braun getty

2013 Preview: Why Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and other big stars could face suspension this season


As we approach Opening Day, HarballTalk will be spending the next few days previewing all 30 teams, all six division races and looking ahead at the major issues and storylines which will impact the 2013 season. This morning we look at the Biogenesis scandal, which could lead to the suspension of several high-profile players.

Some of baseball’s biggest stars including Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez, Nelson Cruz, Gio Gonzalez, Yasmani Grandal, Bartolo Colon and many, many more enter the 2013 season under a cloud. Or a threat, if you will.  The threat of suspension for their association with a now-closed Miami clinic called Biogenesis, which is alleged to have supplied these players and as many as 90 more with testosterone, human growth hormone and other performance enhancing drugs which violate baseball’s rules against performance enhancing drugs. It is unknown if those suspensions will come. It is unknown when. But all teams with a player named in the documents of the Biogenesis clinic face uncertainty as Opening Day approaches.

The Biogenesis news broke in late January, when it was reported by multiple outlets that Major League Baseball was investigating the clinic and its operator, Anthony Bosch, under the suspicion that the clinic represented “ground zero” for performance enhancing drugs in Florida, where a disproportionate number of major leaguers grew up, played amateur and college baseball or where they currently make their offseason homes. On January 29, the Miami New Times obtained and published a large portion of the Biogenesis clinic’s records which contained the names of several major leaguers accompanied in many cases by notations which suggested that the players were given performance enhancing drugs. The documents were not conclusive of any player’s use and, in some cases — like with Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez — no connection could be found between the player and any substances which are banned by Major League Baseball.

source: APImmediately after the Miami New Times report came out all of the players involved either denied any involvement with Biogenesis whatsoever or denied that they obtained banned substances.  For example, Gonzalez claims that his father was a patient of Anthony Bosch’s. Ryan Braun claims that his attorneys used Bosch as a consultant in his successful 2012 appeal of his PED suspension. Despite the denials, the report and the documents set off a media firestorm which caused Major League Baseball to step up its investigation of the players named therein.

The biggest problem: Major League Baseball doesn’t actually have the Biogenesis documents. The Miami New Times and other media outlets which have seen all or part of them are unwilling to share them with the league and, at present, Anthony Bosch is nowhere to be found.  Last Friday Major League Baseball sued Biogenesis in an effort to obtain the documents, but it is not at all clear that they have any viable legal claims against the clinic. More significantly, many doubt that the original documents still exist at all.

What is clear is that Major League Baseball is stopping at nothing to investigate the matter with a clear eye towards suspending the players named in the clinic’s records if at all possible.  MLB is reported to be particularly interested in suspending 2011 NL MVP Braun, who they see as having evaded justice in prevailing on his appeal last year and Rodriguez who many in baseball believe lied to MLB investigators in 2009 when he admitted to past, but not present drug use.

MORE: The Rise and Fall of Alex Rodriguez

source: APCan Major League Baseball suspend these players without a positive drug test? Yes, it can. Pursuant to the Joint Drug Agreement which governs these matters, baseball can suspend players for “just cause” if there is non-clinical evidence suggesting that they have used performance enhancing drugs. Most believe that conclusive documentary evidence of past use, as may appear in the Biogenesis records, would provide such grounds. Baseball’s inability to obtain these records, however, is preventing almost all action at present. So far, all baseball has been able to do is to suspend one minor leaguer  — who happens to have been a college teammate and who is still a close friend of Braun’s — who was implicated based on the league’s belief that he was not cooperative when questioned. Major league players have not yet been questioned, but they almost certainly will be.  They will have greater legal and union protections from discipline than their minor league counterparts, however.

That’s where we are as the season dawns. Several players, including two former MVPs, in the crosshairs of a Major League Baseball investigation, the outcome of which and endpoint of is uncertain. At literally any time between today and, well, forever, baseball could suspend Braun, Rodriguez, Gonzalez, Cruz or any of players named in the Biogenesis documents for 50 games.

To put that in context, the most big leaguers Major League Baseball has ever suspended in a season for performance enhancing drugs is six, which occurred last year.  In most years it’s two or three.  Now dozens upon dozens of players may face a 50-game suspension for a first offense of the Joint Drug Agreement, with some facing 100-game suspensions for a second offense. Suspensions of this magnitude could conceivably tip the pennant races. And for that reason, even if you don’t care a lick about performance enhancing drugs in baseball, the Biogenesis matter is worth watching.

MORE: Team-by-team previews for 2013

2013 Preview: New York Yankees

Derel Jeter

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The New York Yankees.

