Major League Baseball is ready for a major offensive in its ongoing war against performance-enhancing drugs. By the time it's over, the league might have the war all but won.
It's been almost two months since the Miami New Times report about the now-shuttered Florida anti-aging clinic Biogenesis came out, and the list of players who may or may not have received PEDs from clinic chief Anthony Bosch has gotten to be on the long side. One of the suspects has already been apprehended and put in the town stocks.
Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com reported last week that right-hander Cesar Carrillo, a prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization and a player named in the Biogenesis documents obtained by the New Times, was suspended for 100 games.
ESPN's T.J. Quinn explained the reasoning behind the 100-game suspension via Twitter:
Getting Carrillo was easy. Minor leaguers don't have a union to protect them, so MLB was basically free to do whatever it wanted to Carrillo. It turns out what the league wanted was to crush him, and he won't be the only one who gets crushed if the league has its way.
Here's more from Quinn:
But then, the caveat:
Here's where MLB and commissioner Bud Selig have their work cut out for them. They're going to need legit evidence to punish Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and others linked to Biogenesis, and—to reiterate a common refrain—the stuff that's out there thanks to the New Times and other publications isn't legit enough.
The league needs more solid proof that the players it's pursuing actually got PEDs from Biogenesis. Prescriptions would probably do the trick, like with Manny Ramirez in 2009 (see Los Angeles Times), as would proof of payment to Bosch. Such things would prove possession, and the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program (page 22) allows for PED suspensions via proof of possession.
But what's in the New Times documents is too flimsy to hold up as proof of possession, and MLB isn't going to get those documents from the paper anyway. The New Times announced its decision last week that it wouldn't be cooperating with MLB in its investigation. To boot, Michael S. Schmidt of The New York Times reported in January that the federal government won't be helping baseball out, either.
The league could hope for an assist from the Florida Department of Health, which the New Times noted has targeted Bosch. MLB should be wished good luck with that, however, as it's not the department's business to help MLB nail players to the wall.
As such, the league is likely going to have to build strong cases against the players in its crosshairs all on its own. And these cases must be very strong, for the league is going to be up against an arbitration panel if and when it decides to move forward with punishments.
Frankly, my best instincts tell me that the players the league is going after are safe, as the league is looking for evidence that it may not be able to get. For that matter, the evidence the league seeks may not even exist.
Nevertheless, the possibility must be considered: What if MLB actually gets what it wants? What if the league finds the evidence it's looking for and then makes it hold up to the point where it's able to dish out suspensions to the players linked to Biogenesis?
If it comes to that, various clubs will be staggering from varying degrees of pain, and the league will have scored a major victory in its fight to rid MLB of PEDs for good.
In other words: It will be a pretty big deal.
D.J. Short of Hardball Talk provided a list of notables who have been linked to Biogenesis. It includes: Braun, Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Gio Gonzalez, Jhonny Peralta, Yasmani Grandal, Bartolo Colon, Jesus Montero and Danny Valencia. If all of them are punished, their teams are going to be left scrambling.
The player who would be missed the least is probably Valencia, as he's buried deep on the Baltimore Orioles' 40-man roster and is a mere .234/.274/.365 hitter over the last two seasons. The Orioles could make do without him.
It feels odd to say it, but it's doubtful that A-Rod would be missed, either. He's becoming less productive with age and isn't likely to be more productive now that he has two surgically repaired hips. Besides, the Yankees may not mind being spared the distraction of having him around.
But elsewhere, suspensions for the players linked to Biogenesis would force clubs to turn to their depth charts for lesser options, potentially damaging their postseason hopes.
The San Diego Padres would need Nick Hundley to handle an even bigger load behind the plate if another suspension is tacked onto the 50-game suspension Grandal has already been dealt for a positive testosterone test. The Padres are unlikely to make the postseason either way, but it's going to be all the more difficult without Grandal seeing as how Hundley has never played in more than 85 games in a season.
The Toronto Blue Jays will be forced to play Rajai Davis in left field every day if Cabrera is suspended again. Davis is no slouch, but his speed and weak hitting abilities make him better suited to be a fourth outfielder than a starter. Instead of an asset off the bench, he'd be a liability for the Blue Jays.
The Oakland A's would have to hope for more surprising performances from their young pitchers if Colon is suspended again. They'd take that bet after what happened last year, but there's always a degree of uncertainty where young hurlers are concerned.
