ve ever had.”

Fun to reflect on now. The moment when NDSU QB Brock Jensen plunged into the end zone for the winning score and I knew that, yes, we will again be going nuts with our section. Or when my colleague Andrew Gottenborg blurted out “Manhattan Magic” and I knew we had our headline. Or when part-timer Madalyn Laske – in the middle of a barrage of football box score calls – picked up the phone, then turned to me and said she had a call from Connecticut for me and page designer Michael Smith asked, “Is it ESPN?,” which I laughed off.

Turned out it was ESPN, and they wanted our sports cover, which at the time was completely blank. Seeing the completed cover on “SportsCenter” at 1:30 a.m. was a great capper to the night and one of the coolest moments of my career (I included a photo of it below if you didn’t catch it).

Looking back on the game, I think the ESPN moment sums up these upsets pretty well. I feel like NDSU knocking off Kansas State was a huge upset, but the term “Shocker” in the InForum.com sports headline almost feels sarcastic. After all, the Bison have won four straight games against FBS teams and have a 7-3 mark versus that level. Are we really shocked anymore?

That isn’t to take anything away from the win. And without a doubt, the Wildcats were the strongest of those 10 opponents. They’ve had some roster turnover just like any team has, but they’re still the defending Big 12 champs, and they still went to a BCS bowl game last season.

It’s a monumental win for NDSU. But from my standpoint, it’s not the win that is surprising. It’s always the national attention that comes with the win.

It’s seeing NDSU lead off “SportsCenter” and having the Bison be the top story on a number of national sports websites. That’s always the real shocker. Because even though I picked the Wildcats to win, I certainly wasn’t stunned that the Bison pulled it off. It’s hard to be stunned by any win they pull off anymore.

It was a wild night to be a part of. Thanks to Gottenborg, Smith, Laske, Glenn Pursley, Colton Pool and Tom Mix for pulling it off on our end. Don’t forget to check out Heidi Roepke‘s outstanding A1. And thanks to Carrie Snyder for the amazing photo, and to Kevin Schnepf, Jeff Kolpack and Eric Peterson for great reporting in a very small window of time to do it.

North Dakota State’s upset football win against Kansas State grabbed national headlines. And ESPN even grabbed our headline early Saturday morning.

Hayden Goethe is the Assistant Sports Editor at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. You can follow him on Twitter @hgoethe

Not every NFL game tonight should be ignored

It’s Week 4 of the NFL preseason, with all 32 teams playing tonight. But there’s an empty feel to it. Many of the teams will not even suit up their first-stringers, opting instead to give them one last week off before the NFL’s regular season kicks off next week.

The Minnesota Vikings, who have struggled offensively throughout the preseason, are not expected to use starting quarterback Christian Ponder tonight against the Tennessee Titans.

But there are a few NFL games worth keeping an eye on if you’re a hardcore football fan watching NFL Network nonstop this time of year.

Here are a few matchups I’ll be tracking:

  • Detroit at Buffalo: The Buffalo Bills have endured a few injuries at the quarterback position. Rookie first-round pick E.J. Manuel is out for tonight and may not be ready for Week 1 of the regular season. Backup QB Kevin Kolb sustained another concussion last week. That leaves undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel and recently signed veteran QB – and acclaimed ballroom dancer – Matt Leinart battling for the starting job for Week 1. Both will play tonight.
  • Cleveland at Chicago: The Vikings’ NFC North rival Chicago Bears were apparently so distressed by backup Josh McCown’s play in the preseason that they signed Trent Edwards and Jordan Palmer in back-to-back days two weeks ago. Considering how poor the Bears’ line is, Jay Cutler’s chances of playing all 16 regular-season games are never good. Edwards and Palmer could be battling tonight for first in line to replace him.
  • Oakland at Seattle: The Matt Flynn Bowl gets underway in Seattle tonight. Flynn, who was expected to be the starter in Oakland this season, will watch injured from the sidelines as Terrelle Pryor has the chance to lock up the starting QB job for the Raiders. This was very similar to a year ago in Seattle, when Flynn – then with the Seahawks – lost his job to Russell Wilson. Pryor will play tonight, albeit against the backup Seahawks.

Remembering Marv Bossart

It’s been nice reading all of the great tributes to longtime WDAY anchor Marv Bossart, who passed away last week at age 79.

