Is the Steroid Era over?

Are we still in the Steroid Era?

It’s a popular question these days, brought to light once again by Monday’s announcement from Mark McGwire confirming what baseball fans already believed. For most baseball fans, it wasn’t if McGwire used steroids, but only whether or not he’d "come clean."

Steroids in baseball is a polarizing topic. That’s not because some think it’s OK, but rather many fans are just tired of hearing about it or being reminded of it.

But there’s plenty of interest. My last two appearances on the "Sports Talk" radio show – weekdays from 1-2 p.m. on 970-AM WDAY – are proof of that. We’ve never gotten as many calls on our relatively new show as we did Tuesday, at least not while I’ve been on the air.

I don’t think baseball has completely emerged from the Steroid Era, but I think, at the very least, steroid use isn’t as rampant as it was. Funny how drug testing has a tendency to do that. Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig only has himself to blame for some of the problems of the past couple decade. Why else is he so adamant in saying the Steroid Era is over?

Take a look at the MVP winners from 1996-2005:

AMERICAN LEAGUE
1996, 1998: Juan Gonzalez
– He was mentioned in Jose Canseco’s book "Juiced." He was also named in the Mitchell Report following a 2001 incident, but denies ever using steroids.

1997: Ken Griffey Jr.

1999: Ivan Rodriguez – He was also mentioned in "Juiced." Once, when asked whether he was among those who failed the 2003 random tests that was to remain anonymous, he said, "Only God knows." Not exactly a strong denial. I recall him showing up for spring training in either 2003 or 2004 having lost like 20 or 30 pounds. Let’s be clear: Has never tested positive steroids as far as anyone knows.

2000: Jason Giambi – Admitted to using steroids. Mentioned in the Mitchell Report.

2001: Ichiro Suzuki

2002: Miguel Tejada - Named in the Mitchell Report. Pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about performance-enhancing drug use and received a one-year probation.

2003, 2005: Alex Rodriguez - Admitted to having used steroids from 2001-03.

2004: Vladimir Guerrero

NATIONAL LEAGUE

1996: Ken Caminiti - Admitted to using steroids. Died from a drug overdose in 2004 at the age of 41.

1997: Larry Walker

1998: Sammy Sosa  – The New York Times reported that he failed a drug test in 2003.

1999: Chipper Jones

2000: Jeff Kent

2001-04: Barry Bonds - Reportedly admitted to using "the cream" and "the clear" during a grand jury testimony in 2003. Reportedly failed a drug test in November of 2000 according to indictment papers.

2005: Albert Pujols

There you have it. Of the 20 MVPs won during that 10-year span, 12 of them were won by players who either admitted to using steroids, failed drug tests, or appeared in the Mitchell Report, and that’s not including Pudge Rodriguez.

So while I believe the Steroid Era is over, baseball is hardly out of "the clear" just yet.

TWINS INTERESTED IN DOUG DAVIS

There was a report Wednesday night that the Twins are among four teams interested in left-handed starting pitcher Doug Davis, who is a free agent.

The Twins reportedly offered free-agent pitcher Jarrod Washburn a contract in the past couple of weeks, so they may not be done adding to this team just yet.

Davis represents another pitcher, like Washburn, who is a veteran, yet not much better than the options the Twins already have. And Davis, unlike Washburn, has put up his largely mediocre numbers in the National League.

Davis has kept his ERA in the 4s the last few years and has been pretty durable outside of missing time when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2008. But his WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) has been at least 1.50 the last four years, meaning he puts A LOT of baserunners on. And a trip to the American League, where he’d deal with the designated hitter rather than a pitcher batting, would not help matters.

Twins’ top 10, plus another radio show

Baseball America released its annual evaluation of the Minnesota Twins’ farm system today.

Baseball America is about as trusted as it gets when it comes to the minor leagues, so it’s always fun to see how the Twins youngsters stack up against each other.

For the second straight year, Class A outfielder and former first-round pick Aaron Hicks was named the No. 1 prospect in the Twins system. But what’s even more impressive for Hicks is that he was deemed the one with the best strike-zone discipline, which is quite an accolade for a Class A player who can’t be more than 20 years old.

In a lot of organizations, he’d be rushed to the big leagues (ex: New York Mets). The Twins prefer to move a little slower and not gamble. With their commitments to Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span and Delmon Young, there’s no reason to rush any outfielders.

Three of the top 10 players were added to the system in the last year. Right-handed pitcher Kyle Gibson was the team’s first-round pick at the 22nd overall pick out of Missouri. He would have been a top-10 pick if not for injuries.

Meanwhile, international free agents Miguel Angel Sano and Max Kepler both landed in the top 10. Sano received the largest bonus paid to an international player in franchise history when he was given $3.15 million. Kepler was considered the best European prospect available.

The one glaring need you see is in the infield. Lot of good outfielder and pitching prospects. But Baseball America still projects Alexi Casilla to be the team’s everyday second baseman in 2013. If he wins that right, then great. But you have to wonder the way last year went if he’ll ever be an everyday player again.

There is no doubt in my mind this farm system is immensely stronger than it was last year, especially with the additions of Gibson, Sano and Kepler. Fans may fret over the present and the Joe Mauer contract extension that hasn’t happened yet, but they should rest assured the future looks bright, too.

Considering that catching prospect Wilson Ramos is viewed as the best defensive catcher in the organization and the best power hitter at any position in their minor leagues, if he keeps developing, look out. That’s either a solid Mauer replacement or a pretty outstanding chip the organization can trade away in a deal.

Here’s Gibson making a college batter look silly:

On the radio today

I’m back on "Sports Talk" on 970-AM WDAY radio from 1-2 p.m. today. I’ll be joined in studio my WDAY’s Scott Miller and The Forum’s Kerry Collins.

We’ll be talking to Fargo Force head coach Steve Johnson about his team’s recent hot streak. The Force are in second place in their division of the United States Hockey League.

We’ll have a few other topics, which I’ll toss in here if I have time before the show.

Feel free to call in at (701) 293-9000 or e-mail talk@wday.com