Montero is a talented young hitter who's slated to be the Seattle Mariners' starting catcher in 2013, and the club doesn't have a viable everyday player behind him on the depth chart after trading John Jaso to Oakland. The Mariners could find themselves rushing Mike Zunino to the big leagues, which would be risky.
Peralta is the Detroit Tigers' starting shortstop, and the club doesn't have much depth behind him. Detroit's lineup would still be strong without him but certainly not as deep.
The Texas Rangers don't have much behind Cruz in right field, and they can ill afford to lose his power. The Rangers need as much power in their lineup as they can get after losing Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli to free agency over the winter.
But no two clubs would be hurt more by suspensions than the Washington Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers. They'd be losing bona fide superstars for a significant amount of time, which is never fun.
The Nationals don't have much starting pitching depth, so the last thing they need is to lose an ace-caliber pitcher like Gonzalez for a prolonged period of time. Especially not with the new-look Atlanta Braves ready to give them a fight in the NL East. The Nats may need Gonzalez to do exactly what he did last season for them to hold the Braves off, and that won't happen if he's taken out of the picture for 50 games.
The Brewers, meanwhile, would be losing their best player if Braun is suspended. Their lineup isn't bad, but it's not good enough to a point where they wouldn't feel the loss of a player who has hit 74 homers and stolen 63 bases over the last two seasons. Production like that can't be replaced.
The Brewers are already facing an uphill climb in the NL Central, which features two teams in the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals that both made the postseason last year. If they're forced to play without Braun for 50 games (or longer), their postseason hopes will be down the drain.
Things would be even more dramatic for all of the aforementioned clubs if the punishments were to be handed down right around the trade deadline. Some could immediately become desperate buyers to try and save their postseason chances. Others could see the writing on the wall and become sellers. Either way, the trade market would be impacted.
Punishments for the Biogenesis-linked players wouldn't necessarily have an impact on only their individual clubs, though. The punishments could have a league-wide impact as well.
You can rest assured that there are far fewer players juicing today as a result of MLB's PED protocols, which are only getting more strict with time. However, you can also rest assured that there's a fair number of players out there that are cheating and getting away with it because they're doing everything in their power to avoid getting caught red-handed.
This, for the record, apparently isn't very hard regarding testosterone. BALCO founder Victor Conte told USA Today in August that the only ones getting caught are "the dumb, and the dumber."
Here's where suspensions for the Biogenesis-linked players can help the league. It will be abundantly apparent, then, that the league doesn't need to catch players red-handed in order to punish them. That will still be the primary means of punishing players, to be sure, but it would be clear that the league is not only perfectly willing, but perfectly able to punish players without the help of test tubes.
This could lead to increased paranoia among players, which could lead to one of two things. Either the uncaught cheaters will be even more careful, or they'll give it up out of fear of being punished and having their future earning power damaged as a result.
If the latter is what happens, the trade-off could be another drop in the league's offensive numbers, which have already gone down in the last five years following the release of the Mitchell Report. The last three years, in particular, have been rough on hitters. Most of that, granted, is good pitching, but you have to figure at least some of it is due to a smaller percentage of cheaters around the league.
Between the teams reeling from having key players suspended and other players around the league running scared from MLB's watchdogs, it all adds up to a series of events that would make for a highly unpredictable 2013 season. Doors could close for some contenders, which would mean open doors for others. The trade deadline could be a seller's market one minute and a buyer's market the next. Or vice versa.
But more importantly for the league itself, punishments for A-Rod, Braun, Gonzalez and others would be a big PR victory. The league will have flexed its muscles and shown just how far things have come from the days when every other hitter was a musclebound slugger capable of hitting the ball 500 feet. The message will be that things have changed and are changing for the better.
The league is doing perfectly fine business-wise, but MLB could use a decisive victory on the PED front. As clean as the league has gotten in recent years, a recent SportsNation poll showed that fans still think MLB is the dirtiest American sports league.
That's nonsense, but that doesn't mean there isn't any pressure on the league to prove otherwise. There's always pressure on the league to prove that it has gotten cleaner and is still getting cleaner. Hence the reason why the league is apparently so hellbent on grinding those named in the Biogenesis documents into dust. It's their reputation or the league's, and you can guess which one Selig and league officials care about.
It's not going to be easy, and there's a very strong chance that MLB's efforts will amount to a mere wild goose chase. But the league has no choice but to try and no choice but to hope.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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