Players must take stance against PEDs
August, 15, 2012
Melky Cabrera was like a bank robber who did everything right in his plan to steal tens of millions -- right up until the moment his getaway car ran out of gas.
Melky Cabrera and Robinson CanoDenny Medley/USA TODAY Sports/US PresswireHad Melky Cabrera inked a new deal, then got busted, the signing team would still be on the hook.
With a little luck, it would've all worked out as planned, and Cabrera could've made $60 million, or $70 million or $80 million or more. It's unclear exactly what day Cabrera was asked for the urine sample that tested positive, but if the timing had been different, he might've slipped through the cracks before becoming a free agent this fall. And it's just the latest example that should scare the players' union into seeking tougher penalties for drug offenders.
Cabrera was in a great position to capitalize on another strong season that was out of the ordinary for him. (And yes, it's now fair game to wonder if Cabrera's breakthrough season of 2011 was also accomplished with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs. He was a fourth outfielder with the Yankees before having a terrible year with the Braves in 2010, and then being non-tendered. Then suddenly, like someone rising out of a wheelchair and shouting that he was cured, Cabrera hit .305 with 67 extra-base hits for the Royals in 2011, before hitting .346 for the Giants this year while also winning All-Star Game MVP).
Think about what would have come next, if he hadn't have been nabbed: At age 28, he was probably the No. 2 or No. 3 free-agent outfielder, behind Josh Hamilton. Armed with strong back-to-back years on his résumé, Cabrera probably would've gotten offers in the range of the deal that Andre Ethier signed -- five years, $85 million.
Imagine, for a moment, that he had signed that deal with the Giants, for $17 million a year. Then, if he had tested positive at any time during the course of the contract -- if he had been caught -- the Giants would have had the same recourse that the Dodgers had with Manny Ramirez: Nada.
You remember that, right? Ramirez signed a two-year, $45 million deal with the Dodgers and was immediately suspended after being linked to a female fertility drug. He served his suspension, which cost him roughly $8 million, and then he came back and was a shadow of himself -- getting paid, even after getting caught.
If the Giants had locked up Cabrera, they would've been on the hook for the rest of Cabrera's contract even if he was caught, and even if it became clear that they signed him under false pretenses.
It's apparent that as players weigh the possible risks and rewards of using performance-enhancing drugs, in baseball, crime can still pay. Handsomely.
"There's more work to be done with the [drug] policy," a veteran player conceded on Wednesday evening. "I think almost all players want a level playing field -- that's what important to them. If the policy isn't deterring players, then that's a problem."
To Cabrera's credit, he didn't read from the my-dog-ate-my-homework script after news of his positive test broke. He was honest, in the statement released in his name: "My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used. I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and I will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down."
But if Cabrera had been truly regretful, then he wouldn't have gone through the appeals process, which, for him, began sometime in the last 10 days of July. He was fully prepared to beat the system, to add tens of millions of dollars to his new contract, and when he was caught, well, that's when he'd put his hands in the air and surrendered.
Cabrera not only would have essentially been deceiving his next employer, of course, but he could have directly hurt other players in the market. If Cabrera had gone into free agency without a suspension, wielding those huge numbers, then players like Shane Victorino would have been naturally pushed lower down the pecking order, as the older (and less desirable) player.
There is a parallel violation that could provide some guideline in how the union can (and should) ask for a strengthening of the drug-testing policy. If a player or staff member is caught betting on a baseball game in which he is not involved, a first offense would cost him a one-year ban. A second offense could mean a lifetime ban. This is how the union could put some teeth into the drug-testing: A one-year ban for the first offense, and a lifetime ban for the second offense.
Additionally, any player suspended for performance-enhancing drugs should have his contract voided, with the player remaining under the control of the team that signed him. And any player who tests positive in a given season should automatically be ineligible to play in the postseason that year, so they are not rewarded with a playoff share. As it stands, Cabrera could still profit if the Giants play deep into October.
These would be an important means in assuring that cheating players would be face career-threatening risks, rather than a penalty that is light enough that the Melky Cabreras of the world would seek ways to beat the system -- to rob the marketplace.
Cabrera not only would have essentially been deceiving his next employer, of course, but he could have directly hurt other players in the market. If Cabrera had gone into free agency without a suspension, wielding those huge numbers, then players like Shane Victorino would have been naturally pushed lower down the pecking order, as the older (and less desirable) player. If Cabrera had gotten an $85 million deal from the Giants, that may well have impacted their decision whether to re-sign Hunter Pence at some point.
Melky Cabrera is a cheater -- not only in how he competed, but in how he tried to beat the system. Until the players more severely punish those who are caught, the temptation to try will only grow, as the compensation does.