Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A-Rod Frustrating Selig's "Clean in '14" Effort

Normally, after the trade deadline fans are supposed to stop hearing about fourth place teams and instead get to know playoff teams and start to consider offseason awards and moves. I plan to get to those soon. However, MLB announced their Biogenesis suspensions on Monday and that warrants some attention. If you are sick of hearing about PEDs, Biogenesis or other off the field issues in general, I don't blame you, I encourage you to skip the rest of  this article because I am fascinated by Bud Selig's actions in this matter and want to take a closer look into it. My upcoming articles will be as PED free as I can make them, I promise.

Disclaimers out of the way, let us look at the Biogensis fallout this past month: 12 suspensions for 50 games, 1 for 65, and one for 211 games. None of these players tested positive. The league suspended them using a "non-analytical positive," code for witnesses and a paper trail sufficient  to prove purchase, receipt or use of banned drugs. Oh and a few players were not suspended because they actually got caught last year. An odd system where those not smart enough to beat the system will receive less scrutiny than those who only may have. Most of the players are not challenging the suspensions, but that has more to do with the blatant incentive MLB put on the players to take the punishment. Incentives seemingly designed to provide Bud Selig with a clean final season as commissioner.

Despite all the evidence MLB collected and sifted through since January, the suspensions only came out when teams had 50 or so games remaining in the regular season. Players on post-season bound teams could serve out the punishment and still help their team in October. If they are allowed on the post-season roster. Free agents will not take a financial hit because they still have days, weeks, or months remaining on their suspension. More important to these players and MLB is the attempt to put Biogenesis in the 2013 season alone, to wrap it all up in a neat little package and pretend it is an isolated incident that can be mentioned as a historical footnote, an odd quirk to one season. Players who do not challenge the suspensions will start 2014 with as clean a slate as possible. Even Alex Rodriguez suspension was designed to fit the mold, the idea being to suspend him for the remainder of 2013 and all of 2014, after this season Biogenesis would be out of sight, out of mind. It is cleaner, simpler, to treat it as such, but hardly in the best long term interest of the game.

Part of the problem with this approach is that it oversimplifies the PED problem. One clinic lead to 15 suspensions (don't forget minor league pitcher Cesar Carrillo who suffered a 100 game suspension back in March for refusing to talk with MLB investigators about the case). One clinic handed this information to major league baseball, they merely had to sift through the information to get results. The league, as tough as it claims to be on testing steroids, did not find the Biogenesis clinic on their own and there is currently no indication that they actually want to investigate the potential for others. Had Tony Bosch paid his former employee, odds are the baseball loving public would have remained blissfully ignorant of Biogenesis and "anti-aging" clinics. Other clinics are out there. Shutting down the suppliers would be ideal. The appearance of investigations may even deter some players. The league can only punish the players, not the providers, unfortunately. So, rather than look ineffective, the league will keep improving its testing and attempt to increase the penalties to deter future use.

I would have preferred all those suspended to have to sit out opening day next season as well. This would keep the PED talk alive in clubhouses throughout spring training and serve as a constant reminder that there are consequences for PED use. The players would undoubtedly be asked about the issue throughout training camps and that is a very good thing. The conversation among players has changed dramatically since testing started back in 2005. No longer are players willing to turn a blind eye to a teammates use, pretending that the issue does not exist. Players are increasingly vocal about wanting a clean game, clean teammates. They want to be surrounded with the best 25 players, players who earned it with skill, dedication, and effort not through a needle, a cream, or a pill. This trend should continue as more and more players come up who have been tested from day 1 in the minors. Imagine what an offseason full of such talk could do. Tacking on an extra day would have allowed the owners to use the union against itself which would have been a powerful ally if they review the PED penalties as expected this offseason.

Burying the issue is easier than examining it. For the sake of a "clean" 2014 Selig slow played his hand until the players had to accept the suspension. The players were left in an unenviable position: serve the suspension immediately or risk it limiting their opportunities in 2014 and beyond. Pushed, prodded, or cajoled, I refuse to call this opportunity "unfair" because the players linked themselves to a questionable clinic, regardless of whether they actually took illegal substances for tummy aches or some competitive edge. This "clean in '14" campaign Selig is trying for (conveniently his last as commissioner, I hope) requires the biggest name to be stashed for the entire '14 season, with a 211 game suspension, Selig would accomplish just that.

Unfortunately for Bud Selig, A-Rod is planning to appeal his suspension. Financially it makes sense for A-Rod to appeal, he is set to make $7.96 million the rest of this season, $25 million in '14, and $21 million in 2015. Even if the suspension is upheld, A-Rod will have around another month to play and get paid this season. I actually see the suspension being shortened. Selig suspended all players under the Joint Drug Agreement rather than the vague "good of the game" clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. A-Rod is getting his stiff suspension for alleged PED use over several years, attempting to hide violations, and for "a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner," according to MLB. MLB's plea deals were accepted by everyone else, but when A-Rod decided to take his chances via arbitration, Selig swapped his carrot and stick for the hammer and sickle.

Selig seems hell bent on going after A-Rod because he had the audacity to try and purchase potentially incriminating evidence when this whole mess started. Just like MLB did. MLB went even further, suing Tony Bosch into cooperating with their investigation. By going so hard after one player MLB has forced the Union to step in and defend A-Rod, if only to prevent MLB from setting a dangerous precedent for future players. Any attempt to claim multiple suspensions for A-Rod based on Biogenesis documents should be greeted with a high level of skepticism. After all, 3 players who tested positive are not facing a second punishment after the league reviewed the documents. I do not see how a neutral arbitrator would buy that A-Rod is the only player linked to Biogenesis who merits multiple suspensions from the recovered documents. Given the amount of information revealed to date, I expect a 50 game suspension for PEDs and 75-100 for impeding the investigation.

A-Rod has a storied history of rubbing people the wrong way and I have no problem seeing him punished for breaking the rules. I just want to see him punished like every other player. Michael Weiner and the Player's Union agree. Selig looked the other way when steroids brought fans back to the ballpark, with his last season approaching he is once again trying to put steroids out of sight, out of mind, and away from his legacy. A legacy which will receive much more scrutiny next season, a compelling reason to push forward with a "clean in '14" campaign.

From being handed an investigation to forcing players to meekly accepting suspensions, Selig was so close to having everything Biogenesis wrapped up in a neat little package. Except for A-Rod.

At least we know what A-Rod did to frustrate the Office of the Commissioner, he refuses to be bullied, intimidated, and shut out of the league. He dares to keep Bud Selig from sweeping Biogenesis under the rug and riding into the sunset after a Clean in '14 season. And I am fine with that. 

Do you support Selig's actions? Did he do enough or not enough? Do you just want to stop hearing the name Biogenesis? Let me know in the comments below