a-rod getty wide

The new PED evidence is sexy, but they can’t void A-Rod’s contract, and probably can’t even suspend him. Yet.

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UPDATE:  I missed this on my first reading of the JDA, but Section G provides for suspensions by the Commissioner for “just cause.”

A Player may be subjected to disciplinary action for just cause by the
Commissioner for any Player violation of Section 2 above not referenced in Section 7.A
through 7.F above.

The question, then, is what constitutes “just cause.” While I think this would give MLB some justification to attempt to move, I stand by what I said below: there would be significant pushback on whether this news report is “just cause,” and A-Rod or others would fight any action based on it alone.  This will require greater evidence and information, and likely someone — be it the players or the doctors who prescribed or someone else — to put more meat on the bones of this report.

9:35 AMThe Miami New Times story implicating A-Rod, Nelson Cruz and others with a PED clinic in Miami is big news. It sheds a lot of light on PED use by major players and the overall availability of PEDs in baseball.  The pipelines like BALCO and now Biogenesis are a pretty big deal, and they’re certainly something MLB has an interest in investigating and news organizations should have an interest in reporting.

But let’s be clear about one thing: this news should not and likely will not have any direct, immediate bearing on A-Rod or any of the other players named as far as immediate discipline.

The Joint Drug Agreement (“JDA”) provides one means and one means only for suspensions: positive drug tests.  Now, those drug tests can be scheduled or random. Or they can be instituted based on “reasonable cause.” From page 12 of the JDA:

In the event that either Party has information that gives it reasonable cause
to believe that a Player has, in the previous 12-month period, engaged in the use,
possession, sale or distribution of a Performance Enhancing Substance (including
hGH) or Stimulant, the Party shall provide the other Party, either orally or in
writing, with a description of its information (“Reasonable Cause Notification”),
and the Player will be subject to an immediate urine and/or blood specimen
collection, or a program of testing, as determined by the IPA, to commence no
later than 48 hours after the Reasonable Cause Notification was provided.

Nowhere in the JDA does it provide for suspensions or any other kind of discipline based purely on non-testing evidence like reports, tips or the like.  What’s more, there is an appeal process involved where the player subject to reasonable cause testing can dispute whether there was, in fact, reasonable cause.

As this relates to A-Rod, Nelson Cruz and the others named in the report: MLB could very well demand a drug test from them within 48 hours of learning this information (and remember we don’t know whether MLB is learning this today or knew already).  That’s it.  If I’m representing those players, though, I argue strongly that a newspaper report like this is not “reasonable cause” and make an arbitrator figure that out.  That’s how it would play out.

What will not happen is MLB summarily suspending any of these players, the Yankees voiding A-Rod’s contract or anything else.  Such steps would be outside the scope of the league or the team’s power and it would result in major litigation.

Against that backdrop, if anyone — like, say, a columnist or reporter who wants to pile on A-Rod — starts beating the “void the contract” or “suspend him for life” drum in the next couple of days, they’re full of it or they’re being emotional or they’re grandstanding and no matter which of those it is, they should not be taken seriously.

Joe Blanton signs with the Nationals

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 07:  Joe Blanton #55 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on June 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post reports that the Nationals have signed Joe Blanton to a one-year contract.

Surprised it took this long given that Blanton was excellent out of the pen for the Dodgers last year, posting a 2.48 ERA and 80/26 K/BB ratio over 80 innings. But even if it’s a late signing, it’s not a terrible one: Blanton will receive a $4 million salary and will have the chance to make an additional $1 million in performance bonuses. UPDATE: The salary structure is kind of odd. Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post reports that Blanton will get only $1 million in 2017, plus some incentives, and will have $1 million deferred to 2018 and $2 million deferred to 2019.

And he got two weeks off work. Bonus!

Baseball doesn’t need gimmicks to draw in young fans. It just needs to be baseball.

