Friday, June 7, 2013

MLB Update: The Biogenesis Edition

Quote of the Day:
"I'm not answering any further questions regarding the whole situation. I've dealt with it for a long time and aside from that, I don't have anything further to say."

--Ryan Braun on the Biogenesis accusations.

This could be big.  And as in "big" we're talking about the Blacksox-Pete Rose-BALCO big.  If you were somehow stuck without television or sports this week, you'll be disappointed to know that the MLB is ramping up it's witch hunt investigation of about twenty players connected with the now defunct Miami area clinic known as Biogenesis.

This week, it was announced that the MLB will seek to suspend players, including Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, mainly due to Biogenesis founder, Tony Bosch's sudden willingness to testify in return for federal charges being dropped.  This is obviously not good for the players involved or the game of baseball.  

The list of players

Here's a good rundown of all the players listed and a quick recap about how a potential suspension could affect them and their teams.  

Some big names include Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta, Everth and Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon and Jesus Montero.  The MLB is seeking a 100 game suspension for A-Rod and Braun, under the pretense that they lied.  

Look, I don’t know much about PEDs right now. I do know that it's not like the chemicals from back in the day that lead to players looking more like WWE action figures than baseball players.  Players are not just bulking up to Ken Caminiti-style proportions and knocking the ball 500 feet. The improvements have been more subtle and more difficult to spot just by looking at a guy. Honestly, if not for the testing and the probing of the MLB, most guys today might not even be suspected of using PEDs.

While the MLB is getting scolded in some circles and lauded in others, there are a couple of other things about the Biogenesis situation:

No one's actually tested positive; can MLB still suspend players?

Short answer: yes.  Before Jordan Schafer was a speedy outfielder for the Braves, he was suspended as a minor leaguer for 50 games for HGH.  While Schafer never failed a drug test, according to Mike Teevan, MLB's manager of media relations, MLB was certainly within their right, saying:
 "We have non-analytic means of identifying players. He falls under that category."
If there was a such thing as a "precedent" for suspending players that have never formally failed a drug test, the Schafer example would be it.  Granted that this case was almost five years ago, and everyone knows that minor leaguers do not have the same types of protection that major leaguers have, but there is still a precedent in this case.  

100 Game Suspension for Ryan Braun and A-Rod? What up with that!? 

Yeah MLB, what up with that?  Help me out Keenan...

Basically, MLB is claiming that the players' connection to Bosch constitutes one offense (okay, I kinda get that) and previous statements to MLB officials denying any such connection or the use of PEDs constitute another (um, okay?).  And if  you're asking about if there's any sort of precedent for that, well, the answer would be "no".  

Will the Players Union fight the 100 game suspensions? Most definitely.  Major League Baseball has never tried anything like this before and the union will probably fight this to the bitter end.  I don't think that's something either side will want to take part in.

Who is Tony Bosch?  What part will he play as this unfolds?  

Bosch is the Biogenesis equivalent of Victor Conte, except not nearly as smart.  When his "lab" went belly-up and as an unemployed as well as unemployable individual that was staring in the face of federal charges against a multi-billion dollar professional sports league, apparently Bosch decided to cooperate.  

Can you say compromised witness?  It's probably certain that the MLBPA will attack anything Bosch claims as a witness that only cooperated under severe duress or whatever the legal term for that happens to be.  If this is the only guy/thing that the MLB has to charge and then suspend the suspected players either the MLB is the fucking stupidest institution ever or there is some sort of smoking gun.  I tend to side with the latter, given that I can't believe that the MLB would be that ostensibly brainless, but then again this is the same institution that banned Pete Rose from baseball based on the word of a bookie.  

Either way, if the MLB does have some sort of lead (e.g. receipts, signatures, etc.) that Bosch can confirm, it will be very, very hard to build a case on the word of a broke, desperate, snake-oil salesman.  They couldn't convict Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds so I'd find it hard to believe they have much of a case here...unless the MLB has something very, very damning that it is still waiting to release.  Which is also very possible.  

So MLB is just being really stupid then?  

Probably.  At the surface, it doesn't seem like the pursued suspensions have any grounds at this time except the testimony of Tony Bosch.  ESPN has a great article here, that details the legals challenges for both sides, but one thing that both parties agree on is that the key person in this investigation is going to be Bosch.  

To take a section from the article:

Q: Why would anyone believe him -- he previously denied everything to ESPN, which would now seem to paint him as a person who doesn't tell the truth?
A: This is the most important question in what might be the biggest steroids scandal in the history of sports. Bosch's veracity is the central issue. If arbitrators and judges can believe Bosch, MLB will succeed in its suspensions of as many as 20 players. MLB must prepare Bosch to testify in the appeals that will inevitably follow any suspensions. They must rehearse and anticipate vigorous cross-examination. The challenge for the attorneys representing the players and their union will be to find ways to destroy Bosch's credibility. They need look no further than the masterly work of Rusty Hardin, the great trial lawyer from Houston, who destroyed the credibility of Brian McNamee, the trainer who turned against Roger Clemens. Despite documentary evidence to support McNamee's claims, Hardin convinced jurors in Washington in the summer of 2012 that they should reject McNamee's claims. Quickly and unanimously, the jurors found Clemens not guilty.

It's a pretty in-depth and detailed article.  Even though I know none of you guys every listen to me, please click that link and read it.  Here, look, I even linked it again.  

