Archive for November, 2012

Cubs Wave Goodbye to an All Star…Our Reaction

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to give everyone a quick heads up on schedule for the site. Tomorrow there will be no morning news. Instead, we’ll have a Thanksgiving Stat of the Week courtesy of John Dewan and the good people at Acta Sports.

Headlines

Out with the Old, In with the New - The Cubs made a series of roster moves yesterday, one of the more notable ones being the move involving Bryan LaHair. The Cubs parted ways with the 2012 All-Star (how did that happen again?), designating him for assignment. The understanding between the two is that the Cubs will assist in finding him employment not with another team, but in Japan. What bothers me about this move is not the fact that LaHair is moving on, though I thought he could have a role on this team, but the fact that he’s moving on when his value is at it’s lowest instead of his peak. For the most part, I’ve not been critical of the Theo / Jed regime so far. We did what we could with the situations that were Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza. We decided to back out on the Carlos Marmol for Dan Haren deal at the last minute for medical reasons. On the whole, they’ve made good decisions moving guys not part of the future and getting good returns for them. When it comes to LaHair, I think they pulled a Brant Brown.

We knew going into the 2012 team that LaHair’s role on this team one that involved looking over his shoulder at Anthony Rizzo, and that he would be at first base as long as Rizzo would be in the minors. Instead of crying in his milk, LaHair came out and hit the ball well and earned him an All Star nod. As of June 1, he had a split line of .313 / .400 / .592 with 10 HR and 22 RBI. Also as of June 1, the Cubs were 18-33, in last place in the division by 11 games. Essentially that was the time to make the move, trade LaHair, and promote Rizzo. Obviously, as Doc Raker can attest, hindsight is always 20/20, but it’s hard not to be upset that no move was made at anytime. We can’t see or hear the conversations that took place, so there is no way to know if someone was interested in LaHair at that point, but I find it hard to believe that no one in the Majors would take a chance and give us a warm body for LaHair at this point.

As far as the in with the new aspect of the moves, the Cubs made a trade and added a few names to the 40 man roster. With the Rule 5 draft coming up, the deadline to protect players eligible was last night. As a result, Trey McNutt, Christian Villanueva, Logan Watkins, and Robert Whitenack were all added to the 40 man roster to protect them from being selected in the rule 5 draft. A name not protected was Nick Struck, who had a nice year last year for the Cubs and earned pitcher of the year honors. The 40 man roster now sits at 40, so the Cubs will not be selecting in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 draft unless something changes.

Finally, in a probable re-negotiation of the Geovany Soto trade, the Cubs got a jump on the after Christmas return lines and shipped their broken toy, Jake Brigham, back to Texas in exchange for Barret Loux and a PTBNL. From the Cubs press release, we learn this about Loux:

Loux, 23, was named the 2012 Double-A Texas League Pitcher of the Year after going 14-1 with a 3.47 ERA (49 ER/127.0 IP) in 25 regular season starts with Frisco, helping his club advance to the Texas League Championship Series.  The righthander led the league in wins and finished sixth in ERA while striking out 100 batters and walking only 41 in 127.0 innings.  Loux began the season with 10 wins in his first 10 starts through the end of May and was the starting pitcher for the North squad in the Texas League All-Star Game.

The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Loux was originally selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the sixth overall pick of the 2010 Draft.  Loux was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball and signed with the Rangers on November 18, 2010.  In his first pro season in 2011, Loux went 8-5 with a 3.80 ERA (46 ER/109.0 IP) in 21 starts for Single-A Myrtle Beach.  He struck out 127 batters in 109.0 innings.  In two minor league seasons, Loux is 22-6 with a 3.62 ERA (95 ER/236.0 IP) in 46 professional starts.

Loux was selected by the Diamondbacks out of Texas A&M, where as a junior he earned First Team All-American honors by Baseball America and was a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award given annually to the nation’s top amateur player.

