Rising PED use in MLB suspected
November, 8, 2012
By Buster Olney | ESPN.com
Jake Roth/US PresswireEarly in his career, Grandel is already facing a lengthy suspension for PED use.The Major League Baseball Players Association holds regular meetings with its executive board, and when next they meet, there will be great news to discuss -- Michael Weiner, the respected and cherished head of the union, has responded strongly in his fight against cancer.
But the conversation eventually will turn to other matters of business -- in particular, the growing concern about a perceived spike in the use of performance-enhancing drugs in MLB and whether the union should respond.
Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal became the latest player to be suspended for what seems to be the current drug of choice -- testosterone, which theoretically advances the daily recovery of athletes and enables them to bounce back and work out more than peers who aren't taking the banned substance. Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon were suspended for taking testosterone, and Ryan Braun tested positive for it 13 months ago. (He later became the first Major League player to win his appeal.)
The strong appeal of testosterone, players say privately, is how quickly traces of it flee the human body, often within a couple of days. A cheating player takes some testosterone on a Monday, and by Wednesday he can smile in the face of a drug tester.
There is no way to know exactly how many players are currently using PEDs without testing daily, and even then, the science of cheating might allow abusers to get away with it. But a lot of baseball executives and players are convinced that the number of those using has risen significantly in the past couple of years.
They see more and more curious physical changes, with rounded musculature and a sudden midcareer leap in performance; in pitchers, they see a leap in velocity. I've heard estimates from executives that their belief is as many as 30 to 40 percent of all players are using some kind of banned substance. (Remember, those are just guesstimates, nothing more.) Late Wednesday, one player put the number closer to 20 percent.
There is also increasing speculation in the sport about the possible connection for so many busted players to the Miami area, in the way that the Bay Area was the home to BALCO, from Cabrera to Grandal.
The year-to-year sample sizes of PED suspensions are too small to draw conclusions, but the number of major leaguers suspended this year is the most in five years. And with this type of thing, the presumption among executives is that those caught are really unlucky or really stupid and represent the very tip of the iceberg.
Major leagues: 12
Minor leagues: 106
Major leagues: 3
Minor leagues: 39
Major leagues: 8
Minor leagues: 30
Major leagues: 3
Minor leagues: 69
Major leagues: 4
Minor leagues: 83
Major leagues: 2
Minor leagues 86
Major leagues: 2
Minor leagues: 71
Major leagues: 6
Minor leagues: 76 (through Aug. 22)
MLB commissioner Bud Selig said in an interview in the week after Colon's suspension that he was not inclined to reopen the collective bargaining agreement to alter the rules, but really, it's not Selig's issue. The push for change must come from the players' association, which has seen a gradual shift in the perspective of its players through the years.
Many clean players have come to view the cheaters as a direct threat to the welfare of their union brothers, in taking away jobs and dollars that rightfully belong to brethren who play according to the drug rules negotiated by the players' association. Baseball's cheaters are like fraternity brothers who steal from the community cash box.
In the past, the union's response to the drug problems has been to agree to more testing. But some players have come to believe that the testing really isn't a strong enough deterrent because of the sophistication of the drugs being used; in the cheater's roll of the dice, the odds are greatly in favor of testosterone being out of his system when the drug tester taps him on the shoulder.
So it figures that the union members will discuss altering the risk-reward equation by putting much sharper teeth into the penalties. Under the current system, a first-time offender is docked 50 games and a second offense costs a player 100 games.
In the eyes of some players, this is too light. A more appropriate deterrent, they believe, would be to have a player suspended one year with the first offense and banned for life with a second offense. And some players are open to the idea of having the contracts of cheaters immediately voided to greatly reduce the financial incentives for rule breakers.
Consider the case of Colon. Given his suspension and his stunning spike in performance in 2011 in his late 30s, it would be fair for other players to speculate that he has been cheating over the past two years. His base salary in 2011 was $900,000, and in 2012, he made approximately $1.4 million of his $2 million base salary. The other day, the Athletics re-signed Colon to a $3 million deal.
If Colon has been cheating all along, and if he avoids a suspension next year, he will have made about $5.3 million in base salary over a three-year period plus incentives -- while getting about two-and-a-half years of service time that rightfully belongs to somebody else.
How many Bartolo Colons are there? Who knows? Maybe a handful. Maybe a lot more. But it continues to be apparent that crime pays under the terms of baseball's current drug-testing system -- and the number of players choosing to go that path may be growing again.
• Grandal won't be eligible to come back until May 28. His biggest failures may be yet to come, writes Kevin Acee.
Grandal's statement falls under the heading of "I Got Caught And Need To Say Something (Anything, Really)."
His statement: "I apologize to the fans, my teammates, and to the San Diego Padres. I was disappointed to learn of my positive test and under the Joint Drug Program I am responsible for what I put into my body. I must accept responsibility for my actions and serve my suspension."
• Walt Weiss was hired as the Rockies' new manager.
• The general managers talked about more replay again. And they talked about head protection for pitchers.
• Colleague Jerry Crasnick reported that Arizona is open to dealing Trevor Bauer. On the face of it, this is a surprise because Bauer was the third player taken in the 2011 draft, and the Diamondbacks thought so much of him that they passed on Dylan Bundy to take the UCLA right-hander. The Diamondbacks' thinking was that Bauer would have more of an immediate impact in the big leagues than Bundy.
But this situation has been building all year. First, Bauer did not have the overpowering year that he had in college, throwing in the low-90s rather than in the mid-90s. In Bauer's brief stint in the big leagues, there was some frustration among those around him that the young pitcher seemed unwilling to adjust his style -- throwing in the upper half of the strike zone rather than down. It's possible that this trade talk is a warning shot aimed to jar Bauer into being more open-minded, but Arizona GM Kevin Towers is among the most aggressive in turning the page on what he perceives as mistakes. He won't hang on to a player just for the sake of his own ego in justifying one of his decisions.
Towers is also talking about Justin Upton; the Yankees are no longer on his no-trade list, writes Mark Feinsand. It's hard to imagine the Yankees making a deal for Upton without including some combination of Eduardo Nunez, Ivan Nova and some minor league prospects.
Joel Sherman writes that the Yankees are not looking at Upton at all, and that they are intent on posting a payroll below the luxury tax threshold.
• As soon as news broke that Jason Bay was released by the Mets -- which makes complete sense, given his struggles -- the first thought I had was that Bay could be a fit as a low-cost, low-risk flier for the Indians, who need right-handed-hitting outfield help.
Bob Elliott wonders if the Blue Jays might be interested in Bay, who is Canadian.
• The Rangers haven't ruled out a Josh Hamilton return, writes Jeff Wilson. Nolan Ryan says the Rangers aren't going to wait forever. From Richard Durrett's story:
- "What you're going to have to do is I don't think you can sit around and say, 'We have to wait and see what happens with Josh,' " Ryan said to a small media gathering Wednesday at Rangers Ballpark. "We'll get a feel here shortly where we think that might be going, but also we have to be out there seeing what opportunities are out there, whether there's opportunities to improve the club.
"If you sit back and wait, you might miss an opportunity you might regret or feel like you could have done something and didn't get it done."
One of those opportunities could be Zack Greinke, the top free-agent pitcher on the market. The Rangers have four spots lined up in their rotation and are looking for another pitcher to add near the top of that staff.