But c'mon, MLB that stupid?

Unless there is something that still has yet to be released and MLB has some pretty good evidence other than "this quack Tony Bosch said so" then probably, yes.  The more maddening question at this point is how Major League Baseball allowed this to leak.  This is a PR nightmare from any angle you view it.  

Either the allegations are true and a bunch of well known players including former MVPs have used performance enhancing drugs or they didn't and the MLB just fired away its last shot of credibility with the players union with this latest witch hunt that simultaneously hurt the league's and the accused players' reputation.  

The relationship between the MLB Players Union and the League has always been a tenuous one at best, and one of the great things the two sides have been able to accomplish has been the collective bargaining agreement that is set to expire in 2016.  Over twenty year's of labor peace is quite an accomplishment in a sports era that have seen the NFL, NHL, and NBA all have some forms of lockouts in the past three years.  

So why is Selig and the MLB pursuing this Biogenesis situation so hard with little credible evidence to base their accusations on?  I have a few possible scenarios:

Scenario #1:  Having already announced his departure in 2014, Selig desperately wants to remove the legacy as being the commissioner during the "Steroid Era" of the late 80s/entire 90s/early 2000s by drastically shifting Major League Baseball's drug policy of the former "hear no evil, see no evil" approach while Brady Anderson's sideburns were mashing 50 home runs and instead he's looking to be aggressively proactive in eliminating any cheats or potential cheats that are in his game.  If there are legal hurdles in the way, skip them or find detours; if there is collateral damage that results through innocent players reputations being damaged so be it. 

Selig has either come to the realization that steroids have no place in the game of baseball or at the least doesn't want to appear to be the commissioner that turned a blind eye to the PED problem while guys like Bonds and McGwire challenged and broke hallowed records.  Whether you want to take the positive or cynical view about Selig's intentions is up to you. 

Either that or...

Scenario #2:   Selig never got over the embarrassing situation with Ryan Braun's suspension that never happened last season.  He hates how Braun seemingly thumbed his nose at the league and got away with it.  He truly believes that Braun juiced and got off on a mere technicality due to clumsy "prosecuting" on his side and wants revenge (never mind the fact that handling and procedure is essential to operating a credible drug testing program -- just ask cycling).  

In the wake of following up on Braun, he stumbled across Biogenesis and other players named, he figured this was his best chance to move forward, waited for Bosch to cooperate and now wants to nail the accused players scalps to the wall.  Is this scenario probable? Maybe.  But keep in mind that Selig was the Brewer's head figure and in a dogged effort to eliminate PEDs and save his legacy, he decided to pursue Braun to the gates of hell.  It's just a theory.  

Or if you're looking for something that is less "conspiracy-ish" there is.... 

Scenario #3:  All the digging at Biogenesis uncovered a widespread PED operation, complete with detail records and evidence that implications all or more of the players listed.  Essentially, there actually is widespread PED use by players with ties to the Biogenesis clininc, and not just that but there is enough sufficient and credible evidence that the MLB needed to move forward with it.  This is obviously not the most ideal case for us baseball fans but it has to be considered since I just can't believe that the MLB would be willing to risk everything like this for a phantom accusation.  

So what now?  

For now, just enjoy baseball.  If we've learned anything about these PED things over the years, it is that it takes a long time and a lot more investigation to sort out.  There is still much to be settled and much will be revealed in the coming days, weeks, and months ahead.  For one, I don't think (keep that term "think" in mind) that any suspension will come of it.  First of all the MLB is going to have one helluva time making anything stick to these guys without a smoking gun. You can’t just accuse a guy of taking PEDs and then hand down a suspension. 

As of right now, the MLB’s primary points of argument comes from a guy who will do nothing but benefit from pointing fingers at these guys in hopes of some sort of break from any forthcoming legal troubles.  Not exactly someone you go to for a believable accusation on anything. The MLB will be entering a world of litigatory pain if they try to hand down these suspensions without concrete evidence so they better be careful.  Until the MLB proves otherwise, the accused players are fine. 

What bothers me the most is the process.  The fact that the MLB chooses to handle this in the public eye absolutely appalls me, it’s not good for the players, it’s not good for the game, and it’s not good for society to go on believing that someone who appears guilty in the court of public opinion is, in fact, guilty.

One thing you should pay attention to however, is any statement that the Player's Association makes about the Biogenesis situation and any rebuttals by the MLB.  I don't think the players will be happy when they find the extent and methods the League was using to try and nail some of their premier members, especially if any evidence turns out to be inconclusive.  Worst case scenario is that is turns into another heated labor battle that could stretch into 2016 and potentially create another lockout.  Which would be like, really, really bad.  

For now as fans, lets just keep our fingers crossed and enjoy some great baseball being played right now.  I'll have a week update up this weekend.  Enjoy the days off baseball fans.  

UPDATE: 6/8/13

The attorney for Carlos Acevedo (a former partner with Bosch), has filed a motion to dismiss Acevedo from the civil lawsuit Major League Baseball brought against him and accused the MLB of using "bullying" tactics on his client.  Read it here

Obviously, this is only a minor development in what will be a long, drawn out process but if things continue to trend in the direction of "the MLB is being overtly aggressive and intimidating" in any capacity, it will make it more difficult for the MLB's case and further reinforce the notion that Bud Selig is only trying to save his legacy rather than truly clean up the game.