MESA, AZ - MARCH 6: Chicago Cubs ball and bat bags are seen prior to the game between the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds on March 6, 2015 at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona. The Reds defeated the Cubs 5-2. (Photo by Rich Pilling/Getty Images)
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MESA, AZ — I didn’t set out to ask Robin Mitchell about pace of play, rules changes, how to best execute an intentional walk or how to turn kids into baseball fans. I was interviewing her about other stuff. She brought those topics up on her own.

“I heard them saying that they were not going to throw four pitches for intentional walks anymore,” Mitchell said. “I’d prefer that they throw the pitches because anything can happen. There can be wild pitches. And that’s the exciting part of baseball. That you don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t think we need to speed the game along.”

For most baseball fans such sentiments are tied up with a devotion to baseball purism, tradition or their distaste for change. But such is not the case for Mitchell. While the lifelong Chicago resident went to Cubs games as a child, baseball has not been a lifelong obsession. Rather, it’s something she has become reacquainted with via her two baseball-obsessed boys, Jake, 11, and Bennett, 9.

Mitchell and her boys live on the north side of Chicago and, over the past two years, her sons have developed a huge affinity for the Cubs, almost by osmosis. It was certainly a good time for it, as the Cubs have become winners, and Mitchell allows that since Jake and Bennett didn’t “have to suffer through some of the more challenging times,” their attraction to the game became easier. It’s clear to her, however, that they are not going to be fair weather fans.

“They love baseball,” she said, implying that it’s not just homerism for the current World Series champions at work. They love the sport itself and began to play it too. It’s not easy for Mitchell to say whether their playing led to their fandom or vice-versa. It all sort of happened at once, with each reinforcing the other.

I asked her what about baseball, specifically, appeals to them. What, at a time when Rob Manfred and everyone connected to the game is worried about the sport’s seeming inability to attract and hold on to young fans, keeps Mitchell’s sons engaged.

For them, it seems to be all about accessibility and engagement. Being in Chicago and living close to a park is important, as is having all of the games available on TV. Also important to them: appealing young stars.

“It helps that the Cubs have some really nice players who seem like really nice guys,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes we see them in the neighborhood even. Ben Zobrist. Anthony Rizzo. David Ross. Whenever we’ve seen them out or at an event they’re always kind and polite and give the boys encouraging words.”

But isn’t baseball . . . boring? And slow? Don’t kids like video games and kinetic action? Doesn’t a 19th century pastime with a sometimes turgid pace turn off 21st century kids?

“No, are you kidding?!” Mitchell said. “We don’t leave the game before it’s over. That’s what we do. It doesn’t matter what the score is. We love the pace of baseball. In the world of electronics, with everything moving really fast and being gimmicky, there’s something I think that my boys and I find appealing about baseball. I can share it with them and we all just slow down.”

As we talked, Jake and Bennett ran around a field just outside the Cubs clubhouse, playing catch and practicing rundowns with a couple of other boys they just met. Mitchell and I spoke for nearly a half hour. They played the whole time and looked like they wouldn’t stop unless or until their mother dragged them away.

We have spent a lot of time lately talking about how to fix baseball. I don’t know that anyone has made a compelling case that, despite the challenges the game faces, it is actually broken. Robin Mitchell doesn’t think it is. Neither do Jake and Bennett. While Rob Manfred and Joe Torre propose increasingly unorthodox methods for speeding things up, some pretty basic and longstanding factors are continuing to attract young fans:

  • The availability of games almost every day;
  • An exciting and successful local team;
  • The charisma of baseball’s biggest stars;
  • The ability for kids to play the game themselves and to emulate those stars on a little league field; and
  • The chance for parents to share their love of baseball with their children.

These are the factors which have always made up baseball’s appeal. Perhaps Major League Baseball should concentrate on ensuring that those factors, which are proven to draw in fans, persist and flourish. Perhaps they should concentrate less on chasing hypothetical fans via gimmicks aimed at fixing problems which are far-from-established.