Notice taken when raises follow suspensions
Free-agent deals prompt discussion about tougher penalties for PED use
During their tour of Spring Training camps earlier this year, Commissioner Bud Selig and the late Michael Weiner, head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, expressed the opinion that despite having the strongest drug policy in team sports, baseball might need to be even tougher on the users of performance-enhancing drugs.
Concern was raised in light of the offseason free-agent contracts signed by outfielder Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon, both subjects of 50-game suspensions for PED violations during the 2012 season. Both received raises for 2013 on the free-agent market, which led to public discussion among players and fans about the risk/reward value of the suspensions.
"There is no mistake as to where the sentiments of the players are," said Weiner, who lost a 15-month battle with an inoperable brain tumor on Thursday. "They are sick of the issue."
Selig echoed the sentiment on the part of ownership.
"We've made meaningful adjustments to our testing program," Selig said, "and now the time has come to make meaningful adjustments to our penalties."
This offseason's free-agent moves have raised the question again.
Shortstop Jhonny Peralta, one of five free agents this offseason who have served PED suspensions, signed a four-year contract reportedly worth $52 million with the St. Louis Cardinals, a healthy hike from the two-year, $11.25 million deal he just finished with Detroit, and considerably more than the $29.44 million he made in his first nine big league seasons, according to the salaries listed by Cot's Baseball Contracts.
While Colon, Nelson Cruz and Edinson Volquez remain on the free-agent market, Carlos Ruiz re-signed with Philadelphia on a three-year, $26 million deal at the age of 35 after making $14.63 million in his career to date, and outfielder Marlon Byrd, who earned $700,000 this year, signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Phillies.
Like Peralta, Cruz was suspended for 50 games this past season for his involvement with Biogenesis. Ruiz was suspended for the season's first 25 games for using a banned amphetamine, and Byrd served a 50-game suspension in 2012 for PED use.
During the past three seasons there have been 18 players suspended for PED violations, including Alex Rodriguez, who is awaiting a ruling on his grievance hearing regarding his 211-game suspension, and Miguel Tejada, who has 64 games remaining on the 105-game suspension he was assessed on Aug. 17 of this past season.
Cabrera, who was eligible to return from his suspension during the 2012 postseason but not reinstated by San Francisco, signed a two-year, $16 million with Toronto. He had a $6 million salary with the Giants in 2012. Colon, who had a $2 million salary with Oakland in 2012, returned to the A's for $3 million in 2013.
With that in mind, MLB and Players Association officials have discussed stronger penalties for PED violations, which currently call for 50-game suspensions for first-time offenders, 100 games for second-time violators and a lifetime ban for a third strike.
"People really don't understand how it works," pitcher Brad Ziegler, the Arizona player representative, said in a tweet on Sunday. "We thought 50 games would be a deterrent. Obviously it's not. So we are working on it again."
On this issue, players have recently been more vocal.
The late Marvin Miller, who built the Players Association into the strongest union in professional sports, and Donald Fehr, Miller's successor, resisted drug testing on grounds that it was an invasion of privacy.
Baseball initially adopted a random offseason testing program in 2004 that included penalties of a 10-day suspension for a first-time violator, 30 days the second time, 60 days the third time and one year the fourth time. The current three-strikes-and-you're-out policy was approved in November 2005.
In November 2011, MLB became the first major sport in the United States to test for human growth hormone, which can be used to increase muscle mass and help recovery, but at the time the testing was limited to Spring Training and the offseason and required reasonable cause.
Last January, baseball moved to improve that program, announcing random in-season testing for HGH, and a new test to reveal elevated levels of testosterone will go into effect in the 2014 season.
That announcement was hailed by Weiner as underscoring that "players want a program that is tough, scientifically accurate, backed by the latest proven scientific methods and fair."
The players, after all, want a playing field that is fair. And they want to remove doubts that fans and historians may have of the validity of their on-field performances.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.