Joe’s iPod

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Morning News: Road Trip Edition

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

You’ll have to forgive he lack of detail (not that you’d necessarily notice)–I’m on the road this week for a family reunion/Thanksgiving celebration in Oklahoma. If I’ve overlooked something interesting or worthwhile, it’s not negligence–I probably just don’t know about it.

The Cubs have agreed to a one-year contract with relief pitcher Shawn Camp. Hooray? Camp tied for the league-lead in appearances last season with 80, in which he provided middling relief most of the time, with flashes of spectacular incompetence.

As I write this Monday night, I’m actively ignoring the Bears vs. 49ers game debacle. I know our readership is fairly divided when it comes to football loyalties–some of you may just want to jump ahead (and feel free to petition some of our other writers to devote some space to your favorite team). In simple terms (for the sake of any Packer fans still reading–zing!), the 2012 Bears of perhaps the most all-or-nothing team I’ve ever seen. When it’s all going right, hey look like hyper-dominant world-beaters. But toy with their delicate recipe in even the smallest way, and it results in a complete and total meltdown. Could we rally and still win the NFC North? Absolutely. Could we have already enjoyed our last win of the season? Certainly seems possible. I believe we can beat anyone in league, but there’s not one team I’m absolutely sure we’d beat every time. Schizophrenic is not how you want to describe your teams. It seems to be a constant with the Bears. The final score on the pantsing, 32-7. Woof.

Some small good news for Bears fans: Mike Ditka is back home after suffering a minor stroke. He was even able to appear on ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown.

Big news for Big 10 fans: Maryland and Rutgers are joining your beloved “Legends and Leaders.” That will take the Big 10 up to fourteen teams, so look for more additions in the near future (sixteen is kind of the magic number when it comes to super conferences). Any guesses as to who the next additions will be? And for you Big 10 fans, is this good news?

Ed Reed received a one-game suspension for an illegal hit on Steelers’ receiver Emmanuel Sanders. I didn’t see the hit, so I can’t say if the suspension was earned. What say you?

The NHL might have a proposal soon. Full disclosure: I didn’t read this story. I have very little hope left that there will be a season in 2012, and stories like this just seem like a tease at this point.

David Beckham is hanging up his shinguards, at least stateside. Yawn.

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Morning News: NCAA BChaoS, Potty Mouth Bud, and Scarf This Down

Monday, November 19th, 2012

Cubs
Let’s start here and perhaps avoid some of the ugliness from the Cubs Only crowd. At the end of last week, the Cubs agreed with Dioner Navarro on a 1-year deal that effectively makes him no worse than our backup catcher. Former MLB pitcher and current AAAAstros announcer Jim Deshaies is one of the few remaining names that hasn’t withdrawn from consideration as the Cubs new TV analyst (to replace the Arizona-bound Bob Brenly). He interviewed with the Cubs over the weekend. Rumors have the Cubs interested in Kyuji Fujikawa, a true free agent from Japan (no posting fee). Fujikawa is a reliever, and it’s my opinion he’ll likely wind up elsewhere. But if all of that still is not enough, Fat Dan Vogelbach gave Carrie Muskat an interview – reportedly in return he was provided with a crazy amount of buffalo wings and Ho-Hos.

NCAA
Total carnage in NCAA football this week, #1 (Kansas State), #2 (Oregon) both lost. That means the remaining undefeated teams are Notre Dame and The (Ineligible For Postseason Play) Ohio State University. Notre Dame gets the sputtering Trojans of USC; a win and they’re in the title game. Alabama crawled up to #2, but they’ll have to vanquish Georgia in the SEC title game. It seems as if the winner of that game will be Notre Dame’s foe, but if the BCS has taught us anything it’s that we have no idea what next week brings.

NFL
Overtime reigned supreme on Sunday, three of the early games went to OT (with the Cowboys, Texans, and Buccaneers picking up wins in those games). All of the late afternoon games were beatdowns. The Bears need a win on MNF in San Francisco without Jay Cutler in order to stay a game up on the Packers (who won in Detroit in spite of Mason Crosby’s right leg).

