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It is easy to cry “foul” over prospering cheaters

If you think the furor over the contract given to Biogenesis-tainted Jhonny Peralta was considerable, wait until Nelson Cruz finds a home for the next four or five years.

The former Texas Rangers outfielder, also suspended last season over his involvement with Anthony Bosch’s crooked Florida clinic, is expected to fetch at least $75 million as a free agent this winter. As a considerably better player than Peralta, Cruz will probably get it.

I can’t help but wonder where those up in arms over these contracts have been. What did they expect would happen – that players who have been consistently good for a number of years would not receive substantial raises in an open market?

Did they think the stigma that goes with suspected PED use and an associated suspension would artificially limit the future value of these players, both in terms of dollars and years? If so, shame on them for not understanding free agency.

Based on the spirited bidding, teams are clearly not overly worried about performance dropoffs for Peralta and Cruz down the road. It raises an interesting side question as to how clubs perceive benefits of PEDs on the field, or more appropriately perhaps, lack of benefits.

This past week, the focal point for player complaints was Arizona union rep Brad Ziegler. Via Twitter, the veteran reliever blasted owners for rewarding cheaters and accused them of opposing stricter penalties.

Let’s step back for a minute.

If the current penalties are perceived to not be working, then those empowered to make change should consider it – for the future. But it is not reasonable to put the same players on trial a second time later when/if stronger sentencing guidelines are passed. After all, double-jeopardy is illegal.

Cruz, Peralta and the other Biogenesis accused – at least those not named A-Rod – have served their time based on the rules in place – rules that were jointly negotiated by players and owners.

The man who signed Peralta, St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, directly disagreed with Ziegler’s assertion that the owners are standing in the way of tougher penalties. In his Monday press conference, Mozeliak noted that if the union brings forward a new proposal, MLB would almost certainly support it.

Even with longer suspensions though, it is very difficult to see how a player’s future earnings potential would be significantly hurt once the penalties are served – unless a lifetime ban is sentenced for a first offense.

Consider this. Even if Peralta and Cruz would have had to sit out an entire season instead of 50 games as first-time offenders, wouldn’t they still get big three- or four-year deals after their time outs were served? I firmly believe they would.

Sure, they would lose a lot more money in the year of suspension, but that has nothing to do with their market value in year two and beyond.

Even if one thinks penalties should be extended into the future, it seems quite problematic to try to come up with a way to practically make it work.

For example, it would be unrealistic (and probably illegal) to artificially force once-suspended players to accept short-term contracts or not be allowed to receive raises after their suspensions were served.

For those who suggest the 30 teams should get together and informally agree to limit contracts for previously-suspended players – that is called collusion and is definitely unlawful. Any legitimate solution would have to be able to pass the sunshine test.

Until folks get their heads around the difference between penalties at the point of infraction versus the future earnings potential of the players, there will continue to be angst over these new contracts.

It is easy to cry “foul,” act surprised and express outrage over what is happening this winter. It will be a lot tougher to actually come up with a fair way to fix the perceived problem.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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19 Responses to “It is easy to cry “foul” over prospering cheaters”

  1. Bw52 says:

    Nice article Brian.As for those crying “foul” the rules and penalties have been written down.Peralta did his penalty and is free to return to the market for what the market will bear.So people crying about the signing do not have a leg to stand on.

  2. JumboShrimp says:

    Peralta had real advantages within free agency. Peralta plays a premium position, SS, unlike Cruz. Peralta is a big hitter for his position, Cruz more conventional for his. Jhonny might end up edging out Cruz in terms of the extent of his next contract.

  3. WestCoastbirdWatcher says:

    I’m supposing that if the teams became accountable to pay those suspension salaries into an education fund, thus sharing the guilt and risk for their players……….things would change.
    One of the real risks for players with large contracts, is a deliberate contamination with steroids by teams that deem those contracts “unpopular”…………….. That is why they have such an extensive review process…………. the solution?………….test them all weekly………deal with it……….

    A-Rod blew out of the hearings………. now comes the suit that will be settled by the commissioner and Arods attorneys……………… he will get his money……..but the source of that money was the target all along…………good old fox getting it done for MLB.

  4. Bw52 says:

    Per MLBtraderumors today a link to a AZ writer who talks about DBacks and their unofficial policy towars PED players and the teams selective enforcement.

  5. crdswmn says:

    You want to know what is a whole lot easier? Digging a hole in the sand and thrusting your head into it while saying it can’t be done.

    The law is extremely fluid. The difficulty in changing is not the technicalities it is the will to do it. The human head and heart is the greatest obstacle, not the law, because the law doesn’t have an agenda. It just waits to take on the agendas of others.

    • Brian Walton says:

      Not sure whose head is in the sand and/or who said anything could not be done.

      I must admit, however, that I am skeptical that the players’ union would agree to give the owners the power to issue a lifetime ban or significantly restrict free agency for a first-time PED offender.

      Any changes to penalties for repeat offenders would have no bearing on the current status of Cruz, Peralta or anyone else not named A-Rod or Braun. It would not come into play unless they are caught again, at which point it would hard to imagine anyone impartial showing sympathy.

      The discussion about the future is healthy, but those in the present should not be blamed for perceived shortcomings in the system – while working within the penalty structure that currently exists.

