How Can MLB Better Penalize Known PED Users in Free Agency?

Jason Catania@@JayCat11MLB Lead WriterJanuary 9, 2014

Even after his 50-game suspension related to the Biogenesis investigation, Jhonny Peralta landed a big-money deal.
Even after his 50-game suspension related to the Biogenesis investigation, Jhonny Peralta landed a big-money deal.Leon Halip/Getty Images

As much as Major League Baseball might want to believe or hope otherwise, performance-enhancing drugs remain an ongoing problem for the sport.

To be sure, MLB has come a long way over the past decade by taking actions like instituting mandatory testing and implementing suspensions for those guilty of taking performance-enhancing drugs. Certainly, that has helped curb the widespread use that plagued the league in the 1990s and early 2000s.

PED use, though, hasn't been eliminated. Far from it, as the Biogenesis scandal and suspensions proved just last year.

Beyond the fact that players are still using PEDs (including amphetamines) lies perhaps a bigger problem—even those who have tested positive, been caught and/or suspended are reaping the financial rewards.

Earlier this offseason, shortstop Jhonny Peralta landed a rather hefty four-year, $53 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals mere weeks after being banned for 50 games as part of the Biogenesis fallout. That brought to light this controversy, which again has come up in recent weeks following multi-year deals given to outfielder Marlon Byrd, catcher Carlos Ruiz and right-hander Bartolo Colon, each of whom has some sort of PED-related past.

The same thing happened last winter with Melky Cabrera, and another example surely is on its way in fellow outfielder Nelson Cruz, yet another player suspended during the Biogensis scandal.

The common denominator in all these instances? The current deterrent for using PEDs is simply not enough. Certainly not when contracts worth tens of millions are up for grabs.

How, then, might MLB and the Players Association work to make players take the repercussions of failing a performance-enhancing-drug test or accepting a PED-related suspension more seriously? Here are some suggestions.


Bigger Bans

As it currently stands, a positive test results in a 50-game suspension. That number has been bumped up over the years (back in 2005, a first positive test resulted in a 10-day ban), so why not do so again?

Whether it's a 100-game ban upon first offense, or heck, even the loss of a full season, an increase would go a long way toward making players think twice about using any sort of illegal PEDs, including amphetamines. Especially since it would prevent them from contributing to their team—and more importantly, from collecting any money while on leave.


October Over and Out

While we're at it, how about adopting a rule that any player who is suspended for PED use during the season would then be ineligible to compete in the playoffs?

Going back to the Peralta example, the former Detroit Tigers shortstop was able to return during the final week of the 2013 regular season and then—because his team hung on to take the division while he was sitting out—for the postseason, too.

Peralta, you'll recall, went on to hit .417 with a home run and five RBI in four games against the Oakland Athletics, as the Tigers advanced in five games.

Fair? Unfair? Might his absence last October have resulted in the A's moving on instead? All questions worth asking.


Cut Contracts

If players who test positive and/or serve suspensions for PEDs can still go out and sign contracts, isn't it reasonable that those very contracts should then include a stipulation that allows the team to terminate said contract if the player is caught using again?

If outright termination of the entire contract is too harsh, then at least some sort of severe financial penalty, such as 25 percent of the total value of the contract.

Losing, say, 25 percent of his new contract for another positive test would be enough to knock down Carlos Ruiz.
Losing, say, 25 percent of his new contract for another positive test would be enough to knock down Carlos Ruiz.Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

For example, say Ruiz—who inked a three-year, $26 million deal in November after serving a 25-game ban for twice testing positive for an amphetamine—failed another test while under this new contract. He would cost himself a substantial $6.5 million (25 percent of $26 million), in addition to whatever he would lose while suspended.

Additionally, any option years (whether of the vesting, player or team variety) could be nullified, and any performance bonuses awarded during the life of the contract could be voided.

The MLB Players Association would fight this one, no doubt, but the concept should at least be considered going forward.


Take It out on Teams, Too

Another way to prevent players from using PEDs? Penalize teams that sign those who have been busted.

As we've seen this winter and last, the relatively new qualifying-offer system has hindered the free-agent market for many players who rejected these offers. While this has been an unintended consequence with regard to free agency, this process may have accidentally provided a possible answer for limiting the value of PED offenders on the open market.

It's become plainly evident that most teams despise the idea of losing a draft pick, which is what happens when they sign a free agent who rejected a qualifying offer. Perhaps, then, signing a player with a PED-related suspension in his recent past should cost a club its first-round pick in the ensuing draft.

Proof that teams don't want to lose draft picks: Nelson Cruz's market is limited by his rejecting a qualifying offer.
Proof that teams don't want to lose draft picks: Nelson Cruz's market is limited by his rejecting a qualifying offer.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Cruz is a perfect example because his situation covers both cases. He turned down the qualifying offer after the season, which has anchored him to draft-pick compensation and thus undercut his own value. Pretend instead, though, that the reason inking Cruz results in the forfeiture of a selection is because he was suspended this past season for being linked to the Biogenesis scandal.

Maybe a team that signs a player who tests positive and/or is suspended for PED use should suffer the loss of multiple picks in the upcoming draft or even a first-rounder in consecutive years. Regardless, with such a steep penalty, most teams would completely ignore any such player.

Along with the previous possibilities, that might be the kind of feasible disciplinary action that gives baseball another avenue to address this PED problem.


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