Allan Huber Selig
You know how when you did something wrong as a child, your parents would call you out by your full name to let you know you were in it deep? I’m looking at you Allan Huber Selig. Reportedly, Bud was recently asked again about the prospect of the Oakland A’s moving to San Jose. It’s a question that Bay Area residents know well – kind of how Los Angeles residents have a constant dialogue about which NFL team they’d to send moving trucks for, or Vegas residents who continue the fantasy of a professional sports team taking up residence in the city sometime during this millennium. Bud doesn’t really like the Oakland to San Jose question because it’s one that makes him look rather impotent and incompetent. He hasn’t the power nor the acumen to resolve the situation to anyone’s satisfaction; he’s been unable to secure any type of permanent (and adequate) facility for the A’s in either city. Well Bud was particularly testy when asked, he replied to the reporter that he’d ‘be disappointed if you didn’t ask’ but that the reporter ‘wasn’t going to get a f****** answer.’ I’m not sure he necessarily needed that kind of answer, just a normal answer probably would’ve been good enough. (Since we’re talking about Selig, it’s incredible to me that he’s NOT the worst active sports commissioner. Gary Bettman of the NHL has him beat by a mile, and that’s really saying something.)

A Scarf You’ll Want To Eat
Now if they can somehow make pieces of bacon that big, create someway to cook them, and then install said cooking device in my backyard/kitchen/bedroom (all of the above?)…I’d be happy.

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Morning News: Healthy Pitchers, Spare Catchers, and a Lesser Affleck

Friday, November 16th, 2012

Good news here: Matt Garza’s return is on schedule, and he’s been cleared to resume his regular off-season regime. Unless another trade partner emerges for Carlos Marmol, Garza remains the Cubs’ most valuable and most likely candidate for a mid-season trade. If he can bounce back from an injury-shortened season, he ought to bring a nice haul somewhere around the trade deadline.

In other Cubs news, the team signed former All-Star catcher Dioner Navarro Thursday. A little veteran pressure for Welington Castillo and Steve Clevenger isn’t a bad thing. For now I’ll assume that either one of them will be the starter, with Navarro as the back up.

The MVP awards were announced Thursday. Buster Posey won, making him the first catcher to win the NL award in more than four decades. And in what’s sure to be a controversial decision, Triple Crown slugger Miguel Cabrera won for the AL.

Casey Affleck–real-life brother of Ben Affleck and fake brother of Scott Caan in the “Ocean’s Eleven” movies–has signed on to write and direct a film based on the life of Josh Hamilton. The movie will be based on Hamilton’s autobiography, Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back.

My hopes for any kind of hockey season this year are fading fast. It can’t be a good sign when the league commissioner’s plan is to completely halt talks for the next two weeks. It’s like he’s trying to prove the crazy conspiracy theory that he was put in place by David Stern to ensure the NHL never becomes more popular than the NBA.

Another Thursday night, another uninspiring NFL game. The Bills held off the Dolphins in a slap fight, despite some late charges from Miami. Ryan Tannehill killed both late-game drives with untimely interceptions–a trend he brought with him from his college days. I think Miami fans have good reason to expect big things in the future from their rookie QB. But right now, with a porous line in front of him, it might be too much to expect consistent late-game heroics from him.

O’Hare Airport is an awful, awful place.

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GirlieView (11/15/2012)

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

A nice slow week around these parts.

GirlieView Definitions

  • Lizzie = A funny, timely quote made on the VFTB site by our writers or commenters.
  • Lizard = The best Lizzie.
  • MVL = Most Valuable Lizzie’er: The person with the most Lizzies in the period under review (usually the past two weeks)
  • Top 10 of 2012 = The folks with the most aggregate Lizzie points YTD (1 point for every Lizzie, 3 points for every Lizard)

As you already know, this is all completely subjective and according to my whims. Let’s go!

