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A-Rod handed 211-game ban; eligible pending appeal

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New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was one of 13 Major League Baseball players who were suspended on Monday for receiving performance-enhancing drugs from a shuttered Miami wellness clinic, the league announced.

Rodriguez received a 211-game punishment from the league, which would be effective on Thursday and last through the end of the 2014 season. He is appealing the ban, the league said, and is eligible to play until an appeals verdict is rendered.

“I’m fighting for my life,” an emotional Rodriguez said at a press conference just after 6 p.m. “I have to defend myself. If I don’t defend myself, no one will.”

Rodriguez called the last seven months “a nightmare” and refused to admit he used performance enhancing drugs.

The bans to the other players linked with the Biogenesis clinic are effective immediately, which knocks out those players for virtually all of the remaining games this regular season. They would be eligible for the postseason, should their teams reach and the terms of their suspensions end.

“As a social institution with enormous social responsibilities, baseball must do everything it can to maintain integrity, fairness and a level playing field,” MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. “We are committed to working together with players to reiterate that performance-enhancing drugs will not be tolerated in our game.”

MORE: A-Rod’s suspension is crazy and should be reduced

Rodriguez said in a statement on Monday that he planned to fight his suspension through the appeals process.

“I am eager to get back on the field and be with my teammates in Chicago tonight,” Rodriguez said. I want to thank my family, friends and fans who have stood by myself through all this.”

Rodriguez also spoke to the media in a pair of news conferences over the weekend. He declined to discuss the case in details, citing an ongoing investigation, but he seemed to hint that forces were conspiring to keep him from playing.

“There is more than one party that benefits from me not ever stepping on the field,” Rodriguez said Friday night. “It is not my teammates, it is not the Yankees fans. People have been trying to get creative trying to cancel my contract.”

The Yankees took the unusual step of distancing themselves from the league’s investigation of Rodriguez, saying that they agreed with the punishment but did not help the inquiry.

“The New York Yankees in no way instituted and/or assisted MLB in the direction of this investigation; or used the investigation as an attempt to avoid its responsibilities under a player contract; or did its medical staff fail to provide the appropriate standard of care to Alex Rodriguez,” the team’s statement said.

MLB Players Association head Michael Weiner agreed with the 50-game punishments but took issue with Rodriguez’s suspension, saying that Selig was not acting within his rights under the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and union.

“Mr. Rodriguez knows that the Union, consistent with its history, will defend his rights vigorously,” Weiner said.

MORE: MLBPA believes Selig acted improperly

Rodriguez’s attorney David Cornwell, echoed the union’s sentiment.

“It is regrettable that the Commissioner’s office has taken this unprecedented action,” Cornwell said in a statement. “Major League Baseball has gone well beyond the authority granted to its Joint Drug Agreement and the Basic Agreement. Consequently, we will appeal the discipline and pursue all legal remedies available to Alex.”

The full list of suspended players is: Nelson Cruz, Texas Rangers; Everth Cabrera, San Diego Padres; Jhonny Peralta, Detroit Tigers; Francisco Cervelli, New York Yankees; Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners; Jordany Valdespin, New York Mets; Sergio Escalona, Houston Astros; Fautino De Los Santos, San Diego Padres; Cesar Puello, New York Mets; Fernando Martinez, New York Yankees; Antonio Bastardo, Philadelphia Phillies; Jordan Norberto, free agent.

MORE: Several Biogenesis players are stunningly equally ashamed of themselves

Cruz, who is a free agent after this season, said in a statement that he began using PEDs to recover from illness that caused him to lose 40 lbs before the 2012 season. Concerned that he would not recover quickly enough, he said he began doping.

“Faced with this situation, I made an error in judgment that I deeply regret, and I accept full responsibility for that error,” he said. “I should have handled the situation differently, and my illness was no excuse.”

A’s pitcher Bartolo Colon, Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera and Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal also were connected to the clinic by several reports, but all three were suspended for positive tests over the past year — which reportedly overlaps with MLB’s Biogenesis records — so another suspension would be considered double jeopardy. Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun accepted a 65-game ban last month for his involvement with the clinic.

Selig lauded the success of the league’s drug policy, which succeeded despite only one known positive test: Braun was caught for a PED violation before the 2012 season but won his case on appeal. Players suspended Monday were done so for non-analytical positives, which occur when the league has evidence of a player’s use despite not having a positive test.

In this case, the league received cooperation from Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch, who agreed to cooperate and share evidence in exchange for the league’s dropping a lawsuit against him, indemnifying him against further damages and paying some, or all, of his legal fees according to ESPN. MLB had no comment about its involvement with Bosch.

MORE: MLB statement on the Biogenesis suspensions

“This case resoundingly illustrates that the strength of our Program is not limited only to testing,” Selig said. “We continue to attack this issue on every front – from science and research, to education and awareness, to fact-finding and investigative skills.

