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2013 Preview: Why Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and other big stars could face suspension this season

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As we approach Opening Day, HarballTalk will be spending the next few days previewing all 30 teams, all six division races and looking ahead at the major issues and storylines which will impact the 2013 season. This morning we look at the Biogenesis scandal, which could lead to the suspension of several high-profile players.

Some of baseball’s biggest stars including Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez, Nelson Cruz, Gio Gonzalez, Yasmani Grandal, Bartolo Colon and many, many more enter the 2013 season under a cloud. Or a threat, if you will.  The threat of suspension for their association with a now-closed Miami clinic called Biogenesis, which is alleged to have supplied these players and as many as 90 more with testosterone, human growth hormone and other performance enhancing drugs which violate baseball’s rules against performance enhancing drugs. It is unknown if those suspensions will come. It is unknown when. But all teams with a player named in the documents of the Biogenesis clinic face uncertainty as Opening Day approaches.

The Biogenesis news broke in late January, when it was reported by multiple outlets that Major League Baseball was investigating the clinic and its operator, Anthony Bosch, under the suspicion that the clinic represented “ground zero” for performance enhancing drugs in Florida, where a disproportionate number of major leaguers grew up, played amateur and college baseball or where they currently make their offseason homes. On January 29, the Miami New Times obtained and published a large portion of the Biogenesis clinic’s records which contained the names of several major leaguers accompanied in many cases by notations which suggested that the players were given performance enhancing drugs. The documents were not conclusive of any player’s use and, in some cases — like with Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez — no connection could be found between the player and any substances which are banned by Major League Baseball.

source: APImmediately after the Miami New Times report came out all of the players involved either denied any involvement with Biogenesis whatsoever or denied that they obtained banned substances.  For example, Gonzalez claims that his father was a patient of Anthony Bosch’s. Ryan Braun claims that his attorneys used Bosch as a consultant in his successful 2012 appeal of his PED suspension. Despite the denials, the report and the documents set off a media firestorm which caused Major League Baseball to step up its investigation of the players named therein.

The biggest problem: Major League Baseball doesn’t actually have the Biogenesis documents. The Miami New Times and other media outlets which have seen all or part of them are unwilling to share them with the league and, at present, Anthony Bosch is nowhere to be found.  Last Friday Major League Baseball sued Biogenesis in an effort to obtain the documents, but it is not at all clear that they have any viable legal claims against the clinic. More significantly, many doubt that the original documents still exist at all.

What is clear is that Major League Baseball is stopping at nothing to investigate the matter with a clear eye towards suspending the players named in the clinic’s records if at all possible.  MLB is reported to be particularly interested in suspending 2011 NL MVP Braun, who they see as having evaded justice in prevailing on his appeal last year and Rodriguez who many in baseball believe lied to MLB investigators in 2009 when he admitted to past, but not present drug use.

MORE: The Rise and Fall of Alex Rodriguez

source: APCan Major League Baseball suspend these players without a positive drug test? Yes, it can. Pursuant to the Joint Drug Agreement which governs these matters, baseball can suspend players for “just cause” if there is non-clinical evidence suggesting that they have used performance enhancing drugs. Most believe that conclusive documentary evidence of past use, as may appear in the Biogenesis records, would provide such grounds. Baseball’s inability to obtain these records, however, is preventing almost all action at present. So far, all baseball has been able to do is to suspend one minor leaguer  — who happens to have been a college teammate and who is still a close friend of Braun’s — who was implicated based on the league’s belief that he was not cooperative when questioned. Major league players have not yet been questioned, but they almost certainly will be.  They will have greater legal and union protections from discipline than their minor league counterparts, however.

That’s where we are as the season dawns. Several players, including two former MVPs, in the crosshairs of a Major League Baseball investigation, the outcome of which and endpoint of is uncertain. At literally any time between today and, well, forever, baseball could suspend Braun, Rodriguez, Gonzalez, Cruz or any of players named in the Biogenesis documents for 50 games.

To put that in context, the most big leaguers Major League Baseball has ever suspended in a season for performance enhancing drugs is six, which occurred last year.  In most years it’s two or three.  Now dozens upon dozens of players may face a 50-game suspension for a first offense of the Joint Drug Agreement, with some facing 100-game suspensions for a second offense. Suspensions of this magnitude could conceivably tip the pennant races. And for that reason, even if you don’t care a lick about performance enhancing drugs in baseball, the Biogenesis matter is worth watching.

