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.

Mikie Mahtook is likely done for the season

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Tigers’ outfielder Mikie Mahtook is unlikely to play again this season, club manager Brad Ausmus announced Saturday. Mahtook was diagnosed with a Grade 2 left groin strain following Friday’s series opener against the Twins, when he appeared to injure himself after chasing down Byron Buxton‘s two-RBI double in the fourth.

This is the second time Mahtook has sustained a groin injury over the past month. The 27-year-old exited Friday’s game with a .276/.330/.457 batting line, 12 home runs and a .787 OPS through 379 plate appearances with the team.

With the Tigers out of contention, there’s no reason to trot out Mahtook for the remaining eight games of the regular season. The club has yet to specify a timetable for his return, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t be in fine shape to compete for a starting role next spring.

And That Happened: Friday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Friday’s scores and highlights:

Dodgers 4, Giants 2: The Dodgers had the NL West title in the bag on Friday, holding the Giants to two runs and taking the lead on Cody Bellinger‘s three-run blast in the third (an NL-best 39th home run, to boot). Feels like the Giants should get some extra credit for a ninth-inning Pablo Sandoval home run off of Kenley Jansen, but alas: they struck out thrice following the homer, leaving the Dodgers with the division title and their 98th win of the year. Next up: the Cubs, whose magic number sits at five heading into Saturday’s contest against the Brewers.

Cardinals 4, Pirates 3: The Cardinals kept things interesting in the NL wild card race, edging the Pirates to take the lead behind the Diamondbacks and Rockies as the first runner-up. Down 3-2 in the ninth, Jedd Gyorko pinch-hit the tying run with a one-out RBI single, while Dexter Fowler put the Cards ahead after Jordy Mercer failed to execute the double play.

Rays 8, Orioles 3: On the heels of Wilson Ramos‘ monster grand slam, Evan Longoria catapulted the Rays past a new milestone with his 19th home run of the season, a 353-foot solo shot that stretched just beyond the warning track in the third:

It marked the Rays’ 216th home run of 2017, tying their 2016 total for the most in club history. That’s a small consolation in light of their ever-dimming playoff chances, however, which haven’t improved at all since last Sunday. Friday’s win kept them five games back of a wild card spot, but the Twins appear to be in no rush to relinquish their playoff berth just yet.

Blue Jays 8, Yankees 1: The Yankees postponed their postseason clinch on Friday, unable to topple the Blue Jays with a single 469-foot swing from slugger Aaron Judge. The Blue Jays responded with an eight-run spread and some heads-up defense, including this tried-and-true trick:

Red Sox 5, Reds 4: David Price may not have entered the 2017 season with a bullpen role in mind, but he’s been nothing but dominant in two appearances so far. He pitched through another scoreless inning on Friday, fanning four batters in 2 2/3 innings as he helped preserve the Red Sox’ narrow lead over the Reds. Even better: he contributed a leadoff single in the seventh, his first hit of any kind since 2010.

“I liked hitting way more [than pitching],” Price told reporters after the game. “That was cool. I was due.”

Twins 7, Tigers 3: The Twins have a death grip on the second AL wild card spot. They chased Daniel Norris with a four-run lead on Friday for their second straight win, banking on home runs from Brian Dozier and Max Kepler and a three-hit performance from Byron Buxton. It all proved too overwhelming for the Tigers, who dropped their fifth straight contest and now carry a 2-8 record over their last 10 games.

Mets 7, Nationals 6: Dusty Baker enjoys home runs, but he likes runs more. The Nationals produced both in mass quantities this season, exiting Friday’s loss with a franchise-best 780 runs scored and 203 home runs. Adam Lind was the only National to go deep against the Mets in their series opener, riding a Robert Gsellman fastball for his 13th dinger of the season and helping set a new single-season club record in the process.

It wasn’t enough to overcome the Mets, however, who surged to a one-run lead after putting up a five-spot in the fifth.

Braves 7, Phillies 2: Sean Newcomb hasn’t had the smoothest transition to the majors, but he intends to finish his rookie season strong. He chipped away at the Phillies for 5 1/3 innings, recording two runs and five strikeouts as the offense built a five-run lead behind him. The Braves had a far easier time against fellow rookie starter Ben Lively, who gave up six consecutive hits to start the game:

White Sox 7, Royals 6: The playoffs are looking further and further away for the Royals, who dropped their series opener following Jason Hammel‘s worst start of the season. Hammel scattered seven runs over 3 1/3 innings — including a five-run spread in the fourth — and the Royals’ offense couldn’t quite recover, producing just five baserunners in six scoreless innings. On the plus side, at least Ned Yost is coming back next year?

Cubs 5, Brewers 4 (10 innings): The Cubs are still the clear favorites to clinch the NL Central, but they’ll need to stay on top of the Cardinals and Brewers this week to take their second consecutive division title. On Friday, they did just that, squeezing past the Brewers with a good old-fashioned go-ahead RBI walk.

The win might have been too close for comfort for Cubs’ skipper Joe Maddon, who told reporters he doesn’t feel like he’s in control of the division just yet. “Let’s go play [Saturday’s] game,” Maddon said. “I’m interested in one-game winning streaks. We’ve had two of them. I want another one-game winning streak [Saturday]. That’s how I look at it.”

Astros 3, Angels 0: For the first six innings, this had all the makings of a bonafide pitcher’s duel. Justin Verlander and Garrett Richards were in lockstep, dealing one hit and six strikeouts apiece as their respective offenses failed to manufacture any run support at the plate. That changed in the seventh, when Yuli Gurriel unloaded a three-run homer off of Yusmeiro Petit for the first and only runs scored of the night. While the Astros already have a guaranteed reservation in the playoffs, the Angels are still hoping to top the Twins and currently trail by 3.5 games.

Athletics 4, Rangers 1: Speaking of wild card contenders, the Rangers are also stalling at 3.5 games back of postseason contention. They couldn’t find a foothold against Kendall Graveman, who held them to a Shin-Soo Choo solo shot through seven solid innings. The A’s, meanwhile, are playing some of their best ball of the year after getting eliminated, and added Friday’s win to their second five-game tear this month.

Diamondbacks 13, Marlins 11: Zack Greinke doesn’t implode often, but when he does, Chris Iannetta is there to bail him out. At least, that’s how the narrative unfolded on Friday night, when Greinke was tagged for a season-high eight runs in four innings and Iannetta helped power the Dbacks’ comeback with three hits (including a three-run homer and a grand slam) and eight RBI. Fernando Rodney fended off a late-game rally from the Marlins in the ninth, closing the door with a game-ending force out to collect his 300th career save. The club’s magic number is two.

Mariners 3, Indians 1: It’s been exactly a week since the Indians lost their historic 22-win streak to the Royals, and on Friday, they commemorated that anniversary with another fumble. This time, the loss only snapped Cleveland’s modest five-win streak, but the Mariners still found a way to inject some ninth-inning drama:

Rockies 4, Padres 1: The Rockies aren’t taking any chances when it comes to the NL wild card race — and for good reason, as they’re clinging to a 1.5-game lead with eight still left to play. Jon Gray padded their wild card advantage with his third quality start of the month, going six strong as Nolan Arenado, Ian Desmond and Trevor Story backed his efforts with a handful of homers.