Doping experts would prefer to give athletes lenient punishment in exchange for information

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After the Mitchell Report came out, I argued that maybe baseball would have been better served if it had used such opportunities and efforts to learn about players’ doping habits, suppliers and incentives rather than merely produce a list of players for the media to tear apart and which the league itself could hold up to show just how much it was doing.

Back when the Biogenesis stuff hit I similarly argued that  baseball would maybe be better served to talk to the players involved and cut deals in exchange for information about what could be a big drug pipeline into the sport. To stop treating the users as 100% of the problem and actually look to the dealers and others as a means of actually stopping the drug problem rather than merely (ineffectually) policing it.

Most people call me a crazy, druggie-loving apologist when I say stuff like that.

Know who else is saying stuff like that? People on the vanguard of anti-doping efforts. From Pacific Standard:

Anti-doping officials have learned that drug testing cannot catch the most sophisticated cheaters. Marion Jones passed over 160 drug tests; Lance Armstrong passed even more. Incentivizing athletes to become informants, as Gay did, has become a critical component of enforcement. According to people familiar with the Gay investigation, the sprinter told investigators that his former coach Jon Drummond, a gold medalist and chair of USA Track and Field’s Athletes Advisory Committee, encouraged his use of the banned products and transported them for him. They said that Gay also gave information about the chiropractor, as well as NFL players and other track athletes he believes were using the same or similar products.

Gay’s seemingly light punishment, anti-doping officials say, will ultimately serve the greater good, because intelligence gathering accomplishes what drug-testing never will.

If you want to solve a problem, go to its root. If that means losing out on the opportunity to put a big famous person on public trial to make an example out of him, well, maybe that’s a price worth paying.

Of course, I don’t think baseball, its players or its fans will accept that. We get too much joy out of looking tough and there is too little reward, apparently, for actually being effective.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.