Predicting the Fates of Each MLB Player Facing a Biogenesis Suspension
What's going to happen to those guys?
That's what everyone wants to know about the players linked to the Biogenesis scandal, and the future is slightly clearer after this week's developments.
If you missed it, the scandal claimed its first victim on Monday: Ryan Braun. Major League Baseball suspended the Milwaukee Brewers slugger for the final 65 games of the season, sending a message that the league is willing and able to lower the hammer.
What I'm going to do here is stop to ponder and take a few educated guesses as to what the future holds for Braun, Alex Rodriguez and the other players involved with the Biogenesis scandal (ESPN's Outside the Lines produced a handy list back in June).
There's much to talk about, so strap yourselves in and hold on.
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
"As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions."
That's what Ryan Braun said in a statement when news of his suspension came out, effectively an admission that he's not the innocent man he claimed to be when won his appeal after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone in 2011.
In other words, we know for a fact now that Braun is a cheater. And that, in turn, highlights what we really don't know about Braun: exactly what kind of player he actually is.
If Braun was so good in 2011 because he cheated, then his entire career must be viewed with a skeptical eye. Maybe his natural talent isn't as good as all the numbers attached to his name suggest, in which case a clean version of Braun may well prove to be something less than a superstar.
The 2013 season might have already provided us with some clues. It's certainly plausible that Braun was playing clean this year, as A) he had incentive to be clean after the previous year's drama, and B) Biogenesis and clinic director Tony Bosch have been out of business for a while now.
If so, the signs don't look so good.
Braun was having a productive year, but he wasn't the same kind of explosive player. His OPS in 2011 and 2012 was .990. Through 61 games this year, Braun posted .869. Still good, but short of superstar quality.
Also, let's not forget that Braun is no longer a young stud. The 2014 season will be his age-30 campaign. Braun was thus, presumably, already headed for a decline, and that is all the more likely if Braun finds it in himself to keep his nose clean for the rest of his career.
Yes, he'll still get the more than $100 million he has coming his way, but that's about all he'll be playing for. Even if he manages to play well for the rest of his career, Braun can rule out Cooperstown. The Hall of Fame gatekeepers don't like cheaters, least of all the ones who are damn, dirty liars.
Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
From the sound of things, MLB is preparing to hit Alex Rodriguez with an even mightier banhammer than the one used on Braun. However, don't expect it to be the mightiest banhammer in MLB's arsenal.
It was reported Tuesday that A-Rod could be facing a lifetime ban for his ties to Biogenesis, a source told CBS' Jim Axelrod. Extreme, to be sure, but not surprising given how much dirt the Miami New Times was able to dig up on A-Rod in its study of Biogenesis.
But the threat of a lifetime ban itself could just be a means to an end. I'll allow ESPN's T.J. Quinn to explain:
Some notes on possibility of lifetime ban for A-Rod. Is MLB considering it? Yes. Sources say evidence is "far beyond" Braun's. But...(1)— T.J. Quinn (@TJQuinnESPN) July 24, 2013
Several experts we spoke to say it would be difficult for MLB to win in arbitration. Threat is more likely a weapon to get him to plead. (2)— T.J. Quinn (@TJQuinnESPN) July 24, 2013
Bob Nightengale of USA Today has reported that Rodriguez has no plans to reach a settlement with MLB. That may be because he figures he could get a smaller suspension through arbitration than he could by negotiating with league offices, which would obviously allow him to keep more of the many millions he's owed by the Yankees over the next few years.
But a lengthy suspension is surely coming one way or another, and it will surely be longer than Braun's 65. Nightengale floated an "at least 100 games" possibility. The other day, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports floated 150 games, which strikes me as a reasonable expectation given that MLB's evidence against A-Rod is "far beyond" what it had on the Brewers slugger.
A suspension like that would sideline Rodriguez well into 2014, but don't think we wouldn't see him again. As much as everyone wants Rodriguez (soon to be 38 on July 27) to go away forever, he's not going to voluntarily retire as long as he has loads of money to collect.
A early retirement due to his health, in which case everyone would collect insurance money, is also bogus. A PED suspension isn't going to make Rodriguez any less healthy, so the insurance companies won't go for that.
