News broke Monday that Milwaukee Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun had been suspended for the rest of the 2013 season. This news is an important development in MLB’s continuing quest to rid baseball of the scourge of performance-enhancing drugs.
Read on for some takeaways from this decision.
The Suspension Validates the MLB Investigation
Braun was the reigning MVP when he tested positive for elevated testosterone after the 2011 season, and his appeal process was well-publicized. However, he became the first major league player to successfully challenge a drug-related penalty in a grievance.
But MLB refused to move on, and this offseason, Braun’s name resurfaced in connection with the Miami-based PED clinic, Biogenesis. Because of his superstar and MVP status, Braun was one of the highest-profile names on the list of players uncovered who were associated with the clinic. Despite the mounting evidence that MLB began to build against him, Braun maintained his innocence.
The sheer amount of effort that MLB devoted would have been a waste and a public relations nightmare had Braun not eventually faced discipline. There was already a segment of the baseball world that felt MLB was conducting a witch hunt, and if nothing had come of baseball's large expenditures, Bud Selig would have had to explain himself.
With the news that Braun has conceded his mistake and agreed to serve his suspension, baseball's process has been validated.
Biogenesis Founder Tony Bosch Is Also Validated
This news is bad for the rest of the players linked to Biogenesis. Now that Braun has conceded, it provides credibility to the claims of Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch, who has been cooperating with MLB in the investigation. It indicates to the rest of the players on the list that they will likely be suspended.
Up until now, the old adage “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” seemed to apply. There was so much noise surrounding Braun and Biogenesis that it seemed impossible MLB would just let it go. But this suspension—and Braun’s concession—is the spark that will light the fire.
Braun’s admission means that Bosch’s client list is valid, and other suspensions are likely to follow.
MLB Will Continue to Pursue Others
If players on the list had hoped that Braun would take the heat off them by fighting the battle for them, they will now be disappointed. As MLB’s white whale, Braun was the focus of much of Bud Selig’s investigation.
Other athletes facing possible suspensions might have hoped that Braun would fight to invalidate the evidence from Biogenesis. And if he were able to do so, then that information could have been used in their cases. However, now that Braun has given in, MLB can point to his concession as confirmation that it has valid proof.
Braun will no longer be fighting the suspensions for everyone else. Baseball can now turn its attention and substantial resources toward everyone else, and that means more suspensions are coming.
Braun's Punishment Is Outside CBA’s Suspension Boundaries
The final, long-term consequence of the Braun suspension is the dismantling of the 50-100-life suspension pattern.
The most recent collective bargaining agreement established that a first offense for PED use would mean a 50-game suspension, a second offense would be 100 games and a third would be a lifetime ban.
Braun is being suspended for the final 65 games of the Brewers season and any potential postseason games this year, instead of the 50 that a first suspension should have triggered.
In a post last week at FanGraphs, Wendy Thurm outlined the consequences this could have on the Biogenesis suspensions:
That’s good news for a player who’s never tested positive for PES but whose name shows up on some Biogenesis documents. Maybe he only gets a five or ten game suspension because there’s only circumstantial evidence. But it could be bad news for others, like Alex Rodriguez, who are reported to have had a long-standing relationship with Tony Bosch and Biogenesis. If the league develops evidence of pervasive use or possession by A-Rod, it could seek much harsher penalties, even if they fall short of a lifetime ban.
Long term, we don’t know how long other suspensions from drug busts not related to Biogenesis will last. But if another similar situation arises with a different clinic, precedent has been established for negotiations and suspensions even in situations where there is no positive test.
And short term, it means that for everyone else currently linked to Biogenesis, potential suspension lengths are up in the air—and up for negotiation. There is no longer a way to predict how long these suspensions will be.
It seems likely that most of the names on the Biogenesis list will follow Braun and be suspended. However, we still don’t know if guys like Bartolo Colon and Melky Cabrera—both of whom have already served 50-game suspensions for PED use—will be (or can be) suspended again.
It’s also worth noting that Gio Gonzalez, another big name on the list, has only been linked to legal supplements.
So really, all we can do is wait. MLB will celebrate its victory, then move forward in its prosecution, secure in the fact that it has enough evidence to get the Biogenesis-linked players suspended.