Today’s decision punishes A-Rod, but it also gives Bud Selig new power

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I think the most interesting thing about Alex Rodriguez’s suspension is that curious number of games: 162. It’s such a great number. It matches up so perfectly with a major league baseball season! I thought Ryan Braun’s suspension was interesting too: 65 games. When, as a matter of pure coincidence, I’m sure, the Milwaukee Brewers had 65 games left on their schedule. How neat that is!

It’s almost as if we now have a new matrix for drug suspensions:

  • First offense: 50 games
  • Second offense: 100 games
  • Third offense: lifetime ban
  • Offense by a guy who REALLY makes us look bad and we want to hammer: Until the end of the year, how ever many games that may be.

Which, however satisfying that may be — who doesn’t want A-Rod to just be gone for a season at this point? — is a departure from what Major League Baseball has done with suspensions in the past. Until Braun and now A-Rod, suspensions were for a set number of games, agreed-to beforehand in the Joint Drug Agreement. It was automatic, not a matter of personal judgment by Bud Selig or an arbitrator. We’re in new territory here.

The explanation I’ve seen from some on this — particularly Tom Verducci, but others have said it as well — is that the odd, convenient number of games is because the enforcement action was not based on testing, it was based on non-analytic information (Tony Bosch and the Biogenesis documents) and that when we’re in non-analytic land, the Commissioner has discretion.

Except that is not at all clear from either the terms of the CBA or the JDA. It’s apparently what Bud Selig asserted and, presumably, it’s a position the arbitrator validated in the A-Rod arbitration. But we don’t know, because his decision is sealed. I wonder if, given how much time A-Rod’s lawyers seemed to spend on claiming the existence of a vast conspiracy against their client, they bothered to spend much time arguing that point of the Commissioner’s authority. If they didn’t, that’s pretty awful lawyering.

In any event, that’s basically the effect of this ruling: a big grant of power to Bud Selig to exceed the penalties set forth in the JDA in cases that don’t involve a positive test. A power that, for whatever reason, he decided not to use for Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and all of the other Biogenesis players, but I suppose that’s convenient too. And, perversely, a power he would not have if the drug testing system he has put in place would have caught these players before we heard about it in the Miami New-Times. Indeed, the failure of the drug testing system worked to Selig’s benefit, which is kind of crazy itself if you think about.

But that’s neither here nor there. The real takeaway here is that Selig now has power in the drug enforcement world he didn’t have before and which he did not obtain via negotiation with the union. He obtained it by simply asserting it and seeing if he could make it stick.  He made it stick.

It’l be interesting to see if the union, under new leader Tony Clark, is going to make this an issue when the new CBA is negotiated or if they’re going to let Selig’s grab for power– his quite successful grab — stand.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.