Has baseball set bad precedent?

BY Ken Rosenthal • July 28, 2013

Whatever happens with Alex Rodriguez, no matter how many players baseball suspends, the debate over the sport’s investigation of Biogenesis does not figure to end anytime soon.

To some, Ryan Braun’s acceptance of a 65-game suspension indicated that for baseball, the end justified the means. An even longer suspension for Rodriguez, which could happen this week, according to the New York Post, might be interpreted the same way.

But Scott Boras, Rodriguez’s former agent, told FOXSports.com that baseball, by cutting a deal with Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch, is providing motivation for others to distribute performance-enhancing drugs without fear of reprisal.

Bosch, according to ESPN, agreed to cooperate with baseball only after receiving assurances that the sport would drop a lawsuit against him, indemnify him for any liability arising from his cooperation, provide personal security and offer assistance with any law-enforcement agents that might bring charges against him.

“To preserve the integrity of the game we need to assure that drug dealers and the devious creators of future Biogenesis-like schemes are prosecuted,” Boras said.

“If drug dealers can use the currency of player evidence as a means to gain immunity and even more money, then our system of policing and protecting baseball has incentivized the people and the very behavior that was the genesis of the problem.”

Rob Manfred, an executive vice-president for baseball, said that only state and federal prosecutors can grant immunity, and that baseball has no such power.

“Mr. Boras’ comments make no sense,” Manfred said. “We have no control over who gets immunity. Our job is to attempt to determine whether players use performance-enhancing drugs. And we use every means available to us in order to do that job.”

Boras, though, said that he was talking about immunity “to the extent that baseball can offer.” He made it clear that he does not object to enforcement of the Joint Drug Agreement or the discipline of players who break the rules. But he said that baseball should assist the government by providing evidence that it collected from Bosch and other aspects of its investigation. Instead, according to the ESPN report, baseball is assisting Bosch.

The counter-argument, of course, is that baseball needed to give Bosch such assurances to secure his cooperation. Boras, however, raises a valid concern: What would discourage the next Bosch from selling PEDs, then cutting a deal with baseball in exchange for information about the players who were his customers?

As baseball prepares to issue suspensions to Rodriguez and others, a number of other questions are unresolved:

* Would A-Rod fight a suspension?

The answer hinges on how Rodriguez and his attorneys view the evidence against him and the type of settlement offer that he receives, assuming that he receives one at all.

The timing was right for Braun, 29, to accept his suspension, which runs through the end of the season – he was nursing a thumb injury, his Milwaukee Brewers were out of contention and he wanted closure.

Rodriguez, 38, is in a different position. He has yet to play this season, is coming off hip surgery, and now has had operations on both hips. If he accepts a suspension for, say, the rest of this season and part or all of 2014, he might never return to form.

Appealing a suspension, on the other hand, should enable Rodriguez to rejoin the Yankees immediately after he recovers from his latest ailment, a left quad strain. If he plays – and plays well – he might even regain a measure of credibility, proving that he can still perform.

First-time offenders generally are permitted to play through appeals, but sources indicate that in A-Rod’s case, baseball might challenge that practice. Though this would be Rodriguez’s first suspension, he may have lied to baseball about his alleged use of PEDs. Rodriguez has admitted to using PEDs only from 2001 to ’03, when no penalties were in effect.

Perhaps the larger question is, does A-Rod even want to play again?

He went to great lengths last week to suggest that the answer is “yes,” challenging the Yankees’ diagnosis of his left quad strain. But conspiracy theorists wonder if Rodriguez fears that he no longer can produce at a high level, or without PEDs.

About $96 million remains on Rodriguez’s contract, which runs through 2017. The money is guaranteed, so he will collect the entirety from the Yankees whether he plays, is declared permanently disabled or gets released by the club.

Insurance would defray the Yankees’ obligation if doctors determine that A-Rod is permanently disabled, but such an outcome seems unlikely; A-Rod played in a rehab game as recently as July 20.

* How much will other suspensions affect the pennant races?

A general manager recently posed a series of questions about Texas Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz and Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta, both of whom play for contenders, were linked to Biogenesis and face possible suspensions.

What happens if one of the players accepts his penalty while the other appeals so that he can stay on the field? How much would the pennant races be affected? How would the union respond to such an awkward position?

First, the decision rests with the player, not the union, which acts only in an advisory role. Each player maintains the right to either appeal or negotiate a settlement. And in truth, any number of things — injuries, trades, etc. — can alter pennant races.

Teams are not privy to the details of baseball’s investigation. The Rangers are trying to add a right-handed hitting outfielder to possibly replace Cruz, but the Tigers do not appear to be seeking a replacement for Peralta. But both teams essentially are guessing at what the outcomes of the investigation might be.

Oakland Athletics right-hander Bartolo Colon, another player from a contending team linked to Biogenesis, is likely to avoid discipline, sources say.

Colon and two other players named in Biogenesis documents — Toronto Blue Jays left fielder Melky Cabrera and San Diego Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal — already served 50-game suspensions for positive tests.

Players cannot be disciplined for the same offense twice. In each case, baseball would need to prove that a second suspension was for a different offense – no easy task, sources say.

* How much will the investigation damage relations between the union and baseball?

The suspension of Braun seemingly was a triumph of cooperation between the two sides. Union chief Michael Weiner responded to Braun’s settlement by saying, “I am deeply gratified to see Ryan taking this bold step,” adding that Braun’s suspension “vindicates the rights of all players under the Joint Drug Agreement.”

Still, Braun was merely Chapter One.

Union officials remain upset by the numerous leaks throughout the investigation, apparently believing that they come from baseball, which baseball denies.

And while the union is in a tricky, compromised position – enforcing the rights of the JDA while defending the rights of players – Weiner has vowed to fight suspensions when appropriate.

“Our players that deserve the suspensions, we'll try to cope with their suspensions,” Weiner said at a meeting of the Baseball Writers Association of America during the All-Star break.

“Our players that don't deserve suspensions, we will argue that they don't deserve a suspension. And I hope we have success. We may not have success on every single player, but I hope we have a fair amount of success.”

It could be a contentious week, a contentious few months and maybe even a contentious few years.

The arguments — about A-Rod, about the other players, about the very nature of the investigation — are only beginning.