Tony DeMarco MSNBC.com Sports Columnist Tony DeMarco
MSNBC.com Sports Columnist Tony DeMarco
Q: I don't understand the Yankees' approach to manning the DH slot. Am I missing something obvious?
-- Dan Morgiewicz, Burke, Va.
A: The basic concept is a time-share, led by Raul Ibanez against right-handed pitching and Andruw Jones against left-handed pitching.
You'll also see regulars get half-days off by being used as designated hitter, and Eric Chavez and Edwin Nunez figure to get 10 or so starts in that spot.
All of which isn't that much different from last season - substituting the left-handed-hitting Ibanez for switch-hitting Jorge Posada, who was the primary DH with 95 starts, and had all but 65 of his 344 at-bats from the left side.
Posada was followed by Jones (16 starts at DH), Jesus Montero (15 starts), Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nunez with 10 starts apiece, Mark Teixeira (nine), and Robinson Cano and Chavez with seven apiece.
In the absence of a true DH such as David Ortiz, most teams go with something along these lines. And given the ages of the Yankees' regulars - Jeter, 37, Rodriguez, 36, Teixeira and Nick Swisher, 31 - rotating them into the DH mix makes sense.
The Yankees' mix-and-match combination led AL DH's with 30 homers last season, but finished middle-of-the-pack in the other major offensive categories - fifth in slugging percentage, eighth in RBIs, ninth in on-base percentage and batting average.
Considering Posada posted a .235/.315/.398 overall line last season, it's not a stretch to think the Yankees will get more DH production with Ibanez, who posted a .245/.289/.415 line while hitting six more home runs and almost doubling Posada's RBI total (84-44).
All this might not match what Montero, now with the Mariners, could have done as the everyday DH in New York. But I don't think the Yankees will be hurting for production from the DH spot.
Q: I think the Ryan Braun thing was a charade by MLB to cast doubt on the testing process, giving the real steroids cheaters an out to clear their name. What do you think of that theory?
- Bucky, Colorado Springs, Colo.
A: I really don't think MLB wants to cast doubt on its own testing process, especially when it keeps getting beaten up in the media, and as a result, in the eyes of sports fans.
Major League officials and the union have worked well together in making the game much cleaner than it used to be - and in my opinion, cleaner than the NFL, which always seems to get a free pass when it comes to this subject.
That said, the Braun situation remains muddled. As I sat about 20 feet away from Braun while he offered up his side of the story last Friday, I couldn't help but notice his conviction, sincerity and emotion in denying he ever used any performance-enhancing drugs.
But the more you examine his theory, it does leave many doubts and questions. Braun is casting doubt on the sample collector and the process he used - namely, waiting 44 hours from when the sample was collected until it was sent by FedEx to the laboratory.
But I'll defer to some fine work done by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel here in weakening Braun's claims. The sample collector - a Wisconsin resident - has done the task for several years, and by all accounts, has handled it professionally and above reproach. So the idea that he tampered with Braun's sample makes no sense to me.
The paper also quoted other drug testing experts as seriously doubting the sample was tainted simply because of the time lapse before it got to the lab, especially because it arrived with three tamper-proof seals intact.
We might never know the full truth here, but hopefully arbitrator Shyam Das will shed more light on things with his written report due within 30 days.
But one thought is that the collection process rules probably need to be tightened up - more to Olympic-like standards - and the three-man panel that decided the case needs to be changed.
The panel consisted of MLB official Rob Manfred, union head Michael Weiner - and you know which way they voted - leaving Das to cast the deciding vote. To me, a panel of drug-testing experts would be a better way to go.
Q: I read your report on the Diamondbacks, and am curious if you think that Justin Upton will be in contention for MVP this season?
- Howard Hudson, Tucson
A: Considering Upton finished a distant fourth (with one first-place vote) in the balloting last season, it's not that big of a stretch to see him moving into more serious contention in 2012.
Second, Upton won't turn 25 until August, so his production figures to be on upswing. There were sizable gaps between Upton and top-two finishers Ryan Braun and Matt Kemp, especially in RBIs, on-base and slugging percentage, but Kemp's 40-homer, 39-steal season will be hard to match, and Braun will have a tougher task amassing MVP-type numbers without Fielder in the Brewers' lineup.
Finally, because MVP candidacies most often are tied to a team's success (although Kemp was an exception last season), Upton and the Diamondbacks figure to be serious postseason contenders again.