MLB responds to Ryan Braun, asserts that testing program is not “fatally flawed”

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Ryan Braun held a press conference earlier this afternoon, during which he said that “the system as it was applied to me in this case was fatally flawed.”

Not surprisingly, MLB wasn’t too thrilled with how Braun characterized the program.

Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive VP of labor relations, released the following statement late this afternoon, saying that the collector handled Braun’s urine sample in “professional and appropriate manner” and that the current testing program is not “fatally flawed.” He also denied that the leak of Braun’s positive drug test came from the commissioner’s office.

“Major League Baseball runs the highest quality drug testing program of any professional sports organization in the world.  It is a joint program, administered by an independent program administrator selected by the Commissioner’s Office and the MLBPA.

“With regards to the breach of confidentiality regarding this case, both the Commissioner’s Office and the MLBPA have investigated the original leak of Ryan Braun’s test, and we are convinced that the leak did not come from the Commissioner’s Office.

“The extremely experienced collector in Mr. Braun’s case acted in a professional and appropriate manner.  He handled Mr. Braun’s sample consistent with instructions issued by our jointly retained collection agency. The Arbitrator found that those instructions were not consistent with certain language in our program, even though the instructions were identical to those used by many other drug programs – including the other professional sports and the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“Our program is not ‘fatally flawed.’  Changes will be made promptly to clarify the instructions provided to collectors regarding when samples should be delivered to FedEx based on the arbitrator’s decision.  Neither Mr. Braun nor the MLBPA contended in the grievance that his sample had been tampered with or produced any evidence of tampering.”

And here’s a statement from MLBPA executive director Michael Weiner, also in response to Braun’s comments:

“Our Joint Drug Program stands as strong, as accurate and as reliable as any in sport, both before and after the Braun decision. The breach of confidentiality associated with this matter is unfortunate but, after investigation, we are confident that it was not caused by the Commissioner’s Office, the MLBPA or anyone associated in any way with the Program. In all other respects, the appeals process worked as designed; the matter was vigorously contested and the independent and neutral arbitrator issued a decision deserving of respect by both bargaining parties.

“As has happened several times before with other matters, this case has focused the parties’ attention on an aspect of our Program that can be improved. After discussions with the Commissioner’s Office, we are confident that all collections going forward will follow the parties’ agreed-upon rules.”

And we’re already getting some word on what one of those changes might look like. Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports is hearing that the MLB and the MLBPA have decided that collectors will now drop specimens at Fed-Ex locations, even when shipping hours have expired. See, everything’s cool now. Nothing left to talk about.

The Padres owners try to explain why they aren’t spending money

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There was an interesting article in the