PED bans could make 2nd half messy

Almost exactly one month ago, ESPN reported that Major League Baseball would “seek” to suspend about 20 players in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal, including Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez.

Tuesday evening, a new ESPN report said MLB “is expected to suspend Braun and Rodriguez [emphasis mine], along with as many as 20 players.” The timing of the discipline, according to the report, is “sometime after next week’s All-Star break.”

The more conclusive tone in Tuesday’s story was noteworthy. Apparently, MLB has made progress in the Biogenesis investigation with the cooperation of founder Anthony Bosch. And now executives, managers, players and fans across the majors must brace for the possibility of (a) bombshell suspensions, (b) lengthy appeals, or (c) some combination thereof.

Whatever the outcome, this could be one of the most awkward second halves in baseball history.

Our national pastime has remained remarkably resilient through this and other scandals over time. No matter how embarrassing the off-field news may be, our focus inevitably returns to what happens on warm nights at 7 p.m. Despite the ongoing steroid whodunit surrounding A-Rod and Braun, Dodgers rookie sensation Yasiel Puig has received more media coverage than either of them over the past month.

In general, legal- and PED-related stories have minimal impacts on what actually matters to fans — wins and losses. But the Biogenesis case is different. Here we have a quasi-legal proceeding, the details of which remain mysterious to many managers and players, potentially impacting key contributors on contending teams.

A piece of MLB commissioner Bud Selig’s legacy is at stake, to say nothing of the reputations of players linked to the probe in media reports. Four of them — Bartolo Colon, Jhonny Peralta, Nelson Cruz and Everth Cabrera — were just named to All-Star teams.

Maybe you want MLB to prosecute steroid cheats as if presiding over a zealous congressional inquiry. Maybe you don’t care. But I suspect you do have a rooting interest in whether your team makes the playoffs. And that’s where this gets complicated.

Take Peralta, for example. The Detroit Tigers don’t have a good internal candidate to replace him as the everyday shortstop. What if he’s suspended? Should he appeal right away? Or, depending on the duration, accept the punishment with the hope that he will be eligible once the postseason begins — even if it means being branded with the scarlet letters P-E-D for the remainder of his career?

Peralta is set to become a free agent after this season, which further muddles matters. Would it be too risky for him to appeal, knowing that — if he were to lose — the delayed punishment could carry into the 2014 season and affect his market value? Will the union insist behind the scenes that all players appeal or empower their members to make individual decisions? What would the Tigers think about that?

What would the Cleveland Indians, who trail them in the American League Central, think about that?

We don’t know the answers to those questions, because the sport hasn’t faced a set of circumstances quite like this before. Even the procedural protocols are different, because MLB would use documents and anecdotal evidence to issue suspensions rather than positive tests. (Players can be suspended without positive tests if Selig believes “just cause” exists.) First-time offenders could play while their appeals are ongoing, but their names would be announced publicly if they had been identified in previous media reports. Of course, that is the case for roughly 20 players under investigation.

And the appeals could take weeks — or months.

Baseball players pride themselves on walling off distractions — a necessary skill in this mental game. But the Biogenesis case could test the sport’s collective focus as few diversions have before. The cause of cleaning up the sport is noble. It’s also irritating as hell.