MLB, MLBPA announce stronger testing, harsher penalties for PEDs

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In the wake of the Biogenesis scandal and Alex Rodriguez’s subsequent 162-game suspension, Major League Baseball and many of its players have called for tougher drug testing and harsher suspensions for violations of baseball’s drug policy.

They just got it.

Major League Baseball and the MLBPA have announced that they have reached agreement on changes to the drug testing program which enhance testing procedures and increase penalties for taking PEDs.

The enhanced testing procedures

  • The number of in-season random urine collections will more than double beginning in the 2014 season, from 1,400 total tests to to 3,200;
  • Blood collections for hGH detection will increase to 400 random collections per year, in addition to the 1,200 mandatory collections conducted during Spring Training;
  • Carbon Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry tests will be randomly performed on at least one specimen from every player. Basically, this is an enhanced analysis of blood samples which are considered more effective in detecting hGH in blood and are tests endorsed by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

The enhanced punishment

  • A first-time violation of the Joint Drug Program will now result in an unpaid 80-game suspension, increased from 50 games.  A player’s second violation will result in an unpaid 162-game suspension, increased from 100 games.  A third violation will result in a permanent suspension from Baseball.
  • A suspension of 162 games will result in 183 days worth of pay docking, to account for the fact that players are paid baed on a 183-day schedule as opposed to being paid per game. This was implemented in reaction to Alex Rodriguez still receiving some pay this year despite a 162-game ban.
  • Every Player whose suspension for a performance-enhancing substance is upheld will be subject to six additional unannounced urine collections, and three additional unannounced blood collections, during every subsequent year of his entire career.

MORE: To read the full summary of the MLB-MLBPA joint drug program modifications, click here

There are also some advantages to players under the new system. Specifically, if a player tests positive, he can argue to an arbitrator that his use of PEDs was not intended to enhance performance. This changes things from the “zero tolerance” policy which previously existed and under which someone faced first-time discipline even if their PED use was accidental.

Additionally, the league and the union are creating a safe harbor of sorts: they have established a program in which players will have year-round access to supplements that will not cause a positive test result. This should reduce confusion on banned over-the-counter substances and reduce the use of the “I got this from GNC and thought it was OK” defense many have raised in the past.

Many anti-doping experts already viewed Major League Baseball as having the toughest drug testing regime in all of U.S. team sports. This only increases baseball’s lead in this regard.

It does, however, present some reasons for concern. As we at HBT argued this morning, the playoff ban for those players who tested positive and have already served their entire suspensions seems somewhat draconian and will result in harsher penalties for players on winning teams than those on losing teams. It also punishes innocent players on playoff teams in ways the previous system did not before. Moreover, merely adding games to first and second offenses may make everyone feel like the system is tougher, but it must not be assumed that the same basic incentive to cheat — if a player can get away with it, it could mean millions of dollars — will always persist. We execute murderers yet murder still occurs.

At the same time, the strengthening of the drug testing procedures and the implementation of the supplement supplies is most welcome. If the players in the Biogenesis investigation had been caught via testing, no one would have thought of that episode in baseball as a particularly black mark and a year’s worth of bad publicity and litigation would not have been necessary. The best way to cut down on PED use in baseball is to catch the guys who cheat, not to try to make up for testing failures with harsh rhetoric and tactics after the holes in the drug testing system are exposed.

Either way, this is a significant increase in the strength of the drug testing program and will likely be met with overwhelming praise by players, fans, the media and the clubs.

Report: Christian Yelich’s relationship with Marlins ‘irretrievably broken’

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Joe Longo, the agent of Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich, said his client’s relationship with the Marlins is “irretrievably broken,” ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports. He believes in the best interest of both Yelich and the Marlins to work out a trade before the start of spring training.

Longo said,

They have a plan. I respect that plan, but that plan shouldn’t include Christian at this point in his career. He’s in the middle of the best years of his career, and having him be part of a 100-loss season is not really where [we] want to see him going.

The relationship between player and team is irretrievably broken. It’s soured. He’s part of the old ownership regime. The new ownership regime needs to get new parts into this plan and move forward, and he needs to get on with his career where he’s got a chance to win. The big issue is him winning and winning now.

He loves the city of Miami. He loves the fans. He’s had nothing but a good experience in South Florida, and he feels sorry where they ended up. But I think having him report [to spring training] and attempting to include him moving forward is going to be uncomfortable for both sides. I don’t see how it’s going to work.

This certainly comes as no surprise considering the offseason the Marlins have had after installing new ownership, going from Jeffrey Loria to Bruce Sherman and Derek Jeter. The club traded All-Star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton, who hit 59 home runs last season, as well as Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna. As Crasnick notes, Yelich isn’t the only player to express disappointment with the Marlins’ current direction — J.T. Realmuto and Starlin Castro have as well.

Yelich, 26, signed a seven-year, $49.57 million contract extension with the Marlins in March of 2015. Given his career performance, that’s a bargain of a contract, which is why more than a handful of teams have inquired with the Marlins about him this offseason. Yelich finished the past season with a .282/.369/.439 triple-slash line along with 18 home runs, 81 RBI, 100 runs scored, and 16 stolen bases in 695 plate appearances.