The San Diego Padres already have lost catcher Yasmani Grandal to a 50-game suspension for an elevated testosterone level. The same penalty for shortstop Everth Cabrera would be a major blow to the Pads’ chances of emerging as this year’s surprise team.
Only the Padres do not expect Cabrera to be disciplined.
“We’re satisfied from what we heard,” manager Bud Black said Wednesday. “This will resolve itself, I think, in a positive way.”
Why does Black think that?
“Because of our conversation with Cabby (Cabrera),” he said.
The basis for the Padres’ confidence, though, appears questionable. While club officials are comfortable replacing Grandal with Nick Hundley and John Baker, they lack an obvious replacement for Cabrera at short.
Cabrera, who led the National League with 44 stolen bases last season, is among the players on a list of those who received performance-enhancing drugs from Biogenesis, a now-defunct anti-aging clinic in South Florida, according to ESPN.
The list, however, does not constitute proof, and baseball is only in the early stages of its investigation into Biogenesis — an investigation that might never produce enough evidence to discipline the alleged users.
The Padres, though, are optimistic about Cabrera for other reasons as well, according to major league sources:
• Cabrera, 26, was “emphatic” about his innocence, though club officials are mindful that similar claims by other players in the past have proven hollow.
• The Padres believe that baseball would be lenient with Cabrera if he cooperated with the sport’s investigation of Biogenesis.
“Both sides want his testimony more than they want to discipline him,” one source said.
By “both sides,” the source meant baseball and the players union. But while Cabrera pledged his cooperation with baseball Wednesday, no player has cut a deal to avoid a PED-related suspension, sources said.
Is such a deal possible? In theory.
Is it likely? Not at all.
Any player who spoke freely to baseball about his involvement with PEDs would leave himself open to possible criminal charges. State or federal authorities could subpoena records of the interview and use them to implicate the player.
According to sources, the union is interviewing players linked to Biogenesis and also requesting records from their agents. Baseball, however, has yet to request any interviews with players, most likely because its investigators have yet to gather sufficient evidence to take that step.
The collective-bargaining agreement allows for a player to be represented by a union attorney and personal attorney in an interview with baseball. No competent attorney would allow a client to incriminate himself, which is why the interviews often prove fruitless.
What baseball would want from Cabrera — and probably could not get — is information on Juan Nunez, the former liaison to Cabrera’s former agency, ACES, which is headed by Seth and Sam Levinson.
Ten players alleged to be Biogenesis clients have ties to ACES, and most are linked by sources or documents to Nunez, ESPN said.
Baseball banned Nunez last August after he admitted to fabricating a defense for outfielder Melky Cabrera, who was trying to avoid a 50-game suspension for elevated testosterone in 2012. The union cleared ACES of any knowledge or wrongdoing in the matter, but baseball’s department of investigations continues to look into both Nunez and the agency, sources said.
Cabrera switched agents to Scott Boras last fall.
“As we’ve stated unequivocally before: Anyone who knows us knows that it is absolutely ridiculous to think that we would ever condone the use of performance-enhancing drugs,” Seth Levinson said in a statement. “… We don’t think it’s responsible to speculate further, given the complete lack of evidence.”
Michael Weiner, the head of the union, said recently: “This investigation that MLB is running has yet to produce any evidence that any player has violated the (PED-testing) program, much less that any agent has violated the program.”
The apparent difficulty for baseball in authenticating the Biogenesis records, at least thus far, is the biggest reason the Padres should be confident about Cabrera avoiding suspension. They badly need him to avoid suspension, given their other options.
Cabrera, who batted .246 with a .648 OPS last season, is hardly Troy Tulowitzki, but at least he is a viable shortstop. Infielder Logan Forsythe has played only 15 games at short professionally, and Alexi Amarista and Cody Ransom are not considered everyday players.
The Padres already fear that they will struggle early because of the absence of Grandal and questions in their starting rotation. Grandal emerged as their No. 5 hitter in the second half of last season, giving the team a formidable middle of the order — Chase Headley, Carlos Quentin, Grandal and Yonder Alonso. The Pads, after the All-Star break, ranked fifth in the NL in runs.
Now Grandal is out for 50 games, and the Padres must piece together a rotation behind left-hander Clayton Richard and righties Edinson Volquez and Jason Marquis. Veterans such as lefty Eric Stults and righty Freddy Garcia are possibilities, as are youngsters such as lefty Robbie Erlin.
A number of other pitchers — including righties Andrew Cashner, Tim Stauffer and Casey Kelly and lefty Cory Luebke — should return from injuries or complete their development as the season progresses. So the Padres eventually should be OK — presuming, of course, that Grandal is the same hitter as before.
The problem for the Pads is that they are a low-revenue team, operating with little margin for error. Suspensions are like injuries, further reducing that margin.
The Padres already have sustained one major loss. It would be difficult for them to sustain another.