Shakeup needed in MLB drug testing
The solution is not stiffer penalties. Baseball players will use performance-enhancing drugs even if the sport increases the suspension for a first positive test from 50 games to one year. No deterrent is enough, not when the attraction of PEDs is so strong, not when most users operate under the assumption that they won’t be caught.
Melky Cabrera’s penalty after he tested positive for an elevated amount of testosterone was not simply a 50-game suspension without pay. Cabrera also lost a free-agent payday of at least $50 million — more than most players will make in their lifetimes — not to mention his reputation.
Quite a price, don’t you think?
Stiffer penalties would be good public relations, but baseball is focused on more meaningful change, according to sources familiar with the thinking of owners and players. The goals: Improvements in the detection of testosterone and more extensive testing of human growth hormone (HGH).
The suspensions of Cabrera and Bartolo Colon reinforced that synthetic testosterone is the current PED of choice for many users. The problem for baseball is that the substance is difficult to detect because it leaves a user’s body quickly. A careful user can time his dosages to keep his ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone below the 4:1 ratio that triggers further testing (a normal level is closer to 1:1).
Former BALCO head Victor Conte said that baseball uses Carbon Isotope Ratio (CIR) tests — the most effective way of detecting synthetic testosterone — only when a player’s T/E ratio is above 4:1. Baseball countered by issuing a statement that said “many” samples with ratios less than 4:1 also are subject to the CIR test.
Well, why not make all samples subject to the CIR test? And why not expand HGH blood testing to include the regular season? The testing currently takes place during spring training, the offseason and for reasonable cause. The players and owners have agreed to study regular-season testing.
This shouldn’t be that complicated — the overwhelming majority of players favor in-season testing, sources say. The hormone, which is used mostly as a healing agent, isn’t as strong a PED as testosterone. But when the two are combined, users derive a greater benefit.
The problem with testing is that too much is never enough. The users always find new ways to beat the system. The testers constantly play from behind. Still, critics of baseball can’t have it both ways. When the program nails the All-Star Game MVP, it’s a sign that the program is working, not the other way around.
Stiffer penalties? They would be all well and good, but there is no reason to expect that they would make all that much of a difference. The solution is more testing, better testing. Some players still will use. But the best way to deter them is to increase their fear of getting caught.
DUSTY FOR HIRE
Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker is starting to look like one intriguing free agent this offseason. His problem, if he wants to create leverage in his discussions with the Reds, might be finding suitable openings with other clubs.
The Houston Astros are not a realistic option for a veteran manager with aspirations of winning. The Boston Red Sox, if they fire Bobby Valentine, may want a younger, more statistically oriented type. The Los Angeles Angels, if they fire Mike Scioscia, likely would prefer Terry Francona to Baker.
Baker, like Scioscia, is more old school than new school, less enamored of the advanced statistics favored by younger GMs such as Jerry Dipoto. Francona, on the other hand, grew accustomed to working with a statistically minded front office in Boston (Dipoto was a scout with the Red Sox in 2003 and ’04 when Francona was the Sox manager).
Openings in Detroit and Atlanta are not out of the question. Baker would be a natural with the Los Angeles Dodgers, for whom he played from 1976 to ’83. He also could fit with the San Diego Padres; his owner with the Dodgers, Peter O’Malley, is a member of the Padres’ new ownership group. But both the Dodgers’ Don Mattingly and Padres’ Bud Black are signed through 2013, and neither appears in jeopardy of losing his job.
The best option for Baker might be to stay in Cincinnati, and owner Bob Castellini has said that the team wants him back. The question is whether the Reds would give Baker the raise he deserves; Baker’s salary is believed to be in the $4 million to $4.5 million range.
While Baker has his critics, the performance of the Reds this season is difficult to ignore. The Reds have the second-best record in the majors with the 17th-highest payroll. They lost closer Ryan Madson to a season-ending injury in spring training. They’ve been without first baseman Joey Votto since July 16. Yet they keep winning.
Baker has been criticized in the past for the way he handles pitchers, but the Reds’ five starters have made all but one start this season and their relievers lead the majors in bullpen ERA — in part due to Baker’s decision to use Aroldis Chapman in relief and later elevate him to closer.
The Reds also fare well in several baserunning metrics, and the performances of Chapman, infielder Todd Frazier and shortstop Zack Cozart dispel the notion that Baker is reluctant to lean on young players.
In short, his resume is pretty darned good.
SHUT MEDLEN DOWN? NOT NECESSARY
Atlanta Braves right-hander Kris Medlen underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2010, just a few weeks before Washington Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg had the operation. Now Medlen is the Braves’ hottest starter, but guess what? There is no talk of shutting him down.
The difference is that Medlen spent the first part of the season in the Braves bullpen and did not join the rotation until July 31. He has worked just 87 innings to Strasburg’s 145 1/3.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said GM Frank Wren told him in spring training that Medlen would be available for 160 to 180 innings — the same restriction that the Nationals likely will apply to Strasburg. Wren also warned Gonzalez: If you open with Medlen in the rotation, you might never want to take him out.
Medlen, a 10th-round pick in 2006, isn’t as celebrated a talent as Strasburg, the first overall pick in 2009. The Nationals wanted Strasburg to learn to pitch every fifth day this season; they had no intention of using him out of the bullpen, the way the Braves did with Medlen.
Still, credit the Braves for getting the most out of their own Tommy John rehabilitation project. Medlen helped form a bridge to the team’s late-inning relievers in the first half, enabling Gonzalez to reduce the workloads of Craig Kimbrel and Co. Now, after five starts, Medlen is 4-0 with a 0.83 ERA — and still going strong.
ORIOLES MINDFUL OF BUDGET
An interesting footnote to the Joe Saunders trade is that the Arizona Diamondbacks included “cash considerations” to acquire reliever Matt Lindstrom and a player to be named from the Baltimore Orioles.
The cash was only about $300,000, accounting for the difference in the remaining obligations to Saunders and Lindstrom, according to a major league source. But it raised the question: Are the Orioles able to add payroll?
Yes, general manager Dan Duquette said.
“I was just trying to stay within our budget,” Duquette said. “The budget is based on the revenue generated by the team.”
That revenue likely is disappointing, considering that the Orioles are drawing modestly despite being tied for the American League wild-card lead.
A crowd of only 10,955 attended the team’s series opener against the Chicago White Sox on Monday night; Monday was the first day of school, and barriers for an upcoming Grand Prix race complicated traffic.
Excuses, excuses: The Orioles’ average home attendance of 25,535, while up more than 3,500 per game from last season, still ranks only 23rd in the majors.
Still, Duquette is not without flexibility.
The Orioles, according to a rival executive, earlier this month entered a waiver claim on right-hander Joe Blanton, who at the time was owed slightly less than $2.9 million.
Blanton, then with the Philadelphia Phillies, had to pass through the NL first on waivers; the Los Angeles Dodgers won the claim on him and acquired him in a trade.
BREAKING DOWN THE CASTRO DEAL
Starlin Castro’s seven-year, $60 million extension is expected to become official on Tuesday.
The deal covers Castro’s four arbitration years and three free-agent years; his service time qualified him for an extra arbitration year as a Super Two player.
The breakdown, according to a major league source:
Signing bonus: $6 million.
2013: $5 million.
2014: $5 million.
2015: $6 million.
2016: $7 million.
2017: $9 million.
2018: $10 million.
2019: $11 million.
If Castro wins MVP or twice finishes in the top five, the final year of his deal will increase by $2 million, as will the option year.
The maximum value of the deal, including the option year and escalators: $79 million.