Alex Rodriguez: A villain before Biogenesis, a supervillain after Biogenesis.
Welcome to an anniversary. It was exactly 365 days ago that the Miami New Times reported on Biogenesis, thus setting up Major League Baseball for a year unlike any other.
You'll remember that the drama was high from the get-go. The New Times report famously highlighted individual instances of Alex Rodriguez being tied to performance-enchancing drugs in the records of Biogenesis director Anthony Bosch. Nelson Cruz was also implicated, as were other notables. More names soon surfaced, including Ryan Braun and Jhonny Peralta.
It was then up to MLB to build cases with which it could actually penalize the implicated players. There was doubt whether it had the power to do so. But by June, the league had secured Bosch's cooperation and was well on its way to its biggest PED bust ever.
Braun was the first to go down, accepting a season-ending 65-game ban in July. The rest of the suspensions followed in early August, with Cruz, Peralta and 10 others accepting 50-game bans. Rodriguez, facing a 211-game ban, was the only player who put up his dukes.
A couple weeks ago, A-Rod was beaten. His 211-game suspension wasn't upheld via arbitration, but it was only reduced to 162 games. He's decided to take his case to federal court, but for now, the ruling on his ban is the Biogenesis scandal's exclamation point.
Today's as good a day as any for a good, old-fashioned retrospective. The Biogenesis scandal did set MLB on a new course, after all—obvious in some ways, complicated in others.
The Ripple Effect of the Suspensions
As big as the Biogenesis scandal was, it's actually remarkable how many of the suspensions were inconsequential regarding on-field matters.
Braun's suspension didn't change anything, as he was already mired in a tough year and his Brewers weren't close to being in contention. Everth Cabrera's Padres were also out of it. As for guys like Jesus Montero, Francisco Cervelli and Jordany Valdespin, you look at their names and say, "Meh."
However, we know that Peralta's ban mattered. If he doesn't get banned, the Tigers probably don't trade for Jose Iglesias. And if they don't trade for Iglesias, maybe Peralta is still a Tiger now.
If Iglesias stays in Boston, maybe there's no room for Xander Bogaerts to play a starring role in the Red Sox's run to the World Series. And with Iglesias and Bogaerts lined up for 2014, maybe Stephen Drew's market is now even more iffy without the Boston fall-back option.
As for Cruz, the Rangers probably don't trade for Alex Rios if he doesn't get banned. And if they don't trade for Rios, maybe Cruz is still a Ranger. And if he's a Ranger now, maybe Shin-Soo Choo isn't.
Regarding Rodriguez, that he was permitted to play while appealing his suspension didn't end up making a difference for the Yankees. They still missed the playoffs. But if his $25 million salary is still on the books for 2014, maybe the Yankees wouldn't have made one of the winter's biggest moves: signing Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka to a deal worth over $20 million per year.
There were over a dozen suspensions handed out as a result of MLB's investigation into Biogenesis. Most of them didn't matter. But for the few that did matter, it wasn't just the fates of the suspended players that were altered. There was a ripple effect, resulting in MLB's future going from one direction to a slightly different direction.
Reputations Ruined and Another...Uh, Ruined Some More
In the eyes of many, there's no greater sin a ballplayer can commit than that of using PEDs. In Peralta, Cruz, Cabrera and all the others linked to PEDs for the first time through Biogenesis, reputations that were once clean are now tarnished.
With Braun and Rodriguez, however, "tarnished" doesn't quite say it.
Braun's reputation was on thin ice even before Yahoo! Sports tied him to Biogenesis in early February last year. He had failed a PED test and was facing a 50-game ban on the heels of winning the National League MVP in 2011, only to get out of it on a technicality.
Everyone knew that it was a technicality that had gotten Braun out of trouble. The verdict was best summed up as "not guilty." But Braun preferred "innocent," and he made sure everyone was clear on that in a fire-and-brimstone performance in front of the press.
Braun's suspension this year confirmed it was all a sham. His reputation now is not just as a cheat, but as a cheat and a liar. He's also gone from fire and brimstone to laying down his arms and accepting defeat. He was once defiant. He's now sorry. Quiet. Humble. An easy target.
Maybe Milwaukee fans will forgive Braun. But from a national perspective, that MVP he won in 2011 is a joke, and everything he's done in his career to this point is right there with it. There's a good chance the perception will stay this way forever.
Then, there's Rodriguez. His reputation was already in tatters before Biogenesis, as he was outed a cheat and a liar years before. All Biogenesis did was move him higher on the depth chart of baseball's all-time villains, perhaps all the way to the top.
The suspension's the big part of it, as A-Rod got it because MLB was able to prove that he was guilty of multiple violations over several years. And unlike his first go-around with PEDs from 2001-03, A-Rod was legitimately breaking the rules this time. At the task of learning his lesson, he failed.