MORE: Team-by-team previews for 2013

A Twins player confronted a Twins announcer about what he said on a broadcast

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We seem to get a story like this from a struggling team every couple of years. This year it’s the Twins and the story is about words said by one of the Twins players to Fox Sports North broadcaster Dick Bremer. From Mike McFeely of WDAY radio, who spoke to Bremer recently:

Surprisingly, Bremer said one player has confronted him this season about being too critical of the team. Bremer wouldn’t name the player.

“I make it a practice to go in the clubhouse every day and go down on the field, so if a player has a complaint about something I’ve said on television they have that opportunity,” Bremer said. “I was confronted in the clubhouse in the last homestand. I didn’t say what I wanted to say, which was, ‘Well, play better and the commentary will be more positive.’ You can’t mask the fact this team is a quarter of the way through the season with 10 wins.”

The whole article is interesting because it gives several examples of Bremer and his colleague, Bert Blyleven, being critical. Depending on which instance — and there were likely many not mentioned here — blowback from players may have more or less justification.

On the one hand, simply saying a player executed a given play poorly or saying that the team was performing poorly is a simple fact. On the other, an example was given in which Blyleven questioned why Phil Hughes was taken out of a game. It was only later revealed that he was experiencing shoulder soreness, but it was suggested that Blyelven was questioning his toughness at the moment. I agree with Bremer that if the players don’t want to be criticized they should play better. But it crosses a line in my mind when poor play is used to imply poor or weak character, especially when not all facts are known. Not all situations are the same.

Overall, though, despite the complaint of this anonymous Twins player, I think local broadcasts are too deferential to the home team far too often. The broadcasters have seen more baseball than almost every viewer and in many cases played it. I don’t think it’s out of line for them to offer objective, informed criticism of bad play even if that’s out of fashion in today’s world. That they seem very clearly pressured by the clubs with whom their employers are partnered to do otherwise is a shame and does a disservice to viewers.

And heck. It’s boring too.

Ryan Vogelsong placed on the DL with facial fractures

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 23: Ryan Vogelsong #14 of the Pittsburgh Pirates is carted off the field after being hit in the head by a pitch thrown by Jordan Lyles #24 of the Colorado Rockies in the second inning during the game at PNC Park on May 23, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
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The Pirates have announced that starter Ryan Vogelsong has been placed on the 15-day disabled list due to facial fractures.

Vogelsong suffered the fractures yesterday afternoon when he was batting and was hit by a pitch by Colorado Rockies starter Jordan Lyles. Vogelsong, was taken off the field on a cart and admitted to a local hospital. A.J. Schugel has been recalled from Triple-A to take Vogelsong’s place on the roster.

The Padres National Anthem debacle explained

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Outsports has what should be the final word about Saturday’s National Anthem debacle at Petco Park before the Dodgers-Padres game.

The upshot: it was not, not surprisingly, a homophobic conspiracy. Rather It was a series of unfortunate occurrences and dumb mistakes, once again validating the old saying about how one need not look to evil motives when mere stupidity can explain things. This is one of those times. Go read the post for the entire explanation. The short version of that is that, like a lot of anthem singers, the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus was to sing along with a backing tape of themselves performing the anthem. The DJ in charge of it played the wrong date’s backing tape. He played the one from the female singer the night before.

In addition, Outsports spoke with that DJ — DJ Artform — who is embarrassed by his mistake and by not doing anything to correct it in the moment. DJ Artform was a contractor and his relationship with the Padres was terminated.

So that seems to be that. Until the next thing anyway. There is always a next thing.

Cubs release Shane Victorino

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File this under “not terribly surprising,” but Shane Victorino was released from his minor league contract with the Cubs yesterday after batting .233/.324/.367 through nine games with Triple-A Iowa. Victorino says he does not plan on retiring, however, and that he plans to try to latch on someplace else.

It’ll be a supreme long shot. Victorino, 35, Victorino suffered a calf injury during spring training and missed all of spring training. Last year he played in only 71 games between the Red Sox and Angels, and 30 in 2014 with the Red Sox. He was last healthy and effective in 2013. In a league where older players don’t do as well as they used to, it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to find a gig.

If this is the end of the road for the Flyin’ Hawaiian, he’ll finish with a career batting line of .2750/.340/.425 with 108 homers, 489 RBI, 231 stolen bases and four Gold Glove Awards in 12 seasons. He also has two World Series rings, from the 2008 Phillies and the 2013 Red Sox. He was a two-time All-Star.

Maybe not the way he wanted to end his career, if this is indeed the end, but Victorino had a fine career while it lasted.