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Is the MLBPA’s long-standing solidarity at risk as a result of Biogenesis?

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Howard Bryant has a fantastic article over at ESPN about the players union’s response to the Biogenesis scandal. In it he details how and why this PED scandal, unlike those which came before, represented the final straw for most players. Player who used to uniformly rally around those accused of cheating but who do so no longer. Who, in fact, are among the most critical voices of their fellow players.

Bryant wonders whether this shift is a harbinger of a greater fracturing of the union:

By publicly advocating unprecedented levels of punishments for violators now (players such as Schumaker and Detroit’s Max Scherzer publicly called for lifetime bans for first-time offenders), today’s players are essentially repudiating those attitudes so prevalent as recently as six years ago and during the height of the steroid era. But as a consequence, they might be exposing themselves to fragmentations that could shift the balance of power in baseball’s labor relationship in the favor of ownership. Biogenesis has inflamed the MLBPA’s membership. But in pushing for increased sanctions for PED use, players might be weakening their union’s longstanding position as the strongest negotiating body in the history of professional team sports.

It’s an interesting question, but I don’t think the union’s overall strength and solidarity is at risk.

Jonah Keri and I touched on this a bit on his podcast the other day, but my view is that there is a pretty clear delineation between PED issues and general pocketbook issues with which the union is normally concerned. There’s no reason why, on the one hand, the union can’t agree to stiffer PED penalties and begin to turn heavily on those among them who still cheat while still providing a unified front if the owners decided to, say, try to roll back the gains players have made in terms of salary, free agency and the like. There just isn’t some link between those issues and drug issues that necessitates a fissure on the part of the union in both instances.

Indeed, one could argue that the players’ solidarity regarding PED testing is a sign of health, not weakness of the union.  I’m put in mind of the United Auto Workers union in my hometown of Flint, Michigan. They became strong through solidarity and will. Then they spent decades getting everything they wanted. Then they, depending on who you talk to, either overreached tremendously and/or got stuck in a mindset where management’s views were never taken seriously and compromise, when it became necessary, wasn’t considered. Or, at the very least, was considered too late. Obviously there was a lot more going on with that and no sane view of the U.S. auto industry should absolve management completely, but it’s hard to walk away from that thinking that better outcomes wouldn’t have been realized if the union were more pragmatic. Solidarity is a huge part of a union’s power, but there comes a point where solidarity for its own sake is a weakness, not a strength.

I see the MLBPA as being pragmatic here. Their defense of A-Rod in the face of disproportionate punishment shows that they’re not throwing players under the bus, but the shifting views Bryant describes are setting the stage for them to agree to changes in the Joint Drug Agreement that pleases its membership. Still: despite all the tough talk now, I think it’s highly unlikely that they’d surrender their rights in a wholesale fashion in any changes to the JDA. When asked if Ryan Braun should be squashed, it’s an understandable emotional reaction to say “hell yeah!” When they sit down at a table and hypothetical changes are proposed that could squash any player, they may not be so quick to agree.

But no matter what happens with baseball’s drug rules, if Bud Selig tied to exploit this seeming softening of the union to, say, eliminate guaranteed contracts altogether or something, he would face fierce opposition. It’d be like 1994 all over again. Why? Because the union isn’t dumb and is fully capable of treating two different issues in two different ways. To the extent the owners and Selig misperceive this and attempt to exploit what they believe to be the union’s weakness, they will be in for a very rude awakening.

Dee Gordon’s suspension is likely to lead to a call for harsher PED penalties

Miami Marlins' Dee Gordon celebrates after hitting a double against the Detroit Tigers in the ninth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, April 5, 2016, in Miami. Derek Dietrich scored on the double. The Tigers won 8-7. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Associated Press
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Objectively speaking there is no difference between Dee Gordon’s suspension for PEDs and anyone else’s. Abraham Almonte, for example. Or Cameron Maybin. Or David Rollins. All were guys who got their 80 games, served their time, came back and whose cases didn’t raise too much of a fuss. But Gordon’s suspension will almost certainly be talked about longer and more loudly and will likely lead to calls for harsher penalties and changes to the PED suspension rules.

Part of it is simply fame. He’s a pretty big name as far as these things go. The biggest since the Biogenesis guys a couple of years ago. He won the batting title last year. He’s the son of a famous major leaguer. There is a direct correlation between the volume and intensity of the narratives applied to one’s story and the fame of the subject of the story. For that reason alone Gordon’s story will last longer and loom larger.

Another reason — a bigger reason, I think — is timing. Gordon was seen by many to have had a breakout season in 2015 and, when it was over, he was rewarded for it with a nice five-year $50 million deal. The narrative will arise by, oh, 9AM today, that the suspension was “worth it” for Gordon and that he cashed in because of it, rendering his suspension a mere slap on the wrist. This is especially true given that his deal is severely backloaded. He’ll lose less than $2 million in salary in 2016 while collecting the other $48 million-plus. Totally worth it!

I understand why people will say that, but such a stance has some serious flaws. Among them:

  • It assumes that we or anyone else knows when Gordon began to take PEDs;
  • It assumes that we or anyone else knows how, in fact, Gordon’s performance was actually enhanced;
  • It forgets that lots and lots of people were talking about how Gordon’s “breakout season” was actually 2014, not 2015, rendering that whole “he juiced and then got his money” argument fairly problematic.

