Will MLB forgo tougher PED penalties?

March 14, 2013

The battle lines are forming over stiffer punishment for the use of performance enhancing drugs in baseball.

One day after sources said that Major League Baseball had "no interest" in a two-tiered penalty system, a player familiar with discussions on the subject said that commissioner Bud Selig "may as well start trying to forget" tougher penalties if baseball will not consider such an idea.

Under a two-tiered system, players who intentionally violate the drug-testing program would receive harsher punishment than players who test positive unintentionally or due to negligence.

"The majority of players would want differential penalties if the suspensions got tougher," the player said.

One reason, according to the player, would be the potential impact on Latin players.

"We have to make it fair to Latin players who don't have an FDA to approve all drugs when they go home," the player said.

Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista, a native of the Dominican Republic, recently addressed that question, telling FOXSports.com's Jon Paul Morosi that Latin players are fully informed about the rules.

"Everybody knows what's going on," Bautista said. "Nobody can plead ignorance. I don't think a lack of education or language barriers has anything to do with it. MLB and the Players' Association have done a great job making sure that everybody knows. We have information everywhere."

But the player familiar with discussions on the subject, an American, said that Latin players still face a greater chance of making a mistake by taking substances they believe to be legal, but actually are banned.

"Yes they know the rules, but in the offseason in their country, they don't have Walgreen's or CVS on every corner to pick from," the player said. "American players have the same negligence issues, but they have more safe options at our pharmacies."

The idea of a two-tiered penalty system arose this spring as union officials spoke with players about revising baseball's drug-testing program. The 2013 program already has begun; any proposed changes would not take effect until '14.

MLB's opposition, barring a reversal, effectively would kill any such proposal. Changes to the drug-testing program only can occur through collective bargaining between the players and owners.

Selig said recently that he wants a stronger penalty for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a second (the penalties now are 50 games for a first offense, 100 for a second and a lifetime ban for a third).

Baseball views different sets of punishments as impractical, sources say, believing it would be difficult to establish which players used intentionally and which did not.

To some players, the distinction is important, but baseball considers "strict liability" an important part of its program. Under strict liability, a person is responsible for his offense regardless of culpability.

Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Freddy Galvis and San Francisco Giants reliever Guillermo Mota, both of whom were suspended last August, are examples of players who might have argued that their positive tests resulted from unintentional use of banned substances.

Galvis, suspended 50 games for clostebol, said in a statement that "a trace amount of a banned substance — 80 parts in a trillion" was detected in his urine sample. He added, "I cannot understand how even this tiny particle of a banned substance got into my body."

Mota, suspended 100 games for clenbuterol, told reporters that his positive test — a second offense — resulted from drinking children's cough medicine.

"What I did was a mistake, and I did not read the label," Mota said.

In theory, a two-tiered penalty system could benefit such players, assuming that they could prove their innocence. Some union officials are willing to assume such a burden of proof, sources say. But the union's willingness to embrace the concept would mean little if baseball opposed giving lighter penalties to some violators.

For now, the idea is a non-starter. And that could prevent a new agreement on stiffer penalties for 2014.