So if you enjoy watching Rodriguez be a shell of his former self out on the field, don't worry—there's more of that to come. At least until his body finally caves in to a point where he will legitimately need an early retirement due to health.
As for the Hall of Fame, I would say that a Biogenesis suspension will ruin A-Rod's chances...but, well, what "chances"? That ship sailed long ago.
Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers
It doesn't look good for Nelson Cruz. The Rangers slugger is in the middle of one of his more productive seasons, but it may be put on hold for a while in the very near future.
Major League Baseball were vague as to what exactly led to the suspension, but Tom Haudricourt of the Journal Sentinel heard from a source that the evidence against Braun was "so overwhelming" that he had no choice but to surrender to baseball's will.
And that's significant in light of what was made public about Braun's links to Biogenesis. An ESPN report in February only put his name on a list of players who supposedly received PEDs from Biogenesis. At no point was Braun ever actually revealed to have been listed next to specific PEDs.
Cruz, if you'll recall from the Miami New Times report, was mentioned next to specific PEDs in Biogenesis documents. Here's the key passage:
[Tony] Bosch sold $4,000 of product to Nelson Cruz, whom he nicknames 'Mohamad.' Cruz, the power-hitting Dominican outfielder for the Texas Rangers, has whacked 130 bombs in his eight-year career without any links to performance-enhancing drugs. Until now. Bosch writes in his 2012 book: 'Need to call him, go Thur to Texas, take meds from April 5-May 5, will owe him troches and... and will infuse them in May.'
And now for some context: "Elsewhere in his notebook, Bosch spells out that his 'troches,' a type of drug lozenge, include 15 percent testosterone."
Braun's 65-game suspension made it clear that MLB isn't necessarily going to abide by the 50-100-life penalty structure of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment agreement. That puts us in "best guess" territory in regard to Cruz, but my best guess is a coming 50-game suspension.
Such a suspension would be shorter than Braun's, which is appropriate given that Cruz would be a first-time offender rather than a sort of first-and-a-half-time offender. Also, 50 games wouldn't be the end of the world because it would conceivably allow him to return just in time for the postseason.
A 50-game ban would also allow Cruz to head into free agency having already done his time, and he would then be paid handsomely. Right-handed power is hard to come by, and Cruz has lots of it. He's also not ancient by baseball standards at the age of 33, so a two- or three-year deal for good money would be in the cards.
If you're thinking teams would steer clear of Cruz the way they seemed to steer clear of Melky Cabrera, think again. Prospective buyers had no way of knowing whether Cabrera could perform without help. There's a reasonable doubt in Cruz's case, as he's having a very strong season with no help from Tony Bosch. That reflects well on him.
Jhonny Peralta, Detroit Tigers
And now we come to the wild cards in the Biogenesis scandal, starting with Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta.
Peralta was first thrown into the mix by Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, who reported in February that Peralta's name was listed in Bosch's records. Exactly why Peralta is in those records is unclear, however, as Verducci noted that he did "not appear to be directly tied to PEDs."
But that won't necessarily save Peralta. Braun wasn't directly tied to PEDs in any of the documents that were made public, and that didn't keep MLB from building an overwhelming case against him.
If MLB has built a similar case against Peralta, my best guess is that he would be up for the same kind of punishment as Cruz: a 50-game ban that would allow him to return in time for the postseason, in which case he would also head into free agency with no strings attached.
And like Cruz, Peralta would presumably have little trouble attracting offers. Peralta is, after all, also having a strong season with no help from Bosch. That makes him a relatively rare commodity: a shortstop who can hit. And since Peralta, 31, is also a couple years younger than Cruz, he could land an even longer deal.
Everth Cabrera, San Diego Padres
Everth Cabrera's name first popped up in the scandal when ESPN reported in February that he was listed on clinic documents. But, like with Peralta, Cabrera wasn't listed next to any specific PEDs and ties to Biogensis vague.
But again, vague ties aren't necessarily a saving grace. For Cabrera, however, the length of the suspension doesn't matter as much as it does with Cruz and Peralta. Cabrera's Padres aren't making the playoffs, and Cabrera himself is many years away from free agency.
