Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension is crazy and should be reduced

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The MLBPA’s official statement on the suspensions of the Biogenesis players is something I can totally agree with: the 50-game suspensions make sense given that all involved were first time drug offenders who agreed, when they chose not to appeal, that MLB had the goods on them. But Alex Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension is crazy and it should be reduced.

It’s crazy for a number of reasons.

One simple argument is that A-Rod is receiving discipline for the first time under the Joint Drug Agreement (JDA). The JDA calls for suspensions of 50 games, 100 games or life. A strict constructionist of the JDA could very easily say that A-Rod, as a first offender, should get 50 games, full stop.  Now, I’m not naive. I don’t think that argument will necessarily work. Indeed, the head of the union himself said, for some reason, that the 50-100-life rubric does not apply to Biogenesis cases. I’m not sure why he’d admit that, but I do feel like if that argument had any weight it would have been made a lot more forcefully before now. Still: it’s not an argument I’d abandon if I was A-Rod’s lawyer.

MORE: A-Rod on appeal:’I’m fighting for my life’

A more compelling argument: 211 games is the most arbitrary number imaginable, and arbitrators of employer-employee agreements tend not to like arbitrariness.

The Joint Drug Agreement employs a unit of measurement for drug discipline: games. MLB may make an impassioned and persuasive case that Alex Rodriguez was a horrible wrongdoer, but they clearly chose this discipline based on how long they wanted to see him gone — this season and all of next — and simply calculated how many games that covered. In this sense it was entirely arbitrary and made little effort to match up the severity of the acts with the severity of the punishment. If it happened last week he’d get 217 games? If it happened next week he’d get 205? For the same conduct? It speaks to an unreasonable standard of discipline, even if it happens to go after unreasonably bad behavior.

Let’s talk about that behavior. A-Rod’s Biogenesis case has been the subject of countless leaks over the past several months, and most of those leaks have spoken non-specifically of awful, awful things. We don’t know how awful. Maybe it’s really, really bad! Obstruction of the investigation. Maybe some sort of luring of other players to Tony Bosch’s clinic. We really don’t know.  But we do know that for 211 games to stick, those acts have to be more than four times worse than some other player’s drug use, right? That’s how MLB got to its arbitrary number, right?

MORE: Rodriguez goes 1-for-4 in first game back with Yanks

I don’t know what MLB’s evidence is, but I do know this much: the historic pattern of A-Rod coverage has been to take what he actually did, multiply it by about a million times in terms of severity and report it as the worst thing that ever happened.  Puffing up A-Rod’s evil works with tabloid readers, talk radio callers and the “A-Rod is the devil” folks, but it’s unlikely to work well with an arbitrator. So if that pattern is happening once again, it may be a much closer case than many are portraying.

None of that means Alex Rodriguez didn’t do anything wrong. None of that means that Alex Rodriguez will succeed on his appeal. But from where I’m sitting, Major League Baseball’s 211-game suspension looks hard to defend, and it’s hard to blame Rodriguez for going after it on appeal.

Marlins acquire starter Dan Straily from the Reds

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 3: Dan Straily #58 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the first inning of the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park on September 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
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The Miami Marlins have acquired starting pitcher Dan Straily from the Cincinnati Reds. In exchange, the Reds will receive right-handed pitching prospects Luis Castillo and Austin Brice and outfield prospect Isaiah White.

For the Marlins, they get a solid starter who logged 191.1 innings of 113 ERA+ ball last year. Straily has moved around a lot in his five big league seasons — the Marlins will be his fifth club in six years — but it was something of a breakout year for him in Cincinnati. The only troubling thing: he tied for the league lead in homers allowed. Of course, pitching half of his games in Great American Ballpark didn’t help that, and Miami will be a better place for him.

Castillo is 24. He split last season between high-A and Double-A — far more of it in A-ball — posting a 2.26 ERA over 24 starts. Austin Brice is also 24. He pitched 15 games in relief for the Marlins last year at the big league level with poor results. He seemed to blossom at Triple-A, however, after the Marlins shifted him to the pen. White was a third round pick in the 2015 draft. He played low-A ball as a minor leaguer last year, hitting .214/.306/.301.

A mixed bag of young talent for the Reds, but stockpiling kids and seeing what shakes out is what a team like the Reds should be doing at the moment. For the Marlins: a solid mid-to-back end starter who may just be coming into his own.

Have Hall of Fame Voters actually made the PED thing More complicated?

Sammy Sosa
Associated Press
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The story coming out of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting is that the BBWAA voters are finally easing their antipathy toward players with performance enhancing drug associations.

Jeff Bagwell — the subject of unconfirmed PED rumors — made the Hall! Pudge Rodriguez, who was named in Jose Canseco’s book and who had a . . . curious physical transformation around the time PED testing came online, made it on the first ballot! Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose PED use was well-documented, saw their vote totals advance above the 50% mark, making their future elections look more likely!

It’s an interesting development, and one I’m obviously pleased with, but I wonder if the BBWAA’s new approach to PED guys, while far more forgiving than it used to be, has actually become more complicated in practice.

I ask this because I look way, way down the ballot and I still see Sammy Sosa scraping by with around 8% of the vote. I ask this because I still see Gary Sheffield at 13%. I ask this because when Mark McGwire was on the Today’s Game ballot in December, no one really stumped for him at all. I ask this because, even though Bagwell and Mike Piazza got in eventually, they still had to go through a lot of hazing first and I suspect, if they hit the ballot for the first time again tomorrow, the same arguments and delay would occur with respect to their cases.

In light of that, what I suspect has happened has not been a wholesale surrender of the anti-PED voters. Rather, I think it has been a transformation. One in which a moral test — did he use PEDs or not? — has been discarded as a threshold question and a scientific/physiological test — would he have been great even without the PEDs? — has replaced it. In essence, voters are becoming “PED discounters” in the aggregate. Making calculations as to whether a guy was, in their mind, a creation of PEDs or not.

Such an approach explains these new voting patterns as well as those in recent years.

  • Ivan Rodriguez may have been called out by Canseco and may have noticeably shrunk over an offseason, but his calling card was his defense behind the plate and voters, I suspect, have told themselves that such a thing is not PED-aided.
  • Bonds and Clemens may have been PED users, but each of them was undeniably talented and, if you discount for the PED use, hey, they’re still all-time greats.
  • Sammy Sosa’s case rests disproportionately on homers and, as everyone knows, PEDs = instant dingers, so no, he’s not gonna cut it.

And so on.

As I said, I’m glad that the strict moral test — did he use or not? — is losing its hold on Hall voters. But I do not think the “did PEDs make him who he was test?” is a good approach either. Baseball writers are in no better a position to assess the physiological and performance enhancements caused by pharmaceuticals than they are to be judges of character and morality. Given the identities of players confirmed to be PED users, the old eye test implicit in these cases is famously faulty (Neifi Perez, anyone?). The idea that PEDs only affect home run totals — and not, say, the ability for a player to take the abuse of the catcher position for 21 seasons — is crude and ignorant.

I suppose it’s naive to expect voters to completely disregard PEDs in their assessment of players. It’s a bell that cannot be unrung. But while we may, thankfully, be moving away from a moral test with respect to drugs, it’s been displaced by a scientific test that is no more reasonable in practice.