Does MLB's Latest Request for PED Documents Mean It's Short on Evidence?
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Maybe it wasn't already apparent that Major League Baseball is going all-out in its efforts to suspend Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and other players with alleged PED connections to Biogenesis.
If not, well, it should be now.
According to a report from Ronald Blum of the Associated Press (via NBC Sports), MLB's lawyers have issued subpoenas to Federal Express, AT&T Mobility and T-Mobile USA with the idea in mind to obtain more records for its ongoing Biogenesis investigation.
Why does MLB need these records? Does the league need them because it doesn't have enough evidence to make potential suspensions for A-Rod, Braun and the others stick?
Maybe, but there's a much simpler and much better way to look at this latest report:
There's no such thing as too much evidence, and this is certainly a case where MLB needs as much evidence as it can get its hands on.
Us members of the general public don't know exactly what MLB has to work with in its pursuit (or "witch hunt" or whatever you want to call it) of the Biogenesis guys, but the Outside the Lines report that came out this week shed some light on the general shape of the case MLB is building.
We know that Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch has agreed to help MLB, which OTL understandably called a "major break" for the league. The big issue with Bosch, however, is that his credibility is a gigantic question mark. Bosch was a fake doctor when he was running his now-shuttered wellness clinic, and he very recently denied having anything to do with PEDs in an interview with ESPN.
Bosch's word alone isn't nearly good enough for MLB to secure suspensions, so a paper trail is an absolute must.
To that end, we know from the OTL report that MLB is in possession of Biogenesis records that supposedly name roughly 20 players. Those are presumably the same records the league purchased from a former Biogenesis employee in April, as The New York Times reported.
With Bosch aboard, the records MLB has can now be validated as accurate, giving MLB some legit paper evidence to use against the players in its crosshairs.
While that's all well and good, this paper evidence probably wouldn't get the job done on its own.
We can only hazard an educated guess that the documents in MLB's possession are similar or identical to the various documents that have been featured in reports from the Miami New Times, Yahoo! Sports and OTL.
Some of those documents, notably the ones featured in the New Times report, came off as being damning. Others, namely the ones centered on Braun, featured in the Yahoo! and OTL, came off as being vague and easily disregarded.
The OTL report noted that Bosch is going to be meeting with MLB officials in New York on Friday. The hope is that he'll immediately start sharing information and whatever additional materials he can provide. If he has more usable records, MLB's case will grow stronger.
But judging from what we know about Bosch, he may not have any usable material to corroborate his words. Or any other material at all, even.
An article in The New York Times from back in February was quick to note this about Bosch:
Bosch was a “disaster,” disorganized and unreliable and at times “incoherent,” said Xavier Romero, a former patient of Bosch’s who later invested with Bosch.
Your surprise level should be zero.
It was apparent just from reading the contents of the Biogenesis documents reported by the New Times that Bosch wasn't much of a stickler for organization. Sources indicated to OTL that he was particularly informal in his alleged dealings with players, only dealing in cash and using friends as couriers. The specifics of his network with players are hazy.
This is where the subpoenas come into play.
Per Blum's report, here's what MLB wants from FedEx:
MLB asked Federal Express to turn over shipment records for Biogenesis, Bosch, the other defendants and a long list of individuals who appeared to be affiliated with Bosch.
These records could show that PEDs were going in and out of Biogenesis, but MLB will have scored some points if the records merely further cement that there was indeed a network between Bosch and the players.
As for what MLB wants from the phone companies:
MLB asked the phone companies for call records, texts and subscriber info for the phones of Juan Carlos Nunez, an associate of outfielder Melky Cabrera who was banned from big league clubhouses last year, and Porter Fischer, who was affiliated with the now-closed anti-aging clinic.
Again, these records could serve to further flesh out Bosch's network, but MLB shouldn't hold out hope of having damning text messages fall into its lap. As Wired.com reported in 2011, AT&T and T-Mobile don't store the actual content of text messages, period.
Not that MLB can be picky, mind you. The fact that MLB was even able to issue subpoenas is a bit of a surprising development given the fact that baseball, you know, isn't the government. FedEx, AT&T and T-Mobile don't have to cooperate with MLB, so the league will have to take what it can get if the companies do choose to cooperate.
And they might. Blum noted that the subpoenas were issued in May and that there has yet to be any indication that the companies aren't going to comply. The phone companies aren't talking, but a FedEx spokesman told Blum that the company complies with all "valid" subpoenas.
The overarching message from these companies is thus something along the lines of, "Stay tuned."
That message also works pretty well for MLB's investigation itself. The league is making progress, but there's still much that needs to happen for MLB to take the next step of actually moving ahead with suspensions.
Remember, all the league is doing now is "seeking" suspensions. As MLB Players Association executive director Michael Weiner clarified in a statement this week, per the New York Daily News, MLB hasn't actually made any discipline decisions. Hardball Talk reported that discipline may not be leveled until July, if at all.
Major League Baseball certainly wants to level discipline against Biogenesis' alleged client list, but there's still plenty of room for the league to conclude that its best choice is to just back off. Securing Bosch's cooperation was key, but now the focus is on the actual evidence.
And if the evidence isn't there, MLB's latest crusade against PEDs will devolve into little more than a wild goose chase.
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