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January 18, 2005

What will Jason Do?
by SG

As spring training approaches, the Yankee roster appears to be set for the most part.

The defense will probably contend for worst in the league. Only Tino Martinez and Alex Rodriguez project to be above average defenders. Derek Jeter had an improved defensive season last year, but it remains to be seen if that can be sustained, and he still turned out to be only average, Gold Glove aside. Tony Womack is a defensive downgrade from Miguel Cairo, and the outfield is shaky from left to right.

The starting rotation has the potential to be very good, but fraught with risk. Randy Johnson age and knee, Kevin Brown's age and various ailments, Mike Mussina's age and struggles last year, Carl Pavano's switching leagues and past performance, and Jaret Wright's potential to implode, there are legitimate concerns with all five starters.

The bullpen appears to be deep, although another lefty would be a good addition since Stanton is not really a lefty-killer.

From the way things stand now, it looks like the offense will have to carry this team. Luckily, that is the Yankees' strength. The Yankees had the best offense in the league last year by some advanced metrics (Fenway Park's park factor skewed the Red Sox's raw offensive totals quite significantly). The Yankees led the majors in EQA & EQR last season.

Some age-related decline can be expected from the majority of the lineup, but replacing Tony Clark and John Olerud with Tino Martinez will actually be a gain. Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter are also reasonable bets to exceed last year's numbers. Replacing Miguel Cairo's 2004 with Tony Womack's 2005 will likely be a downgrade, but hopefully not a huge one.

So what about Jason Giambi?

In Jack Curry's New York Times article,
The Yankees Are Resigned to Having Giambi Back, it appears that it is fairly likely that Giambi will be a Yankee in 2004. An excerpt:

The Yankees are not likely to pay Giambi $82 million to leave, although they might agree to half that amount. Yankees General Manager Brian

Cashman said Tuesday that Giambi was a part of the team and "would be in Tampa in time for the first full-squad workout."

But the Yankees have continued to research whether they have a legal basis for canceling Giambi's contract. So far, the Yankees have discovered that, for many reasons, it would be very difficult to prove that Giambi violated his contract.

Although the Yankees think Giambi misled them when he told them last season, while being treated for a parasite and then a benign tumor in his pituitary gland, that he had not used steroids, they do not think the misrepresentation was enough to enable them to void his contract.

To me, one of the critical factors in the Yankee offense this season will be how Giambi performs. This is probably as unpredictable as anything in baseball going into 2005. However, a productive Giambi would prevent outmakers like Ruben Sierra from getting too much playing time. So what are the factors that we have to look at with Giambi?

According to Giambi's leaked grand jury testimony, he has used various performance enhancing drugs since 2001.
Included in the list are Deca Durabolin, an injectable steroid which enhances building of muscle. When Giambi met up with Greg Anderson to inquire about Barry Bonds's training regimen, Anderson suggest the infamous Balco blood test, which would supposedly check for mineral deficiencies and prescribe supplements to correct them. Anderson warned Giambi about getting off Deca when he detected it in his test, and instead began providing him various other drugs, including injectable testosterone, "the cream", and "the clear." Giambi was also taking human growth hormone at the time.

In addition to those, Giambi was also taking several different pills, including Clomid, female fertility drug. This drug supposedly can enhance the effectiveness of testosterone.

The reason athletes seek to increase their testosterone levels is to faciliate recovery from training. Weighlifting is very taxing on the body. Lifting weights actually tears down the muscle fibers being worked, which are then rebuilt becoming stronger than before. Without the use of anabolic steroids, people who work out run the risk of overtraining, which can be detrimental. Steroids allow you to work out harder and recover faster. The steroids themselves do not magically make muscles appear, and do not make you grow without the work being put in. If Giambi is willing to put in the work necessary, he should be able to regain a reasonable amount of his strength. However, there is a complication to that.

The New York Daily News reported Sept. 3 that Giambi had a tumor in his pituitary gland.

Did his abuse of drugs lead to Giambi's pituitary tumor? The link between steroid abuse and tumors is tenuous, but does exist. From the University of Maryland's Medical Center page about pituitary tumors:

According to The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney diseases, autopsy studies indicates that 25 percent of the US population has some form of small pituitary tumor. The vast majority of these are benign and not considered clinically significant. Only a very small number of people (about 14 in 100,000) experience health effects attributable to pituitary tumors.

Clomid has been linked to exacerbating pituitary tumors in some studies.

Some of the side effects of pituitary tumors include:

decreased appetite
vision impairment, blurriness, blindness (particularly poor peripheral vision)
excessive thirst and frequent urination

Any of these would have made it significantly difficult to play baseball.

Also of concern is the fact that Giambi has been suffering from nagging injuries the last two season, and is at an age where decline is expected in even the healthiest of players. He had arthroscopic surgery on his knee in 2003, and this past season suffered a sprained ankle, as well as dealing with a balky back.

With a rudimentary form of steroid testing in place last year, it's probably a safe assumption that Giambi was not on them last season. His thinner appearance when he reported to spring training would also seem to indicate as much. So it's not completely unreasonable that how he performed prior to his ankle injury and battle with the parasite and tumor is indicative of how he may perform without the benefit of PED.

Prior to spraining his ankle and going on the disabled list on May 22, Giambi's hitting stats:

AB: 126
R: 20
H: 34
2B: 7
HR: 9
RBI: 24
BB: 24
SO: 27
AVG: .270
OBP: .406
SLG: .540
OPS: .946

If you project those results over 150 games:

AB: 525
R: 83
H: 142
2B: 29
HR: 38
RBI: 100
BB: 100
SO: 113
AVG: .270
OBP: .406
SLG: .540
OPS: .946

Not bad, huh?

This tells me that being off steroids is not the big concern with Giambi. The problem that I see will be the effects of the pituitary tumor on his health going forward.

Of the various treatment options available, Giambi had non-surgical treatment, with steroids oddly enough, according to published reports.

Hormone replacement therapy is an important part of any treatment for a pituitary disorder. Hormones must be prescribed to meet your exact needs.

Sometimes tumors cause a lack of hormone, which can lead to the symptoms you are having. Sometimes lack of hormone is caused by the treatment you have for pituitary tumors. Radiation therapy, for example, can lead to permanent loss of hormone secretion.

Some hormones are absolutely necessary for survival. These hormones must be replaced immediately. The replacement of cortisol is important, because this hormone regulates blood pressure and blood glucose levels. Cortisol replacement is common during tumor surgeries because it helps the body to handle stress.

TSH, or thyroid stimulating hormone, is also vital to survival, because it regulates the body's metabolism. If TSH secretion is low, you may also need to start thyroid hormone replacement.

So it seems that there is treatment available for the effects of the tumor, although I don't know how effective it will be for a professional athlete.

i won't try to defend Jason Giambi or his actions. He broke the law to gain a competitive advantage over his rivals. However, it was not a capital offense. In his own misguided way he was trying to make himself a better player, and it backfired on him. A lot of Yankee fans are mad at Giambi and will root against him now. I won't attempt to change your minds, but until something changes, he is a part of this team, and I will be pulling for him to have a comeback year. I think he can duplicate his 2003 numbers, and hold out a slim hope that he could be closer to his 2002 numbers.

He will probably also need to do some public relations work to rehabilitate his image in the eyes of the fans. I think if he does both of those things, he will win most Yankee fans over.