Report: Drug policy changes will bar players from postseason, even if they’ve served their suspensions

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Yesterday, when looking at reports of the changes to the Joint Drug Agreement, I said that the increased penalties and testing protocols didn’t seem draconian. The latest report on the changes could change my mind about that.

Christine Brennan reports that the policy — not yet finalized — will bar from the postseason any player who was disciplined for PED use during the regular season, even if the player has already served his suspension and has returned to action. Meaning that a first-time offender can receive an 80-game suspension in April, return to the team in late June, play for the team for the final three months of the season, and then still be ineligible for postseason play.

This, I feel, is extreme for two reasons. First, it crosses the line from a penalization of the player to a penalization of the team. Clean players’ chances to advance in the playoffs will potentially be harmed through no fault of their own and front offices, likewise blameless, will be forced to scramble to fill holes despite not having any ineligible players. This despite a drug violation that could be a year old or more.

Second, this penalty may serve as a defacto order that a player be released or hidden on the DL with fake injuries. Again, if the timing is just right, and a potential playoff team has a guy coming back from a first-time PED suspension, there will be a strong incentive to release the guy or trade him to non-contender or stash him on the disabled list in order to obtain roster space for players who won’t be ineligible for the playoffs. It’s a backdoor way to add uneven discipline (players on playoff teams will be punished more than players on losing teams), in the form of incentivizing roster chicanery.

If the players want this, well, no one can stop them. But by allowing drug discipline to bleed over into team construction issues is to surrender a good bit of power and job security. Two issues players fought for for decades separate and apart from the drug penalty context. It could serve as a Trojan Horse by which the owners can sneak into areas of labor relations long since settled by the union separate and apart from the drug penalty context. Why not add pension provisions to drug penalties? Have drug penalties affect service time and free agency? Maybe guys suspended for drugs will be forced to have different travel accommodations. All of that would certainly represent a get tough attitude on drug cheats.

And all of it, like this proposed playoff suspension, would serve to undermine decades of union gains for reasons that have almost nothing to do with labor relations.

Mets to move Matt Harvey to the bullpen

Matt Harvey
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Mets right-hander Matt Harvey is heading to the bullpen, according to comments made by club manager Mickey Callaway on Saturday. As predicted, Harvey doesn’t appear to be taking the news particularly well, going so far as to tell Callaway that the decision has him “at a 10 with being pissed off” and that he’s motivated to prove himself as a starter.

It’s been rough going for Harvey this spring. After missing significant time to a shoulder injury last season, the 29-year-old righty returned to the mound with a lot left to prove. He pitched to an 0-2 record in four starts, issuing 14 runs, four home runs and 17 strikeouts in 21 innings. It’s been a while since the Mets have seen anything better out of their starter — he hasn’t turned in a sub-4.00 ERA since 2015 and hasn’t pitched well enough to earn an All-Star berth since 2013 — and now it appears they’re at the end of their rope.

At this point, the Mets insist that the shift is a temporary one. While Callaway has helped successfully convert several starters to the bullpen, including Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco, that’s not the plan for this veteran right-hander. Instead, both the team and Harvey seem to view the change as a way to clear up any mental blocks Harvey may be encountering on the mound. “We know he’s healthy,” assistant GM John Ricco told reporters. “He’s feeling good. Then you get to, is this a little bit of a mental thing, a confidence thing? One of the things we talk about is getting him into the ‘pen, where he can have success in short spurts, get that confidence back and really let it go and get back to being a guy who can dominate the way he’s shown in the past.”

Harvey will be eligible to pitch out of the bullpen on Tuesday, when the Mets are scheduled to kick off their next road series against the Cardinals. As for his replacement, left-hander Jason Vargas will resume his role in the rotation when he comes off the disabled list next Saturday.