      P.S. One thing I have noticed with consistency during the last week of discussions about this issue is the lack of specific, doable recommendations for how to stiffen the penalties. Once the emotion passes, that is all that really matters.

      • crdswmn says:

        When one discusses a divergence in philosophy one does mean every word literally or specifically. Some things are just symbolic.

        If I had the solution to every problem I perceived I would rule the world. I don’t have a “doable recommendation” to solve a lot of problems but if having such a recommendation were the requirement of speaking out and starting a dialogue to solve a problem, the human race would have destroyed itself a long time ago. I don’t have a lot of patience with the irresistible force paradox. Wringing one’s hands and furrowing one’s brow over every problem just gives you red hands and wrinkles.

        Blame is an individual construct. It’s difficult to feel blamed when one doesn’t feel responsible.

        • Nutlaw says:

          If money is the issue that everyone has with PED players, then a solution would be to make the existing contract of any player caught using them non-guaranteed. Penalty for second offense is that all of their future contracts must also be non-guaranteed. Constant threat of firing would limit their earnings potential without working around the free agent market.

          • Brian Walton says:

            I am not sure I understand. Even if a contract is non-guaranteed, a team would have to decide whether or not to release a player. And even if it did, what would inhibit another team from signing him? A non-guaranteed deal means the risk is lower for a team to take a gamble on a free agent.

            Edit: I guess it could mean lower money and fewer years, which does seem to be a major issue.

            Could it be abused? Or at least what about the fears of it being abused? PEDs or not, the Yanks would probably love to get out from under A-Rod’s bad contract.

            Would it be used for those with perceived value? For example, I am not sure if the Brewers would feel the same about Braun. Even given all his troubles, I would imagine they would not release him even if they could do so without financial commitment.

            One underlying impact that has not been thoroughly discussed is players ceding more control to owners. That could be unpopular with the union.

            It is also worth noting that the owners are not hurt as much during a suspension since they don’t have to pay the player’s salary.

            • Nutlaw says:

              Sure, if there’s a fear that a player’s performance was boosted by the PEDs and he starts underperforming, the team could cut him without consequence. Certainly, the player could sign for someone else, but like in the NFL, it would never be for nearly as much money after they got cut. Could it be abused by a team? I would say that the Yankees should be well within their rights to get out from under the A-Rod contract if he’s caught cheating. If A-Rod doesn’t want to lose his big bucks, he doesn’t cheat. Same in real life as in this scenario, but this scenario just has more teeth.

              • Bw52 says:

                Yes it could be abused by a team.How do you prove a players performance being down is related to being off PEDS? Who`s to say it cold be because of injury or just having a bad slump? Player just having a off year.It does happen.So where do you draw the line?You say a fear a players performance was boosted by PEDS? How do you prove that? Suspicion of such? What`s next? Burning at the stake because somebody has a career year? PED paranoia run amuck.
                If you don`t think teaqms won`t use that as a excuse to dump underperforming players then you aqre fooling yourself.There has to be a system of checks and balances to keep a even playing field.
                The rules are in effect now.Some don`t think that the current rules are haqrsh enough and need to be changed.AQny change has to be agreed by both parties.I doubt the players union will agree to letting owners drop players without due process.

  6. LarryBird says:

    If baseball or any other sport is really serious about wanting to get rid of PEDs the only thing that will work imho is very harsh penalties. I think the starting point should be a 2 year ban for 1st offense and a lifetime ban for 2nd offense. That is the most lenient I would go if I was serious about ridding sports of PEDs.

    • Brian Walton says:

      It will be very interesting to see how serious their actions will be. It seems to me that the players should take the lead, but they must first come to a consensus as to what they want as a group. I wonder what the average player thinks compared to the handful who have received a lot of press for being most aggressive. I suspect the owners would go along with the union’s recommendation, whatever it ends up being.

  7. JumboShrimp says:

    One problem for PED Puritans it the hope use can be reliably detected. Actually, the recent Biogenesis crew were not identified by chemical tests, but by tattletales. This is probably not going to change, because the body will purge chemical helpers through time. It is probably not possible to fairly and reliably test athletes to be able to enforce a ban on use.
    Players can do a PED load during October-December, build muscle mass, then be clean for spring training chemical tests.
    It would be reasonable for an athlete to get supplements not targeted by MLB, for added protection. Also take the doses outside the USA, in nations where use is legal. Don’t drink an energy potion openly, like McGwire used to do, back before PED-aversion arose.

    • Brian Walton says:

      There is always the possibility/likelihood that new drugs will remain ahead of the testers. I think those who want change understand that, but want to increase the penalty if the users get caught – no matter how they are caught. At least it may make potential users take pause and perhaps reconsider, goes the line of thinking.

      P.S. Some level of off-season testing was announced this April.

  8. JumboShrimp says:

    HGH is human growth hormone. Its a molecule natural to homo sapiens and by its name does good things like spurring growth. Testosterone induces boys to like girls, making the world go round. The two molecules provide natural highs. While I have not read up on the doings of Armstrong and the Tour de France, it makes sense that they would have used HGH and testosterone. Humans are helped by higher doses of these molecules that so influence growth and muscular development.
    Players, agents, and the union have been helped by prolonged careers, assisted by PEDs. The more PEDs are curtailed, the more the game favors younger players.

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