Major League Baseball's performance-enhancing drug penalties treat violators as men who have acted alone. When a player is caught, the hammer is lowered on him and only him.
But imagine this: The league having the power to punish a PED violator's employer as well, thus lowering the hammer on all parties that benefit from PED use.
This, to be sure, is a drastic idea. But in light of recent events, the timing has never been better for such an idea to come to fruition.
At the least, the timing is right for some serious dialogue about the matter. To that end, I'll be honest. As recently as a couple months ago, I probably would have said that the decision to use PEDs belongs to players and only players. Likewise, so should the penalties.
But these are weird times. And in weird times, weird things happen that can make one more receptive to ideas that one had previously considered to be, well, weird.
Exhibit A is the 10-story elephant in the room: Alex Rodriguez's suspension.
Earlier this month, an independent arbitrator knocked the 211-game suspension MLB wanted for A-Rod after investigated his dealings with Biogenesis down to 162 games. Because all PED suspensions are without pay, A-Rod will miss out on almost all of the $25 million he's owed in 2014 unless a federal judge nixes the arbitrator's decision (which is unlikely).
For A-Rod, it's a staggering blow. But for the New York Yankees, it's a windfall.
The Yankees might take advantage of their A-Rod savings by signing Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka, thereby bolstering their rotation for a run at title No. 28. Or maybe they'll hold off and get under the $189 million luxury-tax threshold in 2014. If that happens, their luxury-tax status will be reset and the door will be open for them to go back to treating the luxury tax as a mere inconvenience.
Either way, the simplified version of the narrative reads like so: After benefiting from A-Rod's wrongdoing, the Yankees now stand to benefit from his comeuppance. For other clubs, that's on the "Un" side of the fair scale.
Now consider Exhibit B: the three notable instances we've seen in the last year or so of players getting nabbed for PEDs and then getting a raise shortly after.
Bartolo Colon went from a $2 million guaranteed salary to a $3 million guaranteed salary. Melky Cabrera went from a $6 million salary to a $16 million contract. Jhonny Peralta followed suit, going from a $6 million salary to a $52 million contract.
In all three cases, money that might have gone to clean players went to dirty players. After Peralta's particularly large score, Arizona Diamondbacks reliever Brad Ziegler came right out and said it:
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak defended the Peralta contract by saying, via CBS Sports:
Character and makeup are something we weigh into our decision-making. In his case, he admitted what he did, he took responsibility for it. I feel like he has paid for his mistakes, and obviously if he were to make another one, then it would be a huge disappointment.
Mozeliak is right about a couple things. In a statement, Peralta did take responsibility for his guilt. In serving his suspension, he did pay for his mistake. And if he were to make another mistake while under the employ of the Cardinals, it would be a disappointment.
But to that last point, Mozeliak is only half right. While Peralta getting nabbed again would be disappointing, it wouldn't be a complete disaster. Like the Yankees are with A-Rod, at least the Cardinals would be poised to save a few million bucks.
After considering all that, let's now ponder the wager before teams regarding PED users. It looks a little something like this:
- If a player doesn't use and plays well anyway, we win.
- If a player uses, plays well and doesn't get caught, we win.
- If a player uses and gets caught, it's not a total loss.
- If, for whatever reason, a player plays poorly, we lose.
You can see how the chips are stacked in favor of teams.
The Cardinals being as smart as they are, here's guessing they were aware of this when they signed Peralta. The same will go for whoever signs Nelson Cruz, who was also nabbed for 50 games as a result of Biogenesis.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if the bans for PED offenses are made even longer—a legitimate possibility given that both Commissioner Bud Selig and many players are decidedly for harsher penalties—a player getting busted would mean a team getting out from underneath even more money. That team would thus have even more money to use to keep up with the competition.
The solution to this is fairly obvious. If MLB is ever going to incorporate punishments for teams that employ PED users, the punishments would need to hit teams where it hurts: their wallets.
The easy solution would be to have the money owed to the guilty player go to the league as a sort of fine. But if MLB wants teams to be really afraid of employing a PED user, it would be better if the money was distributed evenly to the league's other 29 teams. In that case, a PED penalty would result in a bit of impromptu revenue sharing that would benefit all rival businesses.
If MLB wants teams to be really, really afraid of employing a PED user, even better would be the money being distributed to the other teams in the offending team’s division. In that case, the impromptu revenue sharing would aid only the offending team’s biggest rivals.
Does MLB need to start punishing teams for PED violations?
Are such arrangements actually possible? To the extent that owners and the players could conceivably agree to them, I think so.
For the players, it would be simple. Right now, a PED punishment opens the door for only one team to reinvest money into clean players. Under either of the two protocols proposed above, a PED punishment would open the door for multiple teams to reinvest money into clean players.
For the owners, it would be less simple. On the one hand, agreeing to either arrangement would mean individual owners agreeing to a rule that might one day cost them money to the benefit of their competitors. Not an easy sell, that.
But on the other hand is a trade-off: When one team’s punishment is the other teams' reward, there’s a greater chance of a team benefiting from a PED ban than there is of a team being hurt by one.
Plus, there could be another trade-off for owners: A rule that would allow them to escape having to pay the price if the club were to turn a dirty player over to MLB before he got caught by the league.
A rule like that would remove incentive for clubs to turn a blind eye to PED use, thus promoting increased vigilance. That alone could have a greater hand in cleaning up the game than anything that's happened since MLB got serious about doing so.
As for the prospect of clubs having to keep signing the checks if one of its players were to get nabbed, that would mean never again seeing a club benefit from a suspension to the degree that the Yankees are poised to benefit from A-Rod's.
Another result would be clubs being more wary about free agents with past PED offenses. That wariness would likely lead to more subdued contract offers and, by extension, more money to be spent on clean players.
Again, the word of the day is "drastic." In itself, the notion of MLB incorporating penalties for teams into its PED policy is drastic. The measures I've proposed are plenty drastic in their own right. And because baseball already has arguably the toughest PED policy in professional sports, I hold no ill will against anyone who argues that these measures are too drastic.
But while MLB is undeniably cleaner than it used to be, it's not as clean as it wants to be. It won't get there until it has everyone convinced that nothing good can come of using PEDs, and it won't get there until teams are at least as afraid of a PED violation as players are.
A drastic step though it may be, what we're talking about is the next step.
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