Lizzies

  • Ian Stewart proved he is not an impact hitter
  • Ian Stewart proved he is not a hitter.
  • Your ideas are obviously well-thought-out.  Not sure you belong here.
  • I would love to be a fly on the wall at Brandon Phillips house- I bet he used curse words when he found out Barney gets the Gold.
  • Oh no.  Please disregard everything we say.
  • I’m just relieved you didn’t take Seymour’s advice with respect to your Halloween costume.
  • Live a little.
  • Any relation to Jeff Baker?
  • Distant cousin from a small Mediterranean island.  They shared an apartment.
  • Do Laverne and Shirley stop by?
  • They were pulling the cool Baker in a speedboat when he ski-jumped over Smarja.
  • I think I’ve identified the problem. You still get your news from the papers.
  • I understand they now allow newspapers on airplanes as well.
  • I’m outraged.  A rolled-up newspaper is nearly as lethal as a box cutter.
  • Major League Baseball continues to move toward expanding instant replay at a glacial pace.
  • After namining one of his sons Jermajesty, Jermaine Jackson should have had his naming liscense taken away.
  • Jer, Jedi, and Jermajesty Johnson.
  • Funny story–my parents almost named me Jermajesty, but then they stopped huffing paint.
  • Imagine trying to get a job interview if your name was Jermajesty Johnson…probably not going to happen.  You’d have to change it to something more professional, like Jermajusty Johnsun.
  • Do the Hanson Brothers still play for the Chiefs?
  • I think they started a band.
  • I’d need to get the prospect I think is number 4 in the system to pull the trigger at this point.
  • I’ve always had the feeling that they and Dale know what button to push to motivate Sori.

Lizard

  • Now that the 2012 season is officially over (remind me to send God a thank you note on that)

MVL

  • Congragulations to jswanson, the Most Valuable Lizzie’er this time around!

2012 Top Ten YTD

1. Jeremiah Johnson
2. Doc Raker
3. jswanson
4. Seymour Butts
5. Jedi Johnson
6. cap’n Obvious
7. Buddy
8. Joe Aiello
9. Chuck
10. Eddie Von White

Chit Chat

I can’t believe we’re only one week from Thanksgiving. What’s your favorite aspect of the holiday? Food? Family? Football? Some other F word I’m not remembering to mention? Tell us your traditions.

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Morning News: Cy Young Awards and Marlins Fire Sale

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Cy Young Awards- The Cy Young Award winners were announced on Wednesday, with David Price winning in the AL and knuckleballer R.A. Dickey nabbing the award in the NL.  Both of these guys were very, very good pitchers this year, although I’d argue that both of the 2011 award winners, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw, should have repeated. Sweet Spot guru David Schoenfield posted an excellent piece on ESPN.com regarding why Verlander should have won.

The short version is that Price beat Verlander because Price’s win-loss record, which is not a strong indicator of how good a pitcher is or is not, was 20-5 while Verlander’s record was 17-8. Verlander pitched 27 more innings and had the better strikeout and walk rates.  However, Price had an excellent season in his own right, so you can’t spite him the award, although I can be annoyed that more attention was paid to win-loss record than statistics that are more indicative of success.

Dickey and Kershaw were in a similar situation. Dickey had a great season, Kershaw’s was slightly better. But Dickey had the incredible narrative. A former fireballing top prospect, Dickey has found his greatest Major League success in his mid to late 30s as a knuckleballer. And this season Dickey put up previously unheard of strikeout rates by a knuckleballer.

Despite the fact that they would not have been my first choices, kudos to both Price and Dickey, who had great years on the mound

The Marlins Fire Sale- The Marlins have been heavily criticized in the past 24 hours, and I generally see why. First, Jeffrey Loria has a long history of cost cutting moves like these. Second, the Marlins have an even longer history of it. Third, Loria made promises to Miami that he would run the franchise differently upon receiving a sweetheart deal for public financing of the Marlins’ new stadium, even by the standards of the sweet public financing deals most teams are getting for building new stadiums.

I do think, however, one element is left out of this story: the Marlins generally spent stupidly last offseason. Jose Reyes’ deal could be a good one if he stays anywhere near healthy, but that’s not a strong bet. And if his legs go, his value could fall through the floor. I like Buehrle and advocated the Cubs trying to sign him last offseason, but the Marlins significantly overpaid him. And the Heath Bell signing was just stupidity.