Those points will likely be ignored as arguments in favor of harsher penalties grow louder. Ken Rosenthal reminds us this morning that some have called for some form of contract voiding or clawing back of more money than just the salary earned while on suspension. Those calls too will likely grow louder. There will also be calls for changes in the appeal process. Like this one, which came moments after Gordon’s suspension was announced:

When you have an actual union member angrily call for the repeal of a collectively-bargained protection in punishment situations, you’re sort of through the looking glass. Or past a tipping point. Or something. You’re certainly in a world where the usual dynamics between employer and employee are not operative and, as a result, changes are inevitable. As we noted recently, players today are perhaps more adamantly anti-PED than the owners and the league are. They’re competitors reacting to cheating by their competition. The fuel for stronger penalties is likely to come more from them than anyone.

The union and the league will be negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement this year. Performance enhancing drugs and their penalties will be a part of that. Expect harsher penalties and possibly different sorts of rules altogether. Expect Dee Gordon to be the poster child for these changes, even if his case is no different in form than that of Abraham Almonte, Cameron Maybin, or David Rollins. Expect emotion, rather than logic, to lead the coming debate.

And That Happened: Thursdays scores and highlights

Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Arodys Vizcaino, right, is congratulated by catcher Tyler Flowers after earning a save during a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston, Thursday, April 28, 2016. The Braves defeated the Red Sox 5-3. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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Gonna mail this one in this morning. Partially because of the light slate of games yesterday, partially because of a late night for me but mostly because of the Dee Gordon news which has me thinking of a lot of other things I want to write about this AM.

It’s worth noting that the Braves won a game. It comes just ahead of a series at Wrigley against the Cubs, so the winning streak will likely last a single day, but the 2016 Braves have to take what they can get.

The Marlins had a notable night outside the Gordon news too, finishing off a sweep of the Dodgers, which had to make Don Mattingly happy. For what it’s worth, Gordon singled in a run and then came around to score in the seventh. His RBI tied it and the run he scored ended up being the one necessary for the Marlins’ margin of victory. That means nothing, but you know some jackwagons are gonna make a big deal out of that and I figured I’d get ahead of the jackwagons and note that, yes, Gordon and the Marlins knew what was coming before it was announced because that’s how the appeals process works, but no, it makes no difference, because that’s how the appeals process works.

Anyway: Here are the rest of the scores:

Tigers 7, Athletics 3
Cubs 7, Brewers 2
Phillies 3, Nationals 0
Orioles 10, White Sox 2
Braves 5, Red Sox 3
Diamondbacks 3, Cardinals 0
Marlins 5, Dodgers 3
Pirates vs. Rockies — POSTPONED
: In the early morning rain with a dollar in my hand. And an aching in my heart, and my pockets full of sand. I’m a long way from home, and I miss my loved one so. In the early morning rain with no place to go.

Marlins 2B Dee Gordon suspended 80 games for PEDs

deegordon
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LOS ANGELES — Dee Gordon has been suspended 80 games by Major League Baseball after the Miami Marlins second baseman tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

Gordon tested positive for exogenous Testosterone and Clostebol, MLB said in a release after the Marlins’ 5-3 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday night.

The fleet-footed Gordon won the National League batting title by hitting .333 last season and signed a $50 million, 5-year deal with Miami in January. He’s made two All-Star teams in his six seasons and won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards at second base last year.

Gordon, the son of former major league pitcher Tom Gordon, had a key hit in Miami’s win over the Dodgers on Thursday. He’s batting .266 with six stolen bases this season.

Dee Gordon is a very important part of our team, and we all love him and support him,” Marlins president David Samson said. “That said, I don’t like or condone what he did. He is an important member of this organization and will be for many years to come. It’s a huge, huge disappointment to the kids, to our fans, to his teammates and to everyone in our organization every single day.

“He will be back 80 games from now, and he will be welcomed back to this organization. But in the interim period, we expect him, and we are positive that he will do everything that’s necessary to make it up to his fans, to his teammates and to this organization.”

Devon Travis will start taking at-bats in extended spring training

Toronto Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis hits a RBI double to center field against the Tampa Bay Rays during third inning of a baseball game, Wednesday, April 15, 2015 in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)  MANDATORY CREDIT
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis underwent left shoulder surgery last September. MLB.com’s Gregor Chisholm caught up with Jays head athletic trainer George Poulis for updates on several injured players, including Travis. Here’s what Poulis had to say about Travis:

“He’s going to get some live at-bats with the extended team down in Florida on Friday. Big step for him, he’s very excited, he’s doing great, and we’re very optimistic, but no timeline right now on his return. We’re just going day by day, step by step.

“When you have something like that, it continues to heal even when you’re playing. We’re just trying to acclimate him and condition him to withstand all of the stress that he’s going to put on his shoulder … He won’t play in the field right now. We’ll mix that in, as well, but right now he’s just going to get some at-bats.”

The key phrase, of course, is “no timetable”. The second baseman’s rehab has gone slower than expected. Getting into some extended spring training games, though, signals progress.

Travis, 25, broke out last season, hitting .304/.361/.498 with eight home runs and 35 RBI in 239 plate appearances last season. The Jays have had Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney handle second base duties this year, but their aggregate .560 OPS is the worst mark in the American League.