Why Melky Cabrera's 50-Game PED Suspension Is the Costliest Ever
During this year alone, Philadelphia Phillies infielder Freddy Galvis and free-agent outfielder Marlon Byrd have received 50-game suspensions. San Francisco Giants pitcher Guillermo Mota drew a 100-game penalty for testing positive a second time for performance-enhancing substances.
Manny Ramirez might be the most significant player to draw 50- and 100-game suspensions under baseball's drug program. Ryan Braun was issued a 50-game suspension during the offseason but successfully appealed the penalty due to questions over how his urine sample was handled.
But considering the season that Cabrera was having while the Giants are in a fierce race with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL West lead and a playoff spot, is this the worst, most costly drug suspension baseball has ever seen?
The NL Batting Title
First, let's look at Cabrera's individual achievements this season. At the time of his suspension, he led the big leagues with 159 hits. His .346 batting average is second best in the majors.
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But as was later pointed out to Kepner on Twitter, a quirky rule allows Cabrera to add a hitless at-bat in order to get the required plate appearances. Call this "The Tony Gwynn Rule," as Gwynn had 498 plate appearances in 1996 and was given the four hitless at-bats he needed to qualify. Gwynn won the batting title with a .353 average.
Adding an 0-for-1 to Cabrera's season total still leaves him with a .346 batting average. So if that ends up as the best in the majors, MLB could face the awkward situation of awarding a batting title to a suspended player. Many fingers will surely be crossed for the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen or Reds' Joey Votto to finish ahead of Cabrera.
The NL West Race
What about the effect Cabrera's suspension will have on the Giants?
San Francisco is one game behind the Dodgers in the NL West and a half-game out of a wild-card playoff spot as of Aug. 15. No time is a good time for a team to lose one of its best hitters, but this is a particularly devastating point of the season for the Giants to lose Cabrera.
When Ramirez took his 50-game suspension in 2009, it happened in early May. The Dodgers had a 5.5-game lead in the NL West, but five months remained in the season. Losing Ramirez didn't have a direct outcome on the division race at that point. The Dodgers eventually won the division by three games.
Compare that to the 2012 NL West race. The Giants and Dodgers are so closely matched that any slip-up or surge could determine who wins the division. Being without Cabrera for the final 48 games of the season most certainly qualifies as a setback for San Francisco.
Will this cost the Giants the NL West and a playoff spot?
The addition of Hunter Pence looks like an extremely important move in light of this development. And Pablo Sandoval just returned from the disabled list, so the Giants still have a strong middle to their batting order to go with an outstanding pitching staff. They should stay competitive with the Dodgers through the end of the season.
The All-Star Game and World Series
Cabrera's use of PEDs has implications that reach out to the World Series as well. He won the All-Star Game MVP award as a result of batting 2-for-3 with a home run and two RBI. Cabrera also scored two runs in the game.
That effort helped the National League to an All-Star Game victory, meaning that the NL will have home-field advantage in the World Series this year.
So the AL champion will have to play four games on the road thanks largely to the performance of a player who was getting an boost from PEDs. If the AL winner finishes with a better record than its NL counterpart and has to play Games 6 and 7 of the World Series away from home, that could be a bitter development to deal with.
Kiss That Contract Goodbye
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He showed excellent timing by having his best season just before becoming a free agent. Whether it was from the Giants or another team in need of a productive corner outfielder, Cabrera was going to cash in.
The Giants reportedly offered Cabrera a three-year, $27 million contract extension earlier this season. But Cabrera turned that down—and understandably so—knowing that he would probably get twice the years and twice the money on the open market.
However, if a six-year, $60 million deal was potentially available, it isn't going to be now. Cabrera showed some obviously poor timing by testing positive for excessive testosterone two to three months away from free agency.
Teams aren't going to stay away from Cabrera entirely. A 28-year-old outfielder in the prime of his career will attract interest.
Of course, potential suitors will be very curious as to how talented Cabrera really is without the help of PEDs. Is he more the type of player we saw prior to 2011, who hit .255 with a .671 OPS? Maybe not, but the onus is certainly on Cabrera to prove that his past two extremely impressive seasons haven't been too good to be true.
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