With the suspension of Ryan Braun, and new suspensions for other players involved in the Biogenesis probe looming, it is worthwhile is look at whether or not the suspensions would actually benefit Major League Baseball’s efforts to keep the game clean. Yesterday we examined why the Biogenesis case will keep baseball clean. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that no matter what the outcome of the investigation into Tony Bosch’s “anti-aging clinic,” it will not be enough to keep baseball clean.
One of the biggest fallacies about the entire investigation is that MLB “caught” cheaters, specifically Ryan Braun or Alex Rodriguez. False. Braun tested positive in 2011, and won his case at an arbitration hearing due to a chain of custody issue with him sample. However, he never at any time contested (despite in a now-foolish and impassioned statement to reporters at Spring Training) the content of the sample. Braun never attacked the test based on the result, just the handling. He got away with cheating despite a failed test. Rodriguez never technically failed a test, given that his 2003 results were a baseline test as MLB investigated the use of PEDs in the game. For all his connections to Biogenesis, he has never tested positive for any substance. Neither guy was implicated due to a suspicious sample or a failed test; rather, they were incriminated by a ticked off former employee of Bosch, Porter Fischer, who divulged information and records to MLB as revenge on Bosch. It wasn’t as though MLB’s crack testing services caught these two red handed. In fact, Braun’s suspension was due to a non-analytic positive- even in his suspension, Braun was found guilty due to the contact with the clinic and the lying to MLB, not for the failed test. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence that he doped, Braun was still not suspended for the actual test itself. Were it not for Fischer, MLB would not have had sufficient evidence to suspend Braun other than a failed test that technically never happened due to the arbitrator’s ruling. Porter Fischer, 1. MLB, 0.
Another reason that the suspensions, even those historic in nature will not work is that even in the case of a failed test and suspension, players will not face repercussions in later contracts. For instance, in 2012, Melky Cabrera tested positive (kudos for trying with that fake website to try and distract MLB, though) for banned substances, and was subsequently suspended heading into his free agency in the 2012 off-season. This is the present situation for Nelson Cruz, for instance. However, even after his failed test, the Toronto Blue Jays gave Cabrera a two-year, $16 million dollar deal. While it may not be ARod money, the guy still got $8 million dollars a year after he was suspended for cheating. The Blue Jays paid him handsomely in light of evidence that his abilities might have been inflated. If a player is heading into a free-agent year, or is coming out of his arbitration years looking so score a deal with some substantial money, why not try PEDs? What is there to lose- you get caught during the deal, you still get paid. You get caught before the deal, you still get paid. Not every player cares about the Hall of Fame, some just want to set themselves up financially. There are no ramifications for contracts immediately following positive tests that outweigh the risk of testing positive.
To that end, there are no real ramifications for within contracts for testing positive, period. Due to his 65-game ban, Braun will forfeit about $3 million dollars of his 2013 salary, a prorated rate. That’s it. The guy is still owe $133 million dollars over the next eight years, per his contract with the Brewers. Yep, that whole $3 million dollars is gonna sting. Teams have virtually no recourse to void the contract and get out of paying a player who doped (and, in all likelihood, the root of performance that led to said contract). The only good news for a team like the Yankees, who are looking at a self-imposed payroll cap in 2014, is that the salary of a player suspended for PEDs does not account against the luxury tax. In the Yankees case, if ARod misses time in 2014 due to injury, the Yankees will save a ton of money, even if it is only prorated during the time the player is suspended. While that policy rightfully does not hurt the team due to the player’s actions, it also doesn’t do anything to hurt a player in any meaningful way, either. It may hurt for a guy like Francisco Rodriguez, or a minor leaguer who is making peanuts, but in the case of the “ones that got away” like Braun or Rodriguez, the financial pain is minimal. The union would never all it, but the way to give this real teeth is to void percentages of, or the entire contract, for a verified failed test. This will never happen, and thus never be a real deterrent. There’s a better chance of the Marlins winning the 2013 World Series. Chalk this up as an epic win for the MLBPA, but a huge reason that banned substances will never totally be eradicated from the game.
Finally, MLB will never truly eradicate banned substances from baseball because the drugs, and those who supply them, will always be one step ahead of testing abilities. According to reports, Bosch’s clinic featured fast-acting drugs (gummies, gels, creams) that were able to supply short-term benefits, without lasting long enough to show up in a test. The mad chemist may have actually done a service for his clients- prior to Biogenesis breaking open as an investigative story by ESPN’s Outside the Lines and Yahoo! Sports (who each, on an unrelated note, have done a fabulous job of covering this story every step of the way) did anyone really think that Cervelli (a back-up catcher), Jesus Montero (a now-demoted but once touted prospect) or Nelson Cruz had any ties to PEDs? Likely not. The drug suppliers will always be able to create new products before tests can be up-to-date enough to detect usage. As I have written previously, steroids and PEDs are no longer the obvious, acne-causing, rage-inducing agents that they used to be. If reports are to be believed, these drugs now come in injections, and tablets, and horse cream, your own oxygenated blood, and deer antler spray… MLB can test for what it knows: HGH, anabolic steroids, testosterone. But it cannot test for what it doesn’t know about. Unless MLB tests every player daily, which is highly unreasonable and highly unlikely to happen, there is no way that they are going to catch every player and make the game completely clean. MLB will always be playing from behind in its efforts to eradicate banned substances from baseball.
I am sure that all of baseball- the players, the front offices, the fans- will be waiting with bated breath this week as we await word of suspensions for the remaining players involved with Biogenesis. However, as much as the efforts of Major League Baseball may be historic, sweeping, thorough, etc., they will really never eliminate PEDs from the game of baseball. Whether these measures will have any impact at all will remain to be seen, but one thing is for sure: baseball’s steroid era continues to diminish the game, in so many ways.