I don’t like to overstate the implications of a one-player change on another NL Central team, as it relates to the Chicago Cubs’ chances in a given season. Baseball is whacky, teams and players surprise you, and a team builds its roster in response to other teams at the risk of wasting a whole lot of money.
But, that said: if the Milwaukee Brewers are really going to be forced to play 1/3 of the season without Ryan Braun, as well as the whole season without Prince Fielder, coupled with Albert Pujols’ defection from the Cardinals, I just don’t see how the Cubs could plausibly justify not amping up their 2012 efforts. Am I suggesting they break the bank at the risk of sabotaging the deep rebuild the organization needs? Absolutely not. But might it now be much more understandable if the Cubs hold onto a few pieces rather than trade them, and spend a little more money in free agency than they otherwise would have? Yes.
Think of it this way: do you believe the Cincinnati Reds (and, to a lesser extent, the Pittsburgh Pirates) didn’t collectively wake up today licking their chops? They know just how winnable the NL Central is about to become. Shouldn’t the Cubs also?
The Brewers have responded to the reports with the following statement, by way of owner Mark Attanasio:
“Ryan Braun has been a model citizen in every sense of the word, both in the Milwaukee community and for the Brewers. Since joining our organization in 2005, he has been a person of character and integrity.
“MLB has put a confidential testing program into place, which I personally support, that has a specific review process that must be followed before determining whether a player is in violation. Ryan has issued a statement that there are highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case that will support his complete innocence and demonstrate that there was absolutely no intentional violation of the program. We are dealing with an incomplete set of facts and speculation. Before there is a rush to judgment, Ryan deserves the right to be heard. We are committed to supporting Ryan to get to the truth of what happened in this unfortunate situation.
“As a father, I take the use of prohibited substances seriously, because I know the effects they can have on the body and on a person’s life. I want the Milwaukee community to know that we support drug testing not only because it is MLB policy but because it is the right thing to do.
“I need to acknowledge that at this point the Milwaukee Brewers have not heard from the Office of the Commissioner or any official entity related to the MLB testing programs. Accordingly we do not have access to any of the facts or knowledge of any of the circumstances that are being circulated in the media with regard to Ryan Braun. The team will release follow-up statements at the appropriate time.”
Rumors are today swirling that the substance triggering Braun’s test was not a “performance-enhancing” substance, but was, instead, a “banned” substance. To my knowledge, the only substances that are banned on bases other than their theoretically performance-enhancing nature are other illegal drugs, in the traditional sense (“drugs of abuse” – marijuana, cocaine, opiates, etc.). If that’s what Braun tested positive for, he could be in for an image hit, but might not be suspended. A review of the drug testing program suggests that players are only subject to suspension (60 games) for using drugs of abuse if they are convicted of, or plead guilty to, a criminal charge of possession. Of course, this whole approach ignores the elevated, synthetic testosterone levels reported in Braun’s test, but we’re still getting all of the facts.
To that end, there are reports that, when Braun learned of his test results – a “couple of weeks” – after taking the test, he demanded a re-test, which came up clean. That’s all well and good, but there are two problems: (1) “couple of weeks,” and (2) if you heard you failed a test, you’d probably do everything in your power to ensure you didn’t fail a re-test. I’m not accusing Braun of anything, obviously, because this is all just “allegedly.” I’m just saying, if my livelihood depended on it, I’m not failing that second test.