braun getty

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

The deeper implications of the A.J. Ellis trade

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 17:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers heads to the dugout at the end of the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium on May 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The trade of a light-hitting backup catcher is normally about as inconsequential as it gets. The trade of A.J. Ellis by the Dodgers to the Phillies, however, is anything but that. Indeed, it may be the public manifestation of long-simmering, well, maybe “feud” is too strong a word, but a definite butting of heads between the team’s front office and its best player.

While almost all of the clubhouse drama in Los Angeles has surrounded a talented but aggravating corner outfielder currently toiling in the minors, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times wrote last night that the Ellis trade could very well be seen as the front office’s shot across Clayton Kershaw‘s bow:

Kershaw’s preference of Ellis was the subject of a longstanding tug-of-war between Kershaw and the front office, which wanted Yasmani Grandal behind the plate as much as possible . . . Some players interpreted the trade as a message from the front office.

This isn’t Kershaw’s team. It’s not Corey Seager’s team or Adrian Gonzalez’s, either.

It’s Friedman’s.

The notion that Kershaw likes to pitch to Ellis is pretty well-known, but the idea that it was so strong a preference that it created a dispute as to whether he has final say over a roster spot is news, at least to people who aren’t around the Dodgers all the time. Hernandez is a good columnist and is particularly well-plugged in to the Dodgers after many years of being their beat writer for the Times. He wouldn’t throw the notion of there being something of a power struggle in this regard out there all willy-nilly in order to stir the pot or something. I don’t doubt for a second that something bigger than most of us have seen is going on here.

As for the trade itself: yeah, it’s pretty debatable as to whether it makes any kind of sense. Carlos Ruiz is likely an upgrade over Ellis, but it’s a pretty marginal upgrade when you consider how few plate appearances the Dodgers backup catcher will make for the rest of the year. It’s especially marginal if you assume, as Hernandez and others assume, likely with reason, that the loss of Ellis is going to harm morale. At least in the short term before they get to know Ruiz well (worth noting, though, that he comes pretty highly recommended from Kershaw-caliber aces for all the same reasons Ellis does). I can see a lot of reasons not to make that deal even for an extra hit or two a week that Ruiz may give you over Ellis.

All of which speaks to what we don’t know. What we don’t know about the mind of Andrew Friedman and whether or not there is something more going on here than is immediately apparent. About the relationship between him and Kershaw and, for that matter, him and the rest of the team that would cause him to make a deal that plays as poorly with his own players as this one does. It could be something about Ellis. It could be something about Friedman’s relationship with Kershaw. It could be something totally unrelated to any of that, such as offseason plans and the roster in 2017 (Ruiz has a team option for next year, Ellis is a pending free agent). Unless or until Friedman speaks or a reporter gets someone to shed more light on this, there will continue to be questions.

In the meantime, I’ll grant that there are certainly different rules which apply to superstars than mere mortals, but veto power over a trade and/or playing time for other players isn’t typically one of them. If, as Hernandez suggests, there was a sense that Kershaw and Friedman didn’t see eye-to-eye on that and it wasn’t otherwise being resolved, it makes Friedman’s move somewhat more understandable.

World Baseball Classic pools, venues announced

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - MARCH 10:  Miguel Cabrera #24 of Venezuela gets a hit and drives in a run against Spain during the first round of the World Baseball Classic at Hiram Bithorn Stadium on March 10, 2013 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Yesterday the folks who run the World Baseball Classic (i.e. the Rand Corporation, in conjunction with the saucer people, under the supervision of the reverse vampires, the Illuminati and the Trilateral Commission) announced the groupings and venues for next springs’s tournament. It breaks down thusly:

  • Pool A will play in Tokyo, featuring Australia, China, Cuba, and Japan;
  • Pool B will play in Seoul, featuring Chinese Taipei, Korea, the Netherlands, and either Brazil, Israel, Great Britain, or Pakistan (final participant to be determined at a qualifying tournament in New York next month);
  • Pool C will play in Miami, featuring Canada, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and the United States;
  • Pool D will play in Guadalajara, featuring Italy, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela.

A winner and a runner-up will advance from each pool following a round-robin competition. That will result in a second round robin made up of Pool A and B — which will be called Pool E, because it HAS to be complicated — and which will be played in Tokyo. Meanwhile, Pool C and D’s representatives will make up Pool F, who will play in San Diego at Petco Park.

The winner of Pool F will then take on the runner-up of Pool E in a semifinal at Dodger Stadium, while the winner of Pool E will face Pool F’s runner-up there as well. The winners of those matches will play in the WBC final, also at Dodger Stadium.

Got it? Good.

Now we wait. And listen to people tell us how much we should care about the World Baseball Classic between now and March.