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In Biogenesis case, 3 players are key

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Jon Paul Morosi

Jon Paul Morosi is a National MLB Writer for FOXSports.com. He previously covered baseball for the Detroit Free Press and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He began his journalism career at the Bay City Times in his native Michigan. Follow him on Twitter.

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Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun are the biggest stars linked to Major League Baseball’s investigation of the now-defunct Biogenesis wellness clinic.

But for the purposes of the 2013 season, they aren’t the most important.

Of all the names to emerge in reports about Biogenesis, only three are key contributors on contending teams: Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta, Texas Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz and Oakland A’s right-hander Bartolo Colon.

We know suspensions would have profound impacts on the legacies of MLB commissioner Bud Selig and any players involved — particularly if one is Braun, the five-time All-Star who has maintained his innocence since a failed drug test in October 2011. But Braun’s Milwaukee Brewers are irrelevant in the National League Central, 15 games out of first place. They are bad with him. They would be bad without him.

As for A-Rod, do you really think the Yankees want him back?

It’s much different for the Tigers, Rangers and A’s. Peralta is a likely All-Star, with an .858 OPS that is the best among American League shortstops. Colon leads the Oakland rotation with eight wins and ranks among the AL’s top 10 in ERA. No right fielder in the major leagues has hit more home runs than Cruz (15).

Each of their teams has a reasonable chance to win the World Series. With the non-waiver trade deadline looming July 31, should the general managers of those clubs deal for players they may not need? Or stand pat and hope that there isn’t enough evidence — from unknown witnesses — to issue suspensions, which may not come for weeks or months?

A 50-game ban (for a first offense) issued in August or September would be disastrous, because quality replacements become harder to find as the season goes on. Players must clear waivers to be traded after July 31, which limits the number of options. And anyone acquired after Aug. 31 would be ineligible for the postseason roster.

Oakland’s Billy Beane might be in a less complicated position than Detroit’s Dave Dombrowski or Texas’ Jon Daniels, if only because adding a starter is almost always a good strategy at the trade deadline, no matter how many good pitchers a team appears to have. Beane also has 23-year-old prospect Sonny Gray at Triple-A Sacramento, with numbers that suggest he’s ready for the majors.

It’s probably not practical for the Tigers or Rangers to acquire a comparably talented (and expensive) everyday player as insurance for Peralta or Cruz, in case either is suspended. Yet, it would seem strange — and potentially reckless — to not have a solid backup plan. The ideal solutions would be young, cheap players who would be under club control for 2014, too. But those players can be hard to acquire.

If it is any small consolation to the clubs, players don’t receive salaries while serving suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs. So, those teams would have money available to pay replacements.

Detroit is in a particularly unfavorable position because of (a) the steep offensive drop-off Peralta’s absence would create and (b) the importance of having a trusted defender at shortstop in September and October. The Tigers’ current backup shortstop, Ramon Santiago, is batting only .163. Among the Tigers’ alternatives in the minor leagues, Danny Worth just returned from the disabled list and Argenis Diaz hasn’t played in the majors since 2010.

The Tigers may need to conserve their resources to trade for the closer they obviously need in light of Jose Valverde’s recent struggles. When asked this week about the possibility of seeking additional shortstop depth because of Peralta’s uncertain status, Dombrowski told FOXSports.com, “At this point, we are happy with our own situation.”

The Rangers, meanwhile, could shift David Murphy from left field to right and move an infielder (potentially Jurickson Profar or Ian Kinsler) to the outfield. Highly regarded prospect Mike Olt, primarily a third baseman, also could play a corner outfield position. Engel Beltre is an excellent defensive outfielder at Triple-A. But those contingencies are far from ideal. Cruz would be a huge loss. In a fluid Rangers’ lineup, his 61 starts in right are tied with shortstop Elvis Andrus for the most at any one position. And Cruz is a vital power source in the No. 5 spot.

You might compare the uncertainty surrounding Peralta and Cruz to that of chronically injured players who could break down at any time. But this is different. With an ailing player, the general manager feels as if he understands the circumstances: medical records, opinions from athletic trainers, intimate knowledge of the player’s pain tolerance, close and informative communication with the player himself.

Here, the general managers involved have virtually none of the relevant information.

According to terms of the joint drug agreement between MLB and the players’ union, team officials aren’t supposed to know about their players’ positive tests during the appeals process. For example: Although rumors existed beforehand, MLB didn’t formally call the San Francisco Giants to inform them of Melky Cabrera’s suspension last August until the morning it was announced — after the unsuccessful appeal.

That was after the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline — and after the Giants (fortuitously) acquired outfielder Hunter Pence from Philadelphia.

So while the primary intrigue remains if players will be suspended, the timing is a crucial consideration. What if a player loses his appeal right before the postseason — or, even worse, the World Series? How uncomfortable would it be for MLB to issue a suspension on the eve of its signature event? Or to schedule a particular player’s appeal hearing after the World Series – and risk the perception of a tainted title if the suspension is upheld? Because the commissioner’s office (and not an independent body) supervises the program, such ethical dilemmas persist.

Also, Peralta, Cruz and Colon could be eligible for free agency after the season. What impact would a suspension have on their market values — and the chances of receiving qualifying offers from their teams?

Those questions may not be as premature as they sound. Selig wouldn’t be cooperating with Bosch unless he believed there was a good chance suspensions could be the end result. At least, that is what some in the industry are speculating. They don’t know. And neither do the GMs, for whom not knowing is a very frightening feeling.

Tagged: Tigers, Brewers, Athletics, Rangers, Giants, Bartolo Colon, Jhonny Peralta, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Ryan Braun

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