The Big Question: Is the Jeter Dynasty over?

People used to predict the end of the Jeter/Rivera/whoever dynasty every year. Then they won another World Series in 2009. Then they resumed predicting the end of the dynasty. Then the Yankees won 95, 97 and 95 games and went to the playoffs a three more times. Now here we are back again.  If I had a dime for every time a New York columnist claimed that this is 1965 redux and that we’re in for a decade of the Yankees in the wilderness, well, with apologies to Slim Pickens for mangling his quote, I’d have a bunch of dimes.

This year, however, there is way more ammo for the doomsayers. Because of the front office’s seeming obsession to get the 2014 payroll under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million, Brian Cashman was apparently constrained from signing or re-signing guys who would help the 2013 Yankees a lot.  Gone are Russell Martin and, in his place is, well, no one nearly as good as Russell Martin. Gone is Nick Swisher who woulda been nice to have as it was, but who would have been REALLY nice to have now that Mark Teixeira is injured. Gone is Eric Chavez who was pretty darn useful last year and would have helped cover for Alex Rodiguez’s extended absence.  And of course there are all of the injuries: Jeter, Teixeira, Granderson, Rodriguez. It’s kind of a mess at the moment.

Yet despite all of that I can’t bring myself to join the doomsayers.  Yes, it’s gonna be a tough year. Especially for the first couple of months as so much of the Bombers’ firepower is going to be on the shelf.  But what I said in the Blue Jays’ preview still holds true: there is no alpha team in the AL East. The Yankees, though diminished, are going to look a lot more like the Yankees come June than they seem now, and as long as no one has run away with the division or as long as the AL’s two wild card leaders aren’t themselves some 95-win juggernauts, you can’t count the Yankees out. You can never count them out, many of us have learned to our annoyance, because even when diminished they are talented.

I’ll believe the Jeter dynasty is over the moment Derek Jeter stops playing baseball. I’ll believe the Yankees are through being competitive the moment they end a season with, say, 80 losses and are surrounded by drama and strife.  Until then I’ll realize that this was a 95-win team last year and that they still have just as good a chance to come out of this division as anyone, even if the downside — Last place? A sub-.500 record? Armageddon? — seems a lot more likely this year than it has in any year since, oh, 1992 or so.

So what else is going on?

  • Part of the reason you can’t count the Yankees out is something that no one really talks about a lot lately: the pitching.  CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda are a pretty good 1-2-3 punch. Yes there are questions — Pettitte and Kuroda have to age eventually and this year could be it — but it’s not hard to see those three pitching pretty well in 2013 either. The back end is a lot sketchier — David Phelps, Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova are either injury or performance risks — but there isn’t a black hole here. The likes of Jonathan Sanchez and Aaron Cook aren’t walking in that door, thank God.
  • Also, while the offseason additions weren’t inspiring, there is certainly upside. Kevin Youkilis is not what he was but he’s still capable of a bounceback season. Travis Hafner’s power from the left side is tailor made for Yankee Stadium. I don’t think that Ichiro Suzuki is gonna replicate his post-trade numbers from last season and the less said about the Vernon Wells acquisition the better, but it’s not like Brian Cashman sat in his office and looked at lolcats all winter.
  • Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter’s injuries get more press, but the Yankees need Curtis Granderson back before anyone. He didn’t look at lolcats all winter, but Brian Cashman’s outfield acquisitions make my head hurt. Wells, Brennan Boesch, Juan Rivera and Ben Francisco are no saviors. For the Yankees to have a punchers’ chance they need Granderson’s power back in the lineup and they need to limit their lineup holes to catcher and, until Mark Teixeira comes back, first base.
  • Mariano Rivera’s last hurrah is going to be sad to see. We’ve been in the presence of greatness for many years and often took it for granted. I’m sure someone has figured out how many different dudes held full time closer jobs since Rivera took over ninth inning duties for the Yankees. The number has to be huge. The worst part about Rivera leaving, however, will come if the Yankees are out of it come September. Because you just know the wannabe Roger Angells who work for the tabloids are gonna pen the most hamfisted quasi-poetic tributes you’ve ever seen, equating the Yankees’ demise with the end of Rivera’s career.  Actually, I kinda want this to happen. Bad prose is awful, but truly wretched prose can be sublime in its own twisted way.

So how are they gonna do?

More AL East bet-hedging. I could see first place or last place or anyplace in between. For now let’s call them Third Place, American League East, but don’t give me any “ah-has!” if they’re in the playoffs again. Because I’m one of the few people not burying these guys at the moment, and could easily see them make the playoffs again.