I’m too young to have known Bossart as a co-worker within Forum Communications. My experience with him came at Minnesota State Moorhead, where Bossart taught broadcast journalism courses.

I never had any interest in a career spent in front of the camera. Broadcast courses were required at MSUM for online journalism majors, so I took what I had to in that area.

And going into my first class with him, to be honest, I really didn’t know that much about him. I grew up in northwest Minnesota, which is WDAZ territory rather than WDAY.

Bossart’s classes were difficult, but they were fair. The students in those courses were a mix of broadcast kids and print/online kids like myself, but I never felt he was any less interested in my progress than anyone else’s just because I was a print/online student. That may not sound like a big deal, but I can’t say that about every professor I ran into.

And wow, did I learn a lot from him. Everything you’re reading this week is true. He was really a nice guy and had a great way of establishing professor-student relationships, encouraging on the one hand while also stressing the importance of improving. He’s often applauded for his on-camera presence, which is deserved as well.

One thing that I feel hasn’t been mentioned are his writing skills. That’s the one area that I learned so much from him. He always stressed the importance of writing tight, with the mindset of “it’s a 30-minute newscast, and every second counts.” Your TV script takes too long to get to the point, and maybe another story is left out of the newscast because of it.

That’s the type of thing that journalism students of any emphasis need help with. It’s not just for TV. When you only have a 15-inch spot for a story in the newspaper, you’d better make the most of every word too.

Anyone who took classes from Bossart is a better journalist because of it, and I’m proud to say I was someone who had the opportunity to learn from him.

Previewing the upcoming baseball season

Aside from the lone Sunday night game, the Major League Baseball season will be getting under way in less than two hours. Should be a fun afternoon, evening and night planted in front of the TV. If you can’t be lazy on a day like this, when can you be?

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post about the Minnesota Twins season, which starts at 3 p.m. against Detroit. This post will focus on Major League Baseball as a whole.

Before I get started, make sure to pick up Monday’s Forum for comprehensive coverage previewing the Twins and the MLB season. This is one of those cases where the print product provides much more than the online product due to graphics, illustrations, breakouts and the like. Here’s the story with Twins GM Terry Ryan discussing the team’s need for pitching and his offseason spent in pursuit of it.

My predictions for the division races (with playoff teams bolded):

  • AL East: Rays, Blue Jays, Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles.
  • AL Central: Tigers, White Sox, Indians, Royals, Twins.
  • AL West: Angels, Rangers, Athletics, Mariners, Astros.
  • NL East: Braves, Nationals, Phillies, Mets, Marlins.
  • NL Central: Cardinals, Reds, Brewers, Pirates, Cubs.
  • NL West: Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Diamondbacks, Rockies.

In the World Series, I’ll take the Rays over the Braves. Love the pitching for both teams (and improved lineups too), and the Giants have shown that the World Series lately has been all about pitching.

Finally, a few more thoughts on the season:

  • In the AL East, any one of those teams can win, and any one of them can finish dead last. I’d have to go back to my elementary school days to find a time when the Yankees and Red Sox were in this mediocre state, while the other teams in the division realize it and have tried to make the most of their best chance to win the division.
  • The AL Central seems like the Tigers and everyone else. But we all thought that last season too, didn’t we? I’ve been surprised how many national experts have elevated the Royals to second place, and a great many of them have dismissed the White Sox. I know KC added James Shields and Wade Davis, but I just don’t think the Royals are better than the ChiSox and Indians. Cleveland had a great offseason too, adding Micheal Bourn and Nick Swisher. With all of this happening around the Twins, it’s hard for me to not imagine them getting buried in the standings.
  • I’m in three fantasy baseball leagues this year, which definitely puts me at capacity. It’s too late for sleeper talk. But among those three leagues, there are a few players I own on multiple teams. Atlanta Braves pitching prospect Julio Teheran is on all three of those teams, and the following are on two: Shin-Soo Choo, Ben Zobrist, Mike Moustakas, Justin Morneau, Yu Darvish and Matt Harvey. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’m very high on Morneau this season. At worst, he’ll be a great start against righties. At best, well, you’ve seen how good he can be. As for Teheran, he was the fourth-best prospect in baseball entering 2012, after Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and Matt Moore. Good company. Teheran had a disastrous 2012 season. But he has dominated in the spring, so I’ve been willing to reach for him.

