If the latest allegations regarding Alex Rodriguez and his possible involvement with performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) demonstrate anything, it's that the current drug-testing program in MLB isn't working as hoped.
Baseball players and those providing them with PEDs are always going to be ahead of the tests used to detect HGH, synthetic testosterone or whatever substance gets created in the future that MLB doesn't have a test for.
As the Miami New Times report shows, Rodriguez had already moved on to other PEDs by the time baseball began mandatory testing for steroids. In the event this is truly accurate, it certainly paid off for him. He signed his 10-year, $274 million contract around the same time his name was listed as a client in a Miami anti-aging clinic's notebooks.
The rewards still far outweigh the risks when it comes to PED usage in MLB. The rules and penalties need to change. They need to be harsher.
What can MLB do to deter PED use and try to clean up the sport? Here are a handful of suggestions, some more serious than others.
Increase the Suspensions
This one is obvious, but the current penalties in MLB's drug-testing policy need to be stricter.
Currently, the agreement between MLB and the players union calls for a 50-game suspension for the first positive test, a 100-game penalty for the second time caught and a lifetime ban if a player tests positive a third time.
While those appear to be harsh penalties, the 50-game suspension for a first-time offense clearly isn't enough of a deterrent. Six players were suspended last season, including Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon.
That doesn't include the suspension that Ryan Braun had overturned when he tested positive last winter, successfully arguing that his urine sample had been improperly handled.
The risk of getting caught using PEDs apparently doesn't outweigh the benefits of playing in the major leagues and putting up the kind of performance that results in a multimillion-dollar contract.
Look at Cabrera and Colon. Despite their suspensions, they still signed contracts for next season. Cabrera inked a two-year, $16 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, while Colon returned to the Oakland Athletics on a one-year, $3 million contract.
Perhaps each player would have gotten a more lucrative deal if not for the PED suspensions. But can it be argued that using PEDs didn't eventually pay off for Cabrera and Colon?
How about upping the suspension for first-time offenders to 100 games? That would be more than half the season, rather than 30 percent of it. Or perhaps the penalty for a first positive test could be a one-year suspension.
A second test could draw a lifetime suspension, with the right to apply for reinstatement after two years.
Would that be enough of a deterrent? Knowing a positive test could cost them a season would likely make players—especially younger ones hoping to establish their careers—think long and hard about taking a chemical boost.
What if Cabrera and Colon had not been allowed to sign a free-agent contract this winter because of their positive PED tests?
Perhaps this penalty would be redundant if the suspensions for first-time offenders were increased to 100 games or a full-season ban. Those players wouldn't be able to earn a paycheck for a year following their penalties.
But if the suspensions stayed the same or increased only slightly, certain players might still think chemically boosting their performance is worth the risk.
That would be especially true if that player was in his "walk year," on the verge of free agency. He would want to put up the best numbers possible in order to maximize his value and earning potential on the open market. That could create plenty of incentive to take some sort of enhancement.
But what if the free-agent market was not an option for a player with a positive test? It would amount to a one-year suspension for a PED user. He can't sign a new deal for the following season and thus has to sit out the year.
Obviously, this would have to be collectively bargained to avoid any sort of collusion between owners. Realistically, the players union probably wouldn't agree to such a penalty.
Players would surely argue that banning them for a year is restricting trade.
But they wouldn't be restricted from playing baseball everywhere. They could play in Japan or the Dominican Republic. They could play in an independent minor league. Anywhere but the majors.
Penalize the Teams Too
This one might be difficult to enforce. The argument could also be made that MLB teams suffer enough of a penalty by potentially losing a key player.
However, the San Francisco Giants weren't hurt by losing Cabrera, nor were the A's adversely affected without Colon.
But a team would certainly take a greater interest in whether or not its players were using PEDs if the commissioner's office came down on that club for having an offender on the roster.
What sorts of penalties could be enforced? How about vacating every win that a team earned with a PED user on the roster?
Would that be too harsh, considering that the PED user might not have factored into the outcome of a particular ballgame? Perhaps, but it would certainly persuade teams to monitor their players and whatever substances they might use very closely.
Vacating wins in which a pitcher who tests positive started would probably be easier. A starting pitcher definitely factors into whether his team wins or loses.
The Athletics won 14 of Colon's starts last season. Wipe those out, and the A's would have been left with 80 victories.
Oakland would have finished third in the AL West, rather than win the division title. The Texas Rangers would have finished first, and the Los Angeles Angels likely would have won the AL's second wild-card playoff spot.
With that kind of potential penalty, how much would teams care about whether their players are using PEDs? How much enforcement would there be in the clubhouse from players, knowing that a positive test could cost them a postseason spot, the money that comes with playoff shares and a chance to win a World Series?
The Scarlet Jersey
A player who tests positive for PEDs already arguably suffers enough shame and humiliation by being singled out as a cheater and having to serve a long suspension. That player's past and future performance will likely always carry a question mark with it as well.
Perhaps that's enough punishment.
But if one of the arguments regarding PED use and honors such as regular-season awards or the Hall of Fame is "Well, we don't know who was taking PEDs and who wasn't," why not make it at least a little bit easier.
If a player tests positive for PEDs, make him wear a brightly colored jersey that distinguishes him from the other athletes on the field. It couldn't be red or yellow, since some teams employ those colors with alternate jerseys. That probably eliminates orange as well.
How about pink? Would that cause an awkward situation or conflict on Mother's Day, when MLB players wear pink gloves and shoes, swinging pink bats?
Perhaps something like lime green then. Anything to make a PED user stand out, even if seen from the absolute last row in the ballpark or, worse, outside the stadium.
"Dad, why is that man wearing a different color jersey?" a young boy might ask his father.
"Well, son," the father might respond, "he was caught using steroids."
"Is that bad?"
"Yes, it is. It means he broke the rules and cheated."
"Oh. That sounds bad."
That is a teachable moment, people.
For added effect, perhaps the jersey could also have "PEDs," "Steroids" or "Offender" on the name plate. Or perhaps "MLB Hate Me."
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