2013 Preview: Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles' Johnson pitches against the Boston Red Sox during a MLB spring training baseball game in Sarasota, Florida

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Baltimore Orioles.

The Big Question: Was last season a fluke?

Wanna make an Orioles fan mad? Tell them that the Orioles got lucky in 2012. Tell them that winning all of those one-run and extra innings games was fluky and rare. Cite their pythagorean record (82-80) and say that it was way more reflective of team quality than their actual record (93-69). Tell them that their — well, let’s call it good fortune for now — in close games was unprecedented in recent baseball history and, as such, it is not something that can be expected to be repeated in 2013.  Hoo-boy, they get rather perturbed at that!

Thing is, it wasn’t just dumb luck as in “wow, how the hell did that happen?” luck. Winning so many tight games was mostly a function of the bullpen. Jim Johnson, Darren O’Day, Pedro Strop, Troy Patton and Luis Ayala all managed to have great seasons at once, and Buck Showalter was damn nigh masterful at deciding when to put them into games. That actually happened, without supernatural interference. But it’s also something that, historically, isn’t easy to replicate.

Which isn’t to say that the bullpen will be bad this year. It’s a very good bullpen. But things change from year to year. Guys who had big workloads in one year like Johnson don’t alway maintain their mojo. Pitchers who have been hurt before, like Darren O’Day, can get hurt again. No team in baseball history has ever had everything go right one year and then have all those same things go right the next year. It just doesn’t work that way.

So maybe the real question isn’t whether last season was a fluke. Last season happened and it nothing will ever take that away. But without even getting into the question of luck, one must acknowledge that what occurred last season as far as dominant bullpen work in addition to a few fortunate bounces here or there, is unlikely to occur this season or, at the very least, is not something one can count on with any amount of certainty in March.  If the Orioles are to make the playoffs again, they’ll have to improve in some other areas, anticipating that they’ll regress in the one area where the exceeded any reasonable expectations in 2012.

So what else is going on?

  • All of that talk about the luck of the Orioles and, particularly, their pythagorean record, obscures the fact that the team changed incrementally over the course of 2012 and the version we saw later in the season was legitimately good, not just lucky. Calling up Manny Machado and getting an unexpectedly good performance from Nate McLouth were sub-headline news items which nonetheless contributed to a team that did outscore its opposition late in the season. It seems, based on the very quiet offseason, that Dan Duquette and Showalter continue to treat the O’s as a work in progress which is better to be tinkered with than overhauled. This gives a lot of O’s fans pause, of course, but it seems smart given how uncertain the AL East is right now.
  • The bullpen was an obvious strength last year, and part of the reason it had to be was that the rotation was not one. Wins don’t matter a heck of a lot, but only one starter won ten games or more last season, and that’s just kinda odd for a playoff team. Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez and … Jair Jurrjens? Jake Arrieta? Field? Aren’t gonna scare anyone. A couple of someones in that group need to pick up the slack from the bullpen this year. I know many will clamor for Dylan Bundy to come in and save everyone, but it’d be a surprise to see him in the majors before September if he appears in the bigs at all this season. He’s really a 2014 guy, methinks.
  • The offense has some nice top-end-for-their-position talent in Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy and Matt Weiters, but it’s not an especially deep and potent group. Nick Markakis is healthy again and the O’s need him to return to his old form. A full season of Brian Roberts would be nice, but after so much time lost it’s hard to count on him being the Brian Roberts of old. Manny Machado has a ton of potential and a lot of room for improvement, but he’s still a baby. There’s a decent chance that Chris Davis and Nate McLouth remember that they are Chris Davis and Nate McLouth and do not replicate their second half production this year. In other words, the offense is a mixed bag.
  • Wilson Betemit got hurt on Monday and is going to miss at least the first two months of the season. The O’s will miss his production — he hit .302/.357/.502 with 10 homers in 255 at bats against right-handed pitching last season — but it’s worth remembering that he missed most of the end of last season and all of the postseason too, so Baltimore is not in uncharted waters here.

So how are they gonna do?

Like anyone else in this crazy division I could see them winning it all or see them finishing fifth. Sorry, I know that’s a copout, but that’s where the AL East is right now. We’ll call them: Fifth Place, American League East, but please don’t think of that as some sort of damnation. I just say that because Matthew already did the Red Sox and Rays and predicted them fourth and second, respectively, I did the Jays and picked them first, and I’m gonna do the Yankees and have a hard time picking them last ever. Take this preview for what comes before and consider the actual prediction to be the least committed prediction ever.