This story has been edited since publication due to an error.
TJ Quinn released a bit of a bomb yesterday saying, “Major League Baseball is expected to announce in the next few days that another player has tested positive for the steroid Turinabol.”
In response, on Baseball Tonight last night, Dallas Braden argued that there is not enough of a strong deterrent to keep players from cheating in baseball. Instead of “sending players on an 80 game vacation,” he said that we should take away their earning potential either by voiding their contract or creating a “career earnings cap.”
Now before you react, let me say a couple of things before I get into my thoughts.
First, I am not the biggest Dallas Braden fan. I tend to view him as the Skip Bayless of baseball commenting. He has a million “hot takes” and has a strong stance on everything and anything. Those aren’t bad things, it’s just not interesting for me personally. Some people are passionate about different things. I also didn’t really like him as a player. He’s cut from the same cloth as Wainwright and Carpenter. It’s the “play baseball the ‘right’ way” thing that gets to me. Remember that one time he yelled at A-Rod for cutting across the field on the mound when he was pitching? That happened.
Second, I don’t agree with all of Braden’s thoughts, but the sentiment was something I was interested in. It got me thinking about the PED suspension process as a whole. Perhaps it could be revamped.
Right now, this is how the current process looks:
As it stands now, teams aren’t able to void any part of the contract when a player is found to have used PEDs (it’s different for things like narcotic use). This means that players like Dee Gordon and Chris Colabello, who were both slapped with 80 game suspensions, will still be eligible for their contracts. While they both lose the money during the suspension (Gordon will lose $1.65 million), their contract still remains in tact. This means that when Gordon returns he’s still eligible for the remaining $1.65 million and the rest of his new deal. Now, in a sport where Giancarlo Staton has a total contract value of $325 million, those numbers don’t seem significant. But they are for the player. And I think that was Braden’s point about there not being enough deterrent. If you can cheat, get paid, and live with the fact that you perhaps weren’t ethical, what’s stopping you?
So what does the MLB do?
I think there is one of two answers to that question. (1) Nothing, the system is working as it should. You’ll always have players that think they can outsmart the testing. Plus, players are more motivated by losing playing time vs money. Or (2) something, the the system is not working as it should. There isn’t enough to sway someone from cheating because they are still getting their full contract.
The MLB shouldn’t change anything
The biggest hurdle against not changing anything with current PED penalties comes from the player’s themselves. Their union has argued that by voiding contracts or taking away any sort of earnings from the player, the teams or anyone involved in the process could contaminate a sample.
For example, let’s say you have a player who signed a big contract several years ago. At the time, they were worth every penny. Now, later on in their career, they are severely underperforming. An unethical team could try and use dirty tactics to arrange a failed drug test and thus void the remainder of the contract. Think A-Rod or Jayson Werth.
Is this probable? I doubt it. But is it possible? Sure, it’s possible.
But beyond all this, does anything really need to be changed? The “problem” seems to have been solved with the amount of testing and how rigorous they seem to be. Also, no longer are we seeing big name players being implicated (…yet anyway. And hopefully never). Perhaps the 80-game suspension followed by a year is enough to keep things in check for those that care.
The MLB should change something
Maybe… maybe the MLB could do more. I don’t think Braden’s idea of voiding contracts is a viable option–especially with the union issue that was discussed above. But I think there is an answer in the financial realm.
First, let’s consider the current rule, which doesn’t mention any sort of financial ramifications if caught using PEDs. I find that odd. I think fining a player and suspending them would be more than fair. After all, there are financial implications when narcotics or other prohibited drugs are involved. But even then, the money goes back into the team’s pocketbook (which is a very messed up issue in and of itself. Why would you punish a player for coming forward and admitting that they have a problem with drugs or alcohol? That’s incredibly asinine and is the current policy in the MLB). Why are the policies different depending on what illegal substance you are putting into your body?
Here’s what they do, according to me: take notice of what other leagues like the NFL do with their fines and donate them to charity. According to the NFL’s website, since 2009 they have donated more than $4 million a year to various charities. The NFL has their own set of challenges and have had more labor disputes than the MLB as of late. But why wouldn’t this specific change work in the MLB for both the current narcotics and PED punishments? It takes away the player’s argument of the possibility of teams tampering and also puts a tougher punishment on the players themselves, which in turn, helps the teams.
Let me be clear, I’m not implying that if there had been a financial punishment, Dee Gordon would be playing baseball right now. I have no idea. And you have no idea. But the extra punishments can’t hurt.
For now, nothing is going to change. And I actually think that’s okay for the time being. This sort of testing is relatively new when it comes to larger history of baseball. The league is still figuring it out, and I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt (on the PED side, not the substance abuse side)…but not forever.
Nothing is perfect, especially including in sports.