The allegations against Rodriguez and others were first revealed in late January, when the Miami New Times published a report that connected them to Bosch and his clinic. Bosch reportedly provided a group of MLB players with human growth hormone and steroids as early as December 2011. The New Times story, along with reports by Yahoo! Sports and ESPN, reportedly spurred MLB’s investigation.

“Despite the challenges this situation has created during a great season on the field, we pursued this matter because it was not only the right thing to do, but the only thing to do,” Selig said.

Bosch faces a federal inquiry into whether Biogenesis illegally distributed steroids to high school students and major leaguers, according to reports by ESPN and the Miami Herald. Bosch’s lawyer, Susy Ribero-Ayala, has not responded to messages left by NBC Sports.

The matter reportedly is being handled by Jeff Novitzky, the federal agent who directed investigations of BALCO, a clinic in the Bay Area that was found to have distributed steroids to athletes.

Rodriguez, 38, is fifth on MLB’s career home run list, with 647 spread over two decades with three teams. Barry Bonds holds the record, with 762, but many fans believe that mark to be illegitimate because of Bonds’ tie to BALCO.

Rodriguez admitted in 2009 that he used steroids for three years, from 2001-03, while he was a member of the Texas Rangers. His name also appeared on a list of 104 players who tested positive for PEDs in a 2003 MLB survey, according to a report by Sports Illustrated.

The survey, which was confidential, reportedly was done to measure the extent of baseball’s problem with performance-enhancing drugs, not to determine who was actually using them. So Rodriguez’s alleged positive test could not have resulted in punishment.

Rodriguez has yet to play this year after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left hip in January. His recovery efforts stalled in mid-July, when he strained his left quadriceps. Rodriguez claimed he was ready to return. The Yankees said he was not.

Rodriguez sought a second opinion from a New Jersey doctor, who examined an MRI of the slugger’s leg and proclaimed him fit both over the telephone and in a subsequent media blitz. The Yankees were displeased that Rodriguez sought a second opinion without informing them in writing first, according to ESPN.

Pirates sign reliever Eric O’Flaherty

Eric O'Flaherty
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Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.

O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.

It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.

Mariano Rivera to get his plaque in Monument Park on August 14

Mariano Rivera
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The greatest closer in history is going to get the ultimate honor the New York Yankees bestow on August 14. That’s when Mariano Rivera will get his plaque in Monument Park at Yankee Stadium before a game against the Rays.

There was some chatter in the last year or two about whether the Yankees were somehow lowering their standards out there, what with guys like Tino Martinez getting honored. But if that’s something you care about it won’t matter in this instance. Rivera would’ve been worthy even if the old snobby ways had held and only inner-circle types got a plaque, what with him being a key member of five World Series-winning teams and his status as the all-time saves leader in the regular season and the postseason.

The Yankees retired Rivera’s No. 42 in 2013. He’ll get his plaque in August. Then, on the first ballot for which he is eligible, he’ll be voted into the Hall of Fame, likely with a percentage in the mid-to-high 90s.

Dodgers “trying to trade” Alex Guerrero

Alex Guerrero
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Alex Guerrero is a potentially good right-handed bat without a position to play in Los Angeles, so Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reporting that the Dodgers are “trying to trade” him makes sense.

Guerrero, who signed with the Dodgers out of Cuba for $28 million in October of 2013, spent last season in the majors hitting .233 with 11 homers and a .695 OPS in a part-time role that generated 230 plate appearances. He logged a total of just 355 innings defensively, mostly as a left fielder and third baseman.

Guerrero could be intriguing–particularly to an American League team for whom his defense isn’t much of an issue–because he hit .329 with 15 homers and a 1.113 OPS in 65 games at Triple-A in 2014 and was consistently a .300 hitter with an OPS around 1.000 in Cuba. He’s also 29 years old, so Guerrero is no doubt looking to play regularly.

The New Zealand World Baseball Classic team performs the Haka

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It’s World Baseball Classic time again. Just the qualifying rounds. The actual tournament happens in 2017. Qualifiers will happen in Sydney, Australia, Mexicali, Mexico, Panama City, Panama and Brooklyn, N.Y., periodically, between now and September.

The Sydney round just got underway yesterday, so yes, some actual baseball is going on. As I’ve written and ranted before, the WBC is not my favorite thing that happens in baseball and certainly not the most important thing, but it’s pretty fun. Especially when there are displays of enthusiasm and pageantry and the like.

Such as the Haka, which basically every New Zealand sports team does and which never gets old:

 

Down in Sydney, the Australia, New Zealand, Philippines and South Africa teams are competing in a six-game, modified double-elimination format. In the other three qualifying rounds, Mexico, Czech Republic, Germany, Nicaragua, Colombia, France, Panama, Spain, Brazil, Great Britain, Israel and Pakistan will compete. Each qualifying round puts one representative in the WBC.

Those four qualifiers will compete in the WBC itself against countries that performed well enough in the past that they need not submit to qualifying: Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Italy, Japan, Korea, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, United States and Venezuela.

Someone make sure Jon Morosi is well-hyrdrated. It’s gonna be a long year.