Let’s say the Marlins hadn’t traded anyone over the last 12 months. Let’s say they still had Anibal Sanchez, Hanley Ramirez, Omar Infante and everyone they just traded away to Toronto. Where would you predict the Marlins would have finished in the NL East in 2013? My prediction would be fourth.

This isn’t to say that the Marlins shouldn’t be criticized. But, just as much as they should be criticized for the fire sale, they should be criticized for spending stupidly on a $100 million team that needed far too much to go right in 2012 to legitimately expect to compete.

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A Baker Gets His Dough

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

I’m sorry for the horrible headline, but I’m in a pretty good mood this evening as I sit down to write this (yes, the morning news is written in the evening). I’m not quite sure why I’m happy. I can’t say that it’s because of the first off-season move. I’m just happy and that’s a fun place to be.

If you didn’t see it, and that’s entirely possible due to the massive amount of other news that came down the MLB news portal, the Cubs made their first real move this off-season, signing Scott Baker to a one year deal with a $5.5 million base and up to $1.5 million in incentives. Baker spend the entire season last year rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and was let go by the Twins. For the Cubs, the deal is low risk, potentially high reward. We commented that it’s basically another Paul Maholm type deal. If he pitches the way he’s capable of pitching, he can be flipped at the deadline for prospects to continue the rebuild or signed long term. If he doesn’t pitch well, which is very possible, we lose nothing.

If you’re unfamiliar with his body of work, here are his career numbers:

Year Age W L ERA GS IP HR ERA+ WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2005 23 3 3 3.35 9 53.2 5 133 1.155 8.0 0.8 2.3 5.4 2.29
2006 24 5 8 6.37 16 83.1 17 70 1.560 12.3 1.8 1.7 6.7 3.88
2007 25 9 9 4.26 23 143.2 15 101 1.329 10.1 0.9 1.8 6.4 3.52
2008 26 11 4 3.45 28 172.1 20 122 1.178 8.4 1.0 2.2 7.4 3.36
2009 27 15 9 4.37 33 200.0 28 100 1.190 8.6 1.3 2.2 7.3 3.38
2010 28 12 9 4.49 29 170.1 23 91 1.344 9.8 1.2 2.3 7.8 3.44
2011 29 8 6 3.14 21 134.2 15 129 1.173 8.4 1.0 2.1 8.2 3.84
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/13/2012.

Personally, I really like the signing because it’s low risk. This is a regime that has expressed to fans that the rebuild is going to come primarily through the farm and supplemented with smart free agents that make sense for the long term plan. Baker accomplishes that.

Now, the reason you may not have seen the deal was because you were blinded by yet another Marlins rebuild project. If you didn’t see it, the specs are:

The Marlins are sending Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto in exchange for pieces for their rebuild. No word on if the trade has been completely finalized as of this writing, and based on the age we live in where things seem to have a propensity of changing at the last moment (See: Phil Jackson and Carlos Marmol), I’m reserving judgement on this one. What I would say is this. There are those who will complain that they are tired of seeing the Marlins do this time and time again, but I would argue that if it meant we could see a World Series in Chicago on the Northside just once in my lifetime, I’d gladly sit through this type of regime. The Marlins, as unorthodox as the methods have been, have won the ultimate prize twice. Something is working over there.

The trade did get me thinking about the salaries involved. Obviously the reason for the deal is strictly salary dump for the fish. If the contracts that were signed were not guaranteed, like the way it is in the NFL, would that change things? Would that be a better system or would in lead to bad consequences in baseball? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that. Personally, I’m a fan of the guaranteed deals because it holds the owners / GM’s accountable for wise spending. Unfortunately it also has the potential for causing stuff like this, which is not a service to the fans in the short term. Let me know how you feel.

That’s all I’ve got for you. Let’s go out with Bowling for Soup.

