The news is out. Major League Baseball, ESPN reports, has enlisted the cooperation of the former head of the Biogenesis clinic, Anthony Bosch, who is expected to implicate multiple players as performance enhancing drugs users. Baseball will then seem to suspend these players for anywhere from 50 to 100 games.
The question: how, exactly, will they do this and how long might it take before we actually see players suspended?
It could take a while. According to the ESPN report, Major League Baseball has yet to interview Anthony Bosch. Further, according to a statement issued by the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, Major League Baseball is “in process of interviewing players ” and the league “has assured us no decisions regarding discipline have been made.” This means that the league is still in fact-finding mode. It is still building its case against the players and has yet to even talk to the man who is expected to do most of the heavy lifting in that building: Bosch. It’s unclear how long that building may take, but it’s not unreasonable to think it could be weeks or even months.
Once Major League Baseball has decided to discipline players there is more waiting involved. That’s because the players, pursuant to the Joint Drug Agreement, have a right to appeal any suspension to an arbitration panel. Discipline is stayed until the arbitration panel has issued its ruling, determining whether or not the league’s discipline is justified.
Normally such appeals entail a relatively short procedure because normally suspensions are issued as the result of a positive drug test. Players have a limited avenue upon which they can appeal such tests, with few exceptions or defenses available to them. One notable example came in 2012 when Ryan Braun’s positive drug test and suspension were overturned based on a broken chain of custody of his urine sample. That appeal took several weeks.
Any Biogenesis-related suspensions are likely to lead to the most complex and lengthy appeals baseball has ever seen. Partially because of the sheer number of players involved. Mostly, however, because the evidence that would be used against the players is not something as simple and generally unassailable as a failed drug test. It is the testimony of Bosch, a man with serious credibility problems. A man who has very recently denied that any players he dealt with took performance enhancing drugs but who would now, presumably, be flip-flopping on those statements. A man who has been accused by many as a drug dealer, a criminal and a fraud. It is safe to say that the players, their lawyers and the union would spend considerable time attacking the evidence against them before the arbitration panel. And fairness would dictate that they be granted considerable time before any arbitration commenced to prepare their case.
And that’s before we even get to the punishment. The ESPN report from Tuesday night suggested that Major League Baseball is seeking to suspend some players, including Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, for 100 games, alleging that they actually committed two violations: taking PEDs and lying about it. This would be a bold and controversial position for the league to take given that the Joint Drug Agreement does not specifically provide for double discipline arising out of what the players would argue is a first offense (neither Braun nor Rodriguez have ever been suspended before). Expect those players’ lawyers to mount a vigorous defense to any such discipline. Indeed, given the stakes involved — tens of millions of dollars in salaries and possibly the effective end of their careers — it’s not inconceivable that they would try to take their fight beyond the arbitration setting and attempt to mount litigation of their own against Major League Baseball.
That’s a pretty complicated set of circumstances. As a result, it is quite possible that no players are actually suspended for months, even if the league were to complete its investigation in relatively short order. Also as a result: it means that we’re going to be hearing about the Biogenesis case for a long, long time.