One thing he does have in common with Cruz and Peralta is that he's having a quality 2013. Through 84 games, he owns a .287 average and .755 OPS, with a league-leading 34 stolen bases on the side. He operates under the radar, but Cabrera is one of the top shortstops in baseball and also happens to be in prime territory at the age of 26.
As such, a suspension wouldn't alter Cabrera's career trajectory. He's a good-looking player, and Biogenesis is going to be well in the past by the time he's looking to get paid. And if 2013 is any indication, he should be in line to get paid well.
Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners
Jesus Montero was first linked to Biogenesis in February when the New York Daily News reported he was found in the clinic's records, and is in the same boat as Peralta and Cabrera in terms of vagueness. If MLB investigators have dug up dirt on Montero, he's looking at a suspension.
This, however, is hardly terrible news for the Mariners. As Nick Eaton of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote, the Mariners are currently experimenting with Montero as a first baseman down in the minors. The process is going to take a while to bear fruit, and the club has a logjam at first base anyway. A suspension for Montero this season would actually be ideal.
In the long run, the Mariners surely wouldn't hold a suspension against the young 23-year-old prospect. He's under team control through 2017, and they'll gladly take whatever production he can provide in that window. And if he lives up to his former billing as an elite hitting prospect, he'll provide a lot of production in that window.
If Montero's career is going to fizzle, it won't be because of Biogenesis; it will be because he'll have turned out to be just another failed top prospect. No witchcraft will be involved there, as the pile of failed prospects is scraping up against the ozone layer at this point.
Francisco Cervelli, New York Yankees
Francisco Cervelli was first linked to Biogenesis when Yahoo! Sports reported in February that he was on clinic documents. But lest you think this puts Cervelli with Peralta, Cabrera and Montero, know that the document with Cervelli's name on it also featured Braun's name.
Considering what happened to Braun, that doesn't look good. If Cervelli is to be suspended, however, now's a good time. He's been on the DL since April 27, and he recently suffered a setback that's going to keep him on the shelf a while longer. Edinson Volquez served a suspension while on the DL when he was busted in 2010; Cervelli could do so, too.
As for the impact such a suspension would have on his future, well, Cervelli's future is already shrug-worthy as is. If he was using PEDs before, they weren't making him anything more than a fringe major leaguer. That's what he's going to remain going forward, as a cheap stopgap behind the plate until Gary Sanchez is ready.
Cervelli isn't due for free agency until 2016. By then, he'll be over 30 years old and probably a platoon player at best.
Melky Cabrera, Toronto Blue Jays
This is where things get complicated. Like Cruz, Melky Cabrera was listed next to specific PEDs in the Miami New Times report:
Under a heading labeled 'Melkys/Mostro,' Bosch writes, 'April 4th drop off, has enough meds until May 4... next visit deliver and infuse $9,000 to RPO and $900 exp. and charges. Call him for expense. Missing this mo. troches and pink cream.'
Unlike Cruz, however, Cabrera has already served a suspension, sitting out 50 games last season after getting busted for testosterone in August. It seems likely that suspension had something to do with Cabrera's connection to Biogenesis.
Section 3.H of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment agreement does protect players from double jeopardy, but only in the case of multiple positive tests for the same substance. MLB could deem Cabrera's ties to Biogenesis a second violation, or Bud Selig could use the "just cause" provision under section 7.G to suspend Cabrera for the sake of making a statement.
Even if it comes to that, I have to think that a suspension would be a minor one, as the available information suggests that Cabrera has indeed already paid a price for his affiliation with the clinic. Union chief Michael Weiner said during the All-Star break that suspensions could start as low as five games, and that's the range in which the Blue Jays outfielder could fall.
As for how Cabrera's career would be impacted, let's just say that another suspension wouldn't damage it any more than it's already been damaged.
Cabrera has been a subpar player for the Jays, posting a .679 OPS and an 85 OPS+ through 81 games. That's about where he was in 2010 when he seemed to be on his way out of the majors, and he didn't really take off until midway through the 2011 season in Kansas City. Since he carried that success over into 2012, it's fair to speculate whether there was something going on.