But it's not just the suspension. In the last year, Rodriguez has been accused of obstructing MLB's investigation, of being responsible for the leaks that outed Braun and others and of being associated with people who threatened Bosch's life. Then, there was his contrived angry exit from his own arbitration hearing, and then him alienating his peers by filing suit against the MLB Players Association.
Say what you will about how much water the various accusations actually hold and the necessity of A-Rod's suit against the union. Heck, you're even welcome to argue that A-Rod is a victim in all this; there is a case to be made there.
At no point in the last year, however, did A-Rod ever come across as a good guy. And given all that's transpired, whatever chance he had of going into the books as one is now gone.
A Strange Chapter for Bud Selig's Legacy
ESPN's Jayson Stark argued earlier this week that Bud Selig is the greatest commissioner baseball has ever known. A bold statement, to be sure, but one that's more valid than you might think in light of how many achievements Selig has to outweigh his failures.
And it is with the former group, I think, that the Biogenesis scandal will ultimately settle.
If we boil the scandal down to a simple narrative, it's that a group of wrongdoers were brought to light, Selig chose to pursue them and, eventually, brought them to justice. And because there was only one player who didn't surrender in the end, it's clear that Selig didn't target the wrong people.
As for that one player who did choose to fight, it looks good on Selig that he and MLB won. And since said player was already a villain based on past crimes, that Selig was able to bring him down means a mighty big feather for his cap; or, if you prefer, a trophy for his mantel.
The fine print in this chapter of Selig's legacy, however, will be all about whether he went beyond his authority in his pursuit of justice.
There's no ignoring that MLB had to play dirty to get what it wanted. Bosch was effectively sued into submission. Biogenesis whistle-blower Porter Fischer accused MLB of bullying him. A report from The New York Times indicated he may not have been the only one bullied by MLB, and the report also addressed MLB's paying for documents and assorted expenses once Bosch agreed to cooperate.
Arbitrator Fredric Horowitz clarified in his ruling of A-Rod's case that he felt MLB wasn't out of line with any of its tactics. In playing the role of an old west sheriff, Selig didn't break any rules.
But in slinking into the shadows wearing a cloak and armed with a dagger, Selig and MLB surely bent the rules. Specifically, what they did was take full advantage of gray areas in the Joint Drug Agreement.
And about that...
The Present and Future of the JDA
A year ago, MLB's PED protocols seemed simple enough. Get busted a first time, and your punishment was 50 games. A second time? 100 games. Third time? Life.
But then, Biogenesis happened. What it proved is that getting busted isn't so simple, and that the 50-100-life penalty structure isn't so rigid, after all.
We just talked about the first point. The suspensions MLB handed down weren't brought on by positive tests. They were brought on by a tip from a weekly newspaper and then months of shady dealings designed to secure enough evidence for non-analytical positives.
As for the 50-100-life penalty structure, late union chief Michael Weiner conceded (FanGraphs' Wendy Thurm compiled key quotes) in July that it didn't necessarily apply in the case of Biogenesis. Despite the fact the 50-100-life penalty structure can be triggered by non-analytical positives, it was to be the commissioner's "just cause" provision that influenced the final rulings.
Things got even messier when it came time for Horowitz to rule on Rodriguez. Conceivably, he could have overruled Selig's desire to suspended A-Rod for 211 games for "just cause" and simply handed A-Rod a 50-game penalty. He had no record of prior offenses, after all.
Instead, Horowitz went along with both MLB's and the union's stance that the 50-100-life structure need not apply. What he arrived at was 150 games, three 50-game punishments for three violations of the JDA (with 12 extra games and the postseason on the side for A-Rod's efforts to obstruct MLB).
In short, the proper protocol in the case of Biogenesis was totally open to interpretation. The JDA didn't seem that open to interpretation before the fact, but, well, apparently it was.
And regardless of what any of us think about whether the ends justified the means in the case of Biogenesis, we must all agree: This can't happen again.
After Biogenesis, it's clear that the JDA needs specific definitions for what qualifies as a non-analytical positive.
After Biogenesis, it's clear that the JDA needs guidelines for how MLB can and can't pursue non-analytical positives, and for how players can and can't push back.
After Biogenesis, it's clear that, rather than relying on the "just cause" provision, the JDA needs a clearly defined penalty structure for players who are caught retroactively (i.e. not red-handed) for multiple violations.
Lastly, just to be safe, Biogenesis is an excuse for both players and owners to push for harsher penalties for all types of PED violations. Maybe that means making the bans longer. Maybe that means including penalties for teams. Whatever the case, the fact that over a dozen players weren't scared enough by the consequences to stay away from Biogenesis in the first place necessitates a response.
These, of course, are changes that haven't happened yet. Making them happen won't be easy. But if making them happen might prevent another year like the one MLB just experienced from happening, they should be made.
The Biogenesis scandal has already changed a lot, but don't think for a second that it's done yet just because 365 days have passed.
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