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The Soriano Conundrum

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

When Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer joined the Cubs’ organization a year ago, many presumed that their first order of business would be getting rid of Alfonso Soriano. The rumors were that they would be willing to pick up nearly all of Soriano’s contract, $18 million per year through 2014, and weren’t expecting all that much in return. Soriano was viewed as the symbol for all that was wrong with the organization under Jim Hendry: he was overpaid, declining, had no plate discipline and played bad defense.

What a difference a year makes. Not only did Soriano post offensive numbers on par with his strong 2010 season, but based upon all reports he vastly improved his fielding in left field. Where Soriano could get by with bad routes and fundamentals in left in 2007 and 2008, when he still had his legs and essentially all of his physical talents in their prime, that was not true in 2009 to 2011. He appeared to have devoted himself to improving his fielding, and it paid off. According to FanGraphs, Soriano was worth 4 wins above replacements in 2012.

Furthermore, all reports have Soriano as a guy who has become a fast favorite of both Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Despite the rumors of Soriano’s laziness, the media always reported he was a hard worker. That seems to clearly be the case.

So what should the Cubs do with Alfonso Soriano now? Of course, if the Cubs get an offer for Soriano that absolutely blows them away, they should take it. But the real question is where the break point is.

So let’s start with what we know: First, the Cubs would still be willing to pick up all of Alfonso Soriano’s contract for the right package of prospects and/or young major leaguers. Second, during this offseason, the Cubs are going to err on the side of the future over the present in any personnel issues.

The big question is if Soriano can repeat his 2012 performance. If Soriano stays healthy, I firmly believe he can. What was the big difference between Soriano’s strong 2010 and 2012 seasons and his weak 2011 season? For the most part, it was that Soriano batted 30 to 40 points higher on balls in play than in 2011.

And here’s my theory: if Soriano can repeat his 2012 season for the first half of 2013, his trade value will peak in July. Not only would it would show that he’s less likely, especially than people thought a year ago, to decline beyond being a useful major leaguer, but a Soriano with last year’s numbers could be the best power hitter available at the trade deadline next year.

There’s also the consideration that we do not know the timeline the Cubs’ brass is really looking to compete in. If the Cubs are looking to compete for the division in 2014, though, odds are pretty strong that Soriano would be their best option to start in left field, presuming that the 2014 version of Soriano would be better than at least 2 of Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur and Jorge Soler.

So here’s the real question: if I’m  Theo or Jed what do I need to be offered to trade Alfonso Soriano right now? As I said above, the Cubs would rather pay most of Soriano’s contract and get better prospects in return than the opposite. And I wouldn’t expect to get someone on par with the Cubs’ top three prospects (Baez, Soler, Almora). But I’d need to get the prospect I think is number 4 in the system to pull the trigger at this point.

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Morning News: New ROYs, Injured QBs, and a Charity DOA

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Let’s just get this out of the way now: the Cubs haven’t done anything of note in the last several days, unless you count this. We all know there are moves to be made, but hardly anyone is making them yet. For all the talk about the MLB “hot stove,” I think offseasons are usually more like cascading dominoes, and for whatever reason, the first one hasn’t fallen yet. Rest assured we’ll let you know when it does.

In other MLB news, and to no one’s surprise, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper were named Rookies of the Year in the AL and NL, respectively. Many fans hope Trout adds to his collection of hardware Thursday when the MVP award is announced, but his unanimous ROY might have been a consolation prize.

I was out most of the evening and didn’t get to see the Chiefs lose to the Steelers in overtime. It seems Roethlisberger was injured, bringing the number of battered starting QBs seemingly into the teens (not really). The Bears are set to sign Josh McCown as insurance against a lengthy Jay Cutler absence, although he and the 49ers’ Alex Smith seem to be feeling better the day after their concussions. However it looks like Nick Foles will start in place of an injured Michael Vick, whose own concussion was described as “serious.”

Lance Armstrong has formally cut ties with his Livestrong campaign. I don’t know if that means we’re supposed to put the plastic yellow bracelets back on, or throw them away forever. This whole doping scandal is really wreaking havoc with my charity-inspired accessories drawer.

That should be enough to get you started for now. I may add some more links in the morning depending on what catches my eye.

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