Sunday, July 03, 2005

M's Designate Boone for Assignment

Could Bret Boone be one of the first victims of MLB's tougher stance on performing enhancement drugs? Or could it be that the 36-year-old second-baseman's career has simply run it's course? Whatever the case Bret Boone was designated for assignment by the Mariners on Sunday morning and has played his last game in a Seattle uniform. The Mariners promoted second baseman Jose Lopez and outfieder Chris Snelling from their Triple-A affiliate Tacoma while placing outfielder Dave Hansen on the 15-day DL.

In essence Seattle is waving the white flag on the 2005 season just before the All-Star Break as they now sit firmly ensconced in the AL West basement, 15.5 games behind front-running Los Angeles. It has to be bitterly disappointing for Mariner fans who came into the season with high hopes after their team secured the services of two highly regarded free-agents in first baseman Richie Sexson and third baseman Adrian Beltre. The power-hitting duo gave Seattle arguably the best power-hitting infield corner combination in the majors. But both have been a disappointment with Beltre struggling with his power (just 8 homeruns) and Sexson struggling everywhere else (.238 average but still has clubbed 17 HR's). But as most baseball experts predicted, Seattle's woeful starting rotation was not up to the task and the entire Mariner pitching staff combined for 4.40 ERA, 19th in the major leagues.

The curious career of Bret Boone began in Seattle in 1992 when the young prospect played in 109 games over two seasons before signing to play for the Reds in 1994. Boone was a mainstay for Cincinnati for five years where he became known for good defense and mediocre offense while averaging 11 HR's over four seasons. But an interesting thing happened in Boone's contract year of 1997 when he suddenly exploded for 24 HR's and 95 RBI, far more productive numbers then in any previous season. Boone then played out three one-year contracts in a row for Atlanta, San Diego and the Mariners. For the Braves and San Diego Boone had virtually identical numbers hitting .252 with 19 HR's in Atlanta and .251 with 20 HR's for the Padres. But with Seattle Boone had another miraculous transformation of his game when he jumped his average by 80 points to .331 and his HR's production to 37. Boone was now officially in an elite class of power-hitting second baseman and commanded a big contract from the Mariners in 2002 for three years and $25 million. The M's picked-up his 2005 option and agreed to pay him $9.25 million this season, of which they still owe him around half.

So is it just good fortune and hard work that made Bret Boone one of the great "contract year" hitters of our generation? Or could it be that a guy with proverbial "warning track" power dabbled in performance enhancing drugs just when he needed them most. Unlike someone such as Barry Bonds who apparently sprinkled steroids on his corn flakes each morning, Boone took a more proactive approach to preserve his health but still reel in the big bucks. If so, who is the bigger fraud -- the guy who only juices-up and plays really well in contract years or the guy who juices up, scores the big bucks and then gives the fans something to cheer about every year? Tough choice but I'm gonna half to say I'll take neither thank you very much. If (and it is only an 'if' for now) Boone did take PED's in contract years then he should be prosecuted for fraud and the Mariner's refunded their money. My guess is that you will see Bret Boone fade from being a player and re-emerge as a coach ala his Dad. Boone is smart enough to know that at 36 he can not compete (without help from his 'little friends') with younger more naturally talented players. He also is a family man who likely does not want to risk his long-term health in order to sign one more big contract. But letting go for athletes is never an easy thing and it will be interesting to see what Boone does now. In my opinion, if he goes quietly into the night then it is an affirmation of PED use. But then again, there really is nothing he could do at this point that would keep people from asking the 'steroid' question. Unless he were to simply slip out of sight.

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