Although Commission Bud Selig – on a Dave Letterman appearance, no less – this week seemed to suggest that the weight of Major League Baseball would soon rain down on the players who have been connected to the Miami Biogenesis clinic that had allegedly been distributing performance-enhancing drugs, the Players Association may have a different view.
It has always been understood that the MLBPA would fight the release of the names of the players implicated until their various appeals had been resolved. On the other side, however, MLB teams undoubtedly want to know what players are going to be suspended – long before the appeals play out – so that they can make accommodations in the next two weeks before the Trade Deadline (even if they knew the suspensions might not kick in for a month or two, the teams still might want to pick up an extra player). The Commissioner’s Office is sensitive to this need, and is also looking to make something of a splash.
But, if MLBPA head Michael Weiner is to be credited,* the entire Biogenesis scandal may have absolutely no impact on this year’s trade season.
First, it is Weiner’s position that the players implicated in this investigation – who would be suspended without having tested positive for a PED – are not subject to the 50-game/100-game suspensions laid out in the Joint Drug Agreement. Instead, as discussed ably by Wendy Thurm at FanGraphs, it is Weiner’s position that the players are being suspended under the “just cause” provisions under the JDA and the CBA. As Wendy points out, however, players can be suspended under the JDA (and its 50/100-game penalty provisions) for “otherwise violat[ing] the Program through the possession or use of a Performance Enhancing Substance.” In other words, you don’t have to test positive to violate baseball’s drug rules, and you can be suspended accordingly. Perhaps Weiner and the MLBPA will argue that the circumstances here still don’t qualify, but I tend to think he’s merely advancing this argument as part of the broader “legal” battle about the suspensions – which is to say, I suspect some folks are trying to cut deals. Buttressing that suspicion, Weiner noted that the players involved could get suspensions of any length, not just 50 or 100 games. That makes me wonder if that’s exactly what some of the players would be happy to accept – a suspension less than 50 games, and they drop their appeal.
If that happens, and if suspensions for some of the most trade-related players are far fewer than 50 games, you can see how the trade implications are impacted. For example, if Nelson Cruz is suspended just 10 games, then the Rangers have far less incentive to make a deal for Alfonso Soriano. Again: just a hypothetical example for illustrative purposes only.
Secondly, Weiner indicated, per the Daily News, that if players go through the appeal process, he doesn’t expect any merited suspensions to begin until very late in this season or early next season. Further, Weiner says he expects to hear from MLB about the suspended players “within a few weeks.” If MLB doesn’t get to that step before July 31, or if the names do not leak before July 31, then, once again, the Trade Deadline impact is diminished considerably.
How will this all play out? Well, I still suspect we’ll learn the identities of the implicated players before July 31, either by a credible leak or an MLB announcement. But what we may not learn is whether those suspensions will be 10 or 20 or 50 or 100 games, and we may not learn whether it’s going to be conceivable that the players will actually be affected by the suspensions until 2014. In either of those cases, even if the names have come out (and obviously several have already been reported), and even if MLB intends to act strongly and quickly, there may not be any impact on this trading season.
That could be unfortunate for the Cubs, who are looking to sell. I say that not only because players lost to suspension could increase/create markets for the Cubs’ pieces, but also because all of this uncertainty could cause teams to be reluctant to make a big move. Then again, uncertainty could work to the Cubs’ favor, because teams fighting for a playoff spot with key players implicated in the scandal could decide to cover themselves in the event that they do lose a player in the second half.
As with so many things, we’ll just have to see what happens over the next week or two.
*One thing you can definitely credit him on: his guts. He met with the media to discuss this issue from a wheel chair as he battles a brain tumor. At the same time, he discussed a succession plan for his leadership. Just think about that. Quickly, Biogenesis and trades and even baseball seem very, very small.