Major League Baseball has Alex Rodriguez in its crosshairs and is ready to pull the trigger.
Major League Baseball is ready to launch an offensive.
The target: players with ties to the now-defunct Miami anti-aging clinic "Biogenesis."
Launch date: soon. Or, at least, that's the plan.
There was a shocker of a report out on Tuesday from T.J. Quinn, Pedro Gomez and Mike Fish of ESPN's Outside the Lines. The word is that MLB has secured the cooperation of Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch in its investigation into the PED scandal surrounding the clinic and that the league is poised to seek suspensions of close to 20 players.
The list of players would include New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, who escaped a 50-game suspension for elevated testosterone on a technicality in 2012.
There's a lot in the report to digest, so let's go through it all nice and slow.
It's not clear exactly which players MLB is looking to suspend now that it has Bosch's help, but the report did name some names.
A-Rod and 2011 National League MVP Braun are obviously the big ones. The other players name-dropped as potential targets are Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, Yasmani Grandal, Nelson Cruz, Francisco Cervelli, Jesus Montero, Jhonny Peralta, Cesar Puello, Fernando Martinez, Everth Cabrera, Fautino de los Santos and Jordan Norberto.
This list should sound about right if you've been following along with the Biogenesis scandal. Cabrera, Colon, Grandal and Cruz were named in the Miami New Times' bombshell report from January, and some of the other players were linked in subsequent reports.
Absent from the target list is Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, but he may not be off the radar. As Outside the Lines reported in April, the spokeswoman for Cano's foundation was listed in Biogenesis documents, and there's a possibility that Cano had a connection to the clinic through her.
If it sounds like anybody who's ever ended up in the same sentence as Biogenesis is being targeted, that's not quite true. Washington Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez was listed in the clinic's documents, but sources told ESPN he only received legal substances. He would appear to be an innocent bystander.
The other players should be worried, however, because MLB has some nasty suspensions in mind.
As outlined in Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, the penalty for a first-time PED offense is 50 games.
We all know that, right?
Yes? Good, because it's what makes this part of the report stand out:
One source familiar with the case said the commissioner's office might seek 100-game suspensions for Rodriguez, Braun and other players, the penalty for a second doping offense. The argument, the source said, is the players' connection to Bosch constitutes one offense, and previous statements to MLB officials denying any such connection or the use of PEDs constitute another.
The possibility of a 100-game suspension makes sense for Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon and Yasmani Grandal. The three of them have already been punished once, each being suspended for 50 games due to violations in 2012.
But though they've been linked to PEDs, A-Rod and Braun have never actually been suspended before, and the way in which MLB apparently wants to go right to 100 games with them is...well, odd.
If you see Page 25 of the agreement, you'll see under section G2 that MLB is allowed to hand out PED suspensions for "just cause." But connections to Bosch and lying about those connections are offenses that fall more under the umbrella of Article XII, Part B of the CBA, which states that players may be disciplined for just cause for conduct detrimental to the league.
What it sounds like is that MLB is putting a lot of chips on the very idea of "just cause," which is obviously tricky due to the sheer ambiguity of it.
Either way, it's up to Bosch. He's the guy MLB is hoping can put the league in a "just" position.
In the depths of the Outside the Lines report is a summary of the whole point of that lawsuit:
Several attorneys have said they don't think the lawsuit could survive a legal challenge, but Bosch likely would have to put up a costly fight in order to have the case dismissed. Several sources have told ESPN that Bosch is nearly broke, living alternately with family members and friends, and has tried unsuccessfully so far to revive his "wellness" business.
So now here's Bosch cooperating with MLB because, frankly, he had no choice. He was backed into a corner, just as the league intended.
What's in it for him? The following: Bosch is getting MLB off his back, personal security (apparently) and America's pastime in his corner in case the feds come after him.
What does Bosch have to lose by cooperating with MLB?
Since he agreed to cooperate, it's not going to be on Bosch if MLB's suspensions don't stick. And if the suspensions don't stick, it sounds like MLB is still going to be forced to put in a good word for Bosch if the feds come calling. As Outside the Lines put it, Bosch only agreed to help MLB once he got the "strongest assurances" that MLB would help him out in the event he's prosecuted.
But how is Tony Bosch actually going to be able to help MLB?
The one thing we know Bosch can do for MLB can be summed up in one word: validation.