Finding the positives in an otherwise down year for Twins

Anyone out there find a national pundit who hasn’t picked the Minnesota Twins to finish in last place in the AL Central? I haven’t.

There’s no reason to think the Twins will be anything but terrible. I know it’s hard to believe, but I contend a lot of things went RIGHT for the Twins last season despite losing 96 games. They had career years from Josh Willingham, Ryan Doumit and Trevor Plouffe and relatively healthy years from Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. And don’t forget about Scott Diamond‘s big season on the mound too. I have a hard time believing Diamond can repeat that, and starting the year on the DL only decreases the likelihood of 2012 Part Deux for him.

The Twins have actually taken away from their offense this season by trading Denard Span and Ben Revere, although Aaron Hicks has promise (I’ll get to that in a second). They’ve added a few starting pitchers, but is there any reason to think Kevin Correia, Mike Pelfrey and Vance Worley will be much better than Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, etc.? I don’t think so. And my gut feeling is the bullpen’s ERA will be worse than it was a year ago. I’m thinking a 64-98 season is ahead. Tough to stomach for many of you.

There’s enough to be sour about with this group, and the shortcomings have been widely reported. Here are a few things for fans to be optimistic about heading into this season:

  • I have a hunch that Justin Morneau is going to return to his pre-concussion numbers. Maybe not the blistering start he was off to in 2010, but I think he’s going to have a very good season. Let’s go with a .290 average, 25 homers, 90-95 RBIs and an .870 OPS.
  • Aaron Hicks has looked real good this spring. The stats he posted were impressive in Florida. But beyond the numbers, I saw a player who has a great eye at the plate, something he demonstrated in the minors. He looks similar to Denard Span in that regard. I’ve liked Hicks for awhile because of his on-base percentage skills and his defensive ability. Very interested to see how he does skipping Triple-A.
  • While the major league rotation will be dreadful and is banged-up already, the minor league system has the potential to produce some big-time arms. Twins GM Terry Ryan told me earlier this spring that he sees plenty of promise in the likes of Jose Berrios, Trevor May, Alex Meyer, Kyle Gibson and B.J. Hermsen. The last four names mentioned aren’t too far away from the majors with the proper amount of development, and Berrios probably has the highest ceiling of them all.

Enjoy the season. The summer is near.

What to watch for with Twins as spring training gets under way

Something about a foot of snow and 40 mph wind guts gets me thinking about baseball this time of year.

Actually, regardless of the weather, it’s safe to say I’m in baseball mode by mid-Februrary. Temps are typically getting warmer, football is done, fantasy baseball registration is open and pitchers and catchers report. For the Twins, the latter happens on Tuesday.

Minnesota has had some turnover from a year ago, when the team posted its second straight season of 90-plus losses. I don’t believe the turnover will be overly impactful, but it’s turnover nonetheless.

So while I’m stuck in the house watching some Gophers basketball, I figured it would be a good time to review the Twins roster heading into this week’s first workouts of the season.

Let’s start with the position players for today.

The Twins had some encouraging signs regarding their offense in 2012.

Joe Mauer bounced back from an injury-plagued 2011 to hit .319 in 147 games, splitting time among catcher, designated hitter and first base.

First baseman Justin Morneau – another former AL MVP – also returned from concussion issues that had held him back the previous two seasons. He hit .267 with 19 homers and 77 RBIs in 134 games. His numbers against right-handers were very impressive (.291 BA/.531 SLG/.902 OPS).

And OF Josh Willingham (35 homers) and 3B Trevor Plouffe (24 homers) enjoyed career seasons at the plate.

However, despite all that went right, the Twins still were only 10th in the AL in runs scored. There will be concerns in 2013 as to whether or not the four players mentioned above can repeat their 2012 seasons, plus the Twins traded center fielders Denard Span and Ben Revere away in the offseason.

So the offense has some big holes to fill, notably in center field and in the middle infield. Darin Mastroianni would appear to the favorite to replace Span and Revere, with prospects Aaron Hicks and Joe Benson also under consideration.

Mastroianni actually put up a pretty similar season to Revere. Both players’ OBPs were around .330, with Mastroianni utilizing more walks in getting to his number. Both are crazy fast and neither slugs all that much.