If there was, then the writing on the wall is as clear as day: Melky Cabrera is only a productive player with help. Toronto is stuck with Cabrera for one more year. Once 2014 is over, his next job will likely be playing in a league other than MLB.
Bartolo Colon, Oakland A's
In the same boat as Cabrera, we find Bartolo Colon.
The veteran right-hander has remained a major character in the ongoing Biogen drama, but he's already served time for banned substances. In fact, he was suspended for testosterone just a few days after Cabrera was busted last year. As far as the A's are concerned, the matter is closed.
“I think he’s already paid his dues, right?” said manager Bob Melvin earlier this year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
That's for MLB to decide, but it's fair to speculate that Colon will be subject to the same line of thinking as Cabrera. If there is to be a suspension, it will likely be a minor one. That wouldn't bother the A's too much, as a lesser suspension would only sideline Colon for a start or two down the stretch and would ensure that he'd be in the mix for October.
Come the offseason, my best guess is that Colon will end up right back with the A's. Now 40, he looks like he could keep pitching for at least a few more years, and the A's didn't show any hesitation whatsoever in bringing him back following his suspension in 2012.
"Once he's served the suspension, he's paid his debt," said general manager Billy Beane, via the Chronicle.
Beane certainly doesn't regret re-upping with Colon, who has 13 wins and a 2.52 ERA in 20 starts. If Colon is willing to come back, Beane will surely be glad to have him back.
Yasmani Grandal, San Diego Padres
Also in the boat with Cabrera and Colon is Yasmani Grandal.
Grandal was highlighted in the Miami New Times report as being a notable client of Biogenesis, but that link looks like old news seeing as how he too has already paid a price for a PED violation. Grandal was nabbed for testosterone last November and was shelved for the first 50 games this season.
So the familiar refrain applies. If a suspension is coming Grandal's way, it's going to be a minor one. And given where he is now, the only thing another suspension would cost him is a few bucks. Grandal, 24, is on the disabled list with a torn ACL, which could keep him for as long as a year. If a suspension is handed down, Grandal could serve it while on the DL.
Whenever Grandal is ready to come back, the Padres will be glad to have his bat back in the lineup. He wasn't scalding the ball fresh off his suspension this year, but his 100 OPS+ qualified him as about a league-average hitter. Such hitters will always have a home and a role to play, especially if they can also catch.
That bodes well for Grandal, whose talent should allow him to enjoy a solid career.
And the Rest
There are four guys on the fringes of the Biogenesis conversation I haven't talked about yet: Fautino de los Santos, Jordan Norberto, Fernando Martinez and Cesar Puello.
Of these four, Puello is most worthy ofdiscussion. If you don't know him, he's a prospect in the New York Mets organization who has opened a lot of eyes by hitting .332/.401/.569 with 16 homers and 23 steals at Double-A, all while primarily playing in right field.
That makes Puello an outfield prospect with hitting talent to go along with power and speed. Such players make scouts and front office suits drool. And while Puello's explosion is a big surprise, it looks good for him that it's happened after the closing of Biogenesis.
That should help Puello stay in the good graces of Sandy Alderson and the rest of the Mets front office even if he is suspended. This is, after all, an organization that needs outfield talent as much as any team in baseball. They won't give up on a potential star in the making, even if his resume will have a black mark on it by the time he's ready for the majors.
The other three names noted above are inconsequential by comparison. Fautino de los Santos was released by the Padres in May and has yet to catch on elsewhere. Jordan Norberto was released by the A's in May and subsequently filed a grievance after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Fernando Martinez, a former top prospect, was traded from the Astros to the Yankees in May and assigned to Triple-A.
De los Santos is a hard-throwing righty, so somebody will eventually give him a chance even after a suspension. Same goes for Norberto, a hard-throwing lefty. Martinez's career, however, could be on thinner ice following a suspension, but it bodes well for him that former top prospects are afforded almost every opportunity to turn things around.
That covers everyone for now, but there are bound to be more names tacked on to the Biogenesis scandal in the coming days and weeks. And when the dust finally clears, Major League Baseball will have fought, by far, the biggest battle ever in its ongoing war against performance-enhancing drugs.
Here's hoping it will also prove to be the final battle.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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