REPORT: Baseball’s updated drug program to include better testing, 80-game suspensions for first offenses

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It used to be that when baseball did things with its drug program, the league was accused of merely being reactive in an effort to calm down P.R. problems. If baseball had merely jacked up penalties for drug offenses — which they are reportedly doing — one might arguably say that’s what MLB was doing here, as a reaction to Biogenesis stuff. But, according to this Bob Nightengale report — from an unnamed source, so the specifics could still change — that’s not all they’re doing:

The new agreement will not only increase the drug penalties, but also implement widespread carbon isotope testing, the official said, hoping to dramatically increase the detection of a synthetic testosterone.

That’s a big deal, because the biggest problem with the Biogenesis thing wasn’t that it was somehow different or more insidious than your usual run-of-the-mill cheating, it’s that MLB didn’t catch the guys without help of an alternative newspaper in Miami. If MLB catches A-Rod on a drug test in 2012, it’s a totally different situation. Other players involved in Biogenesis may stop using. A protracted dispute about the length of penalties is not had and that arbitration from last year doesn’t exist. Toughening the testing and not letting players who use PEDs feel like they can get away with it is essential to cutting down on PED use.

But of course, increased penalties are part of the system too:

The official said first-time offenses will be 80 games, an increase from 50, and a second offense will be for an entire 162-game season instead of 100 games. There will be a lifetime suspension for a third offense.

I have no problem with this. It’s what the players want, and that’s the most important thing. It isn’t terribly draconian yet it does raise the stakes. Most importantly, there have been reports that there will be safeguards in place for players who can show that they inadvertently took a PED, so the situation that is most worrisome — a guy’s career being put at risk for an honest mistake — is off the table.

Interesting times for what many consider to be U.S. sports’ strongest drug program.

Steven Matz likely to start season on DL; Zack Wheeler to adhere to innings limit

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Mets manager Terry Collins said on Wednesday, “It’s unlikely that [Steven Matz] will start the season with us.” The final spot in the Mets’ starting rotation will go to either Zack Wheeler or Seth Lugo, Newsday’s Marc Carig reports.

On Wheeler’s innings limit, assistant GM John Ricco said, “There’s going to be some number but we don’t exactly know what that is.” Wheeler missed the last two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Neither Wheeler nor Lugo have had terrific springs as each carries a 5.11 and 5.56 Grapefruit League ERA, respectively. However, Carig notes that Wheeler has impressed simply by appearing healthy and brandishing a fastball that once again sits in the mid- to high-90’s. Lugo, meanwhile, proved crucial to the Mets last year, posting a 2.67 ERA across eight starts and nine relief appearances.

Rockies sign 30-year lease to stay in Coors Field

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Nick Groke of the Denver Post reports that the Rockies agreed to a $200 million, 30-year lease with the Metropolitan Baseball Stadium District, which is the state division that owns Coors Field. As part of the deal, the Rockies will lease and develop a plot of land south of the stadium, which will cost the team $125 million for 99 years.

As Groke points out, had the Rockies not reached a deal by Thursday, March 30, the lease would have rolled over for five more years.

Rockies owner Dick Monfort issued a statement, saying, “We are proud that Coors Field will continue to be a vital part of a vibrant city, drawing fans from near and far and making our Colorado residents proud.”

The Rockies moved into Coors Field in 1995. It is the National League’s third oldest stadium. In that span of time, the Rockies have made the playoffs three times, the last coming in 2009 when they lost in the NLDS to the Phillies. The Rockies were swept in the 2007 World Series by the Red Sox.