In the middle infield, Pedro Florimon is expected to get a good look at shortstop. He hit just .219 in 43 games last season, and there’s no reason to think he’ll hit much better than that. But he brings a reliable glove, one that will be needed with the pitch-to-contact staff.

Brian Dozier and Jamey Carroll are also battling for playing time at shortstop and second base.

With the starting lineup in flux, it’s hard to gauge the bench. But if you’re looking for an under-the-radar player to keep an eye on, Brandon Boggs might be your guy. The 30-year-old outfielder and non-roster invitee has big league experience and a career .381 OBP at Triple-A.

My projected starting lineup
OF Darin Mastroianni
2B Brian Dozier
C Joe Mauer
LF Josh Willingham
1B Justin Morneau
DH Ryan Doumit
3B Trevor Plouffe
RF Chris Parmelee
SS Pedro Florimon

C Drew Butera
IF Jamey Carroll
IF Eduardo Escobar
OF Brandon Boggs

Baseball HOF voters will come up short if no player is elected this year

There are no shortage of sports topics for which I like to obsess about: the Minnesota Twins, fantasy football, the push for NHL teams in the South to return to the North, etc.

Sometimes those rants can get a little long, which is pretty much what happened with me on Twitter yesterday. Twitter was not built for such rants as my Baseball Hall of Fame one. It merits a blog post instead.

The Baseball Hall of Fame inductees will be announced tomorrow, assuming that there are any to announce at all. According to Baseball Think Factory, which keeps a running tally of voters’ ballots when they are posted online, has 125 ballots so far tabulated. And the results? No player has the 75 percent needed to be inducted. Still a lot of votes missing – roughly 80 percent – but it’s still telling.

There are “big” Hall of Fame guys – people who want lots of players in – and “small” Hall of Fame guys. I’ve always thought of myself as a small Hall guy, keeping Cooperstown induction limited to only the best.

Yet I would be stunned to see no player inducted when the ballot appears to have no shortage of players worth voting for, even if you’re like me and don’t think known performance-enhancing drug users should be in.

And that’s where things get messy. That’s why some voters have opted not to submit a ballot, or submit an empty one (the latter counts against the vote totals of other players).

Some writers are uncomfortable with having to vote for PED users and suspected PED users. Everyone has their own opinion of who should be included in the process, and that’s fine by me. But to me, there are quite a few worthy players on the ballot with no known reason to suspect them of PEDs, so to submit a blank ballot is pretty unfair to the clean players.

Example: Craig Biggio has 3,000 career hits. No player eligible has been left out of the HOF with 3,000 hits. He’ll get in one day. So why the wait?

And if you’re worried about voting in someone who we might find out later on did test positive for PEDs during baseball’s anonymous testing (like David Ortiz did during 2003 testing), I understand the concern.

But sometimes cheaters get away with it. Gaylord Perry threw a spitball, and is in the Hall of Fame. Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker were once involved in a scandal to throw a game (both were cleared, but there was solid evidence implicating them). Use of amphetamines in the 1960s and 1970s was widespread.

Some guys get away with it, and some guys don’t. That’s life. And my take is I’d rather let a couple of steroid users into the Hall than keep a couple of innocent, deserving players out of it due to suspicions.

So, as I did last year, here are the players that would get my vote if I had a ballot:

  • Jeff Bagwell. What I wrote last year about Bagwell pretty much sums up my thoughts this year. “If after his Hall induction we find out that he took steroids – and yes, I wouldn’t vote for anyone that took steroids – so be it. Sometimes people get away with it. That’s life. Not every criminal is apprehended. There are cheaters in the Hall of Fame right now. But I believe in innocent until proven guilty.” Had 449 career homers and a .948 OPS.
  • Craig Biggio. The great Joe Posnanski thinks that Biggio will be the recipient of collateral damage due to this ballot if he doesn’t get in. That’s very true. More than 3,000 hits. Bill James said in 2001 that Biggio is the fifth-best second baseman of all-time. Also played extensively at catcher and center field (who does that?). Five seasons of 20+homers. Four Gold Gloves. He’s in, and he shouldn’t have to wait.
  • Edgar Martinez. What I wrote last year still rings true: “The stats are just too good to ignore for me, even if he was often injured throughout his career and rarely played in the field. Hit .312 with a .418 OBP over 18 major league seasons in Seattle. His 147 OPS+ (basically his OPS in comparison to the era he played and ballpark he called home) is 40th all-time, tied with Jim Thome, Willie McCovey, Mike Schmidt and Willie Stargell. That should give you an idea of the company he keeps on that list. He’s ahead of modern players like Alex Rodriguez and Prince Fielder.”
  • Fred McGriff. I think McGriff is someone who is only going to look better on the ballot as the years go by during our current pitchers’ era. McGriff hit 493 homers in 19 seasons. He slugged better than .500 for his career and made five All-Star Games, and probably lost out on other selections due to juiced-up contemporaries. Enjoyed a seven-year peak from 1988-94 in which he hits 242 homers (35 per season) and slugged .545 with a .390 OBP. Yet remarkably in that peak, only two of his All-Star selections occurred.
  • Jack Morris. Didn’t have him on my fake ballot last year. Morris collected 67 percent of the vote last year, a number that every player who has reached it has eventually gotten in. MLB Network made an interesting comparison between Morris and Mickey Lolich that was eye-opening. Morris’ 3.90 ERA would be the worst among Hall of Famers if elected. But he won 254 games, was a five-time All-Star, was top-five in Cy Young voting five times. Won World Series with three different franchises, twice serving as the undisputed ace on those teams. Had a 2.96 ERA in seven World Series starts. Another interesting stat: No AL pitcher in the DH era has more eight-plus inning starts than Morris (248). Hard to imagine that getting matched again. He was the ultimate workhorse.
  • Mike Piazza. Piazza might be the most fascinating case on the ballot. It seems that most baseball fans probably think that Piazza did steroids. And the story fits. After all, Piazza was a former 62nd-round draft pick (a favor to Tommy Lasorda) who became the greatest offensive catcher of all time. Piazza is the best example of my stance that there just isn’t enough evidence to keep him out.
  • Tim Raines. I love this guy’s case. Only got 48 percent of the votes last year. But I could go on and on about Raines’ numbers. He ranks fifth in stolen bases, and among players with more than 300 steals, he is the most efficient base stealer who ever lived. He hit .294 in a 23-year career, and he had a peak from 1981-87 with Montreal where he hit .310 and stole 504 bases (72 per season) and 63 triples. This one seems to easy to me.
  • Curt Schilling. Best strikeout-to-walk ratio in major league history of anyone with at least 1,000 innings pitched. Only 216 career wins in 20 seasons, but an ERA+ of 127 and a career WHIP of 1.137. And the postseason counts for me too just as it did for Morris. Led the Phillies to a World Series appearance and the Red Sox and Diamondbacks to titles. Postseason stats are sick: 11-2, 2.23 ERA, 19 starts. World Series ERA: 2.06. Wow!
  • Alan Trammell. Another guy I added from last year. I’ve been swayed. Enjoyed a 20-year career entirely with the Detroit Tigers. Six-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner. If you believe in WAR (wins above replacement), Posnanski points out that Trammell ranks tied for sixth among shortstops behind only Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith, Arky Vaughan and Luke Appling. I’m not sure Trammell has the classic peak some voters desire. But 20 years at shortstop hitting .285 really doesn’t happen that often.
  • Larry Walker. What I wrote last year: “The Coors Field homer-happy reputation has no doubt hurt his candidacy. He hit .313 for his career and slugged .565. Those are facts. From 1994 (when he was not calling Colorado home) to 2002, he hit .339 with a .631 slugging percentage and averaged 28 homers and 15 steals per season. And while I can’t find advanced defensive metrics for the prime of his career, he did win seven Gold Gloves. I know the Denver air helped him, but I just can’t ignore his numbers and Gold Gloves. He was unquestionably a better hitter at home during his career. But maybe he just felt more comfortable at home too. In 1999, he hit .461 at Coors Field. Thin air or not, there was more going on there than just altitude.”

There is no Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, nor should there be. Baseball may not have been governing itself against PED use, but it was still an illegal activity that gave them distinct advantages over their peers. And there’s just too much evidence that they used for me to ignore.

I would keep them out.

Finally, I’ll leave you with Raines’ most memorable moment. This was Raines’ first game in 1987 after collusion kept him from being on a team in the season’s first month. He had quite a debut in this May game against the Mets on national TV.