As The New York Times reported in April, the league paid a former Biogenesis employee for documents related to the case. Exactly what was in these documents was unclear, but Outside the Lines referenced MLB being in possession of Biogenesis records naming roughly 20 players for over a month.
Bosch's role in relation to those records is simple—he just needs to swear that the records "are accurate and reflect illicit interactions between the players and the self-described biochemist."
In essence, what he needs to do is point at the records and say, "Yes, these are real, and here's what they're all about."
This is a step forward for MLB. The league has had these records for weeks and has done nothing for a reason: It needed the boss of Biogenesis to vouch for them to have any hope of using them as a weapon.
So OTL is justified in calling this a "major break" for MLB, but the league is obviously hoping for Bosch to do more than just sign off on documents the league already has.
That's where things get tricky again.
Outside the Lines says that Bosch is expected to begin meeting with officials within a week, at which point he'll start naming names.
So yes, the possibility exists that more than 20 players will be punished, but that depends on what else Bosch has to offer besides his word.
Here's a key part:
Sources did not say what other materials, such as receipts and phone records, Bosch might provide, but said he has pledged to provide anything in his possession that could help MLB build cases against the players.
It could be that behind Bosch is a mother lode of evidence. In an ideal world, that would mean not only receipts and phone records, but maybe prescriptions as well.
There's precedent for suspending players for PEDs because of prescriptions, of which Manny Ramirez's first PED suspension in 2009 was a result. The guy who wrote that prescription was Tony's father, Dr. Pedro Bosch.
There's also this bit in the OTL report:
MLB officials...traveled to Miami last month to take the deposition of anti-aging specialist, Dr. Daniel Carpman, a former acquaintance of Bosch's. Biogenesis documents from 2011 included prescription forms purportedly signed by Carpman, who previously told "Outside the Lines'' that he didn't sign the forms.
So there might be prescriptions that MLB doesn't have but Bosch does. If so...well, mother lode.
But then again, maybe not.
What if Bosch has no further evidence to offer MLB?
It's possible, and this part from Outside the Lines makes it sound almost probable that there's nothing else:
Corroborating evidence against some players could prove difficult to come by, however. Several sources told ESPN that Bosch dealt only in cash, and usually used friends as couriers, sometimes never seeing some of the athletes he served.
If Bosch dealt in cash and didn't necessarily deal with clients face-to-face, then MLB has a problem.
If MLB's records are similar or identical to the records that have come to light through the Miami New Times and other news outlets, then all the league has is a list of names, dollar amounts and substances. What's on those papers isn't going to get any more damning without a paper trail, and Bosch's word isn't going to count for much if he can't say he dealt with some players personally.
Bosch's word, in general, is a flimsy thing. He just told ESPN that accounts of his alleged PED distribution were a "character assassination," and now here he is helping investigators by essentially fessing up to distributing PEDs.
Sounds like a guy trying to save his own butt to me, and guys like that can have their credibility shot in a heartbeat in a courtroom.
Here's another question: If Bosch knows he's on the feds' radar, why the hell would he come clean to MLB about all the chemicals he was distributing? Wouldn't he be, you know, in danger of incriminating himself even further?
Maybe so. Hence the reason he might not offer anything else. Hence the reason MLB's case is probably going to be what it is as soon as Bosch signs off on the league's documents.
With that in mind, we shall wrap this up.
Major League Baseball is definitely closer to securing suspensions for those with ties to Biogenesis. Tony Bosch's agreement to help is not a good-for-nothing development.
But are suspensions imminent? Meh. I doubt it.
There are still no positive tests, meaning that there's still nobody who's been caught red-handed. And assuming the records in the investigators' possession are no more damning than the records that have already gone public, MLB's paper evidence really isn't that strong. Bosch's word will validate the records, sure, but it won't change the actual content of them.
And since Bosch's word itself is basically worth a bucket of baseballs and a case of beer in a trade, more content is precisely what MLB needs. It needs as much evidence as it can get its hands on, and there might not be much more (if any).
The league can try to move ahead with the suspensions, but actually suspending A-Rod, Braun and the others, say, next week, would require the MLB Players Association to lie down. And if I'm the MLBPA, I have no problem going to war in this case, because I'm pretty damn confident I can win.
So my advice now is the same as it's been for months: Don't hold your breath.
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