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Michael Weiner: tougher drug penalties might be coming, but that may not be best way to curb PEDs

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Union chief Michael Weiner has been making the rounds in Florida, and yesterday he said two things of note. First: stronger penalties may very well be in the offing:

There are certainly some players who have expressed [a desire for stronger penalties] … We’ve had discussions with the commissioner’s office. If it turns out that we have a different penalty structure because that’s what players are interested in, that’s what the owners are interested in, it will be for 2014 … more and more players are vocal about being willing to accept sacrifices in terms of testing in order to make sure we have a clean game.”

Second, even if that’s what the players want and what ultimately happens, he’s not certain that tougher penalties are the way to go. After noting that baseball’s first time penalty — 50 games — is proportionately harsher than that of the other sports, he opines that better policing, rather than sentencing, is the true deterrent to cheating:

“We have a very strong penalty. There is a reasonable debate you could have in this context and the criminal justice context as to whether increasing the likelihood of detection is the way to deter or increasing the penalty. There is a lot of serious study that says it doesn’t matter what the penalty is, it depends upon if you think you’re going to get caught.”

Weiner is not an ideologue, so if the players want tougher penalties, tougher penalties are going to happen.

I agree, however, with the idea that better policing is more effective than stronger punishment in deterring bad acts. We’ll see how the policing stuff works this year when increased testing — including the institution of a blood test for HGH and the cataloging of testosterone baselines for players — is implemented.

My guess, though: the necessarily greater number of suspensions from the enhanced testing will cause people to think that the drug problem is getting worse (as opposed to thinking that more existing cheaters are being caught), which will lead to more grandstanding and hand-wringing which will in turn lead to tougher penalties.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.

Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery could share Cubs’ rotation spot in 2017

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 01:  Mike Montgomery #38 of the Chicago Cubs throws a pitch during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 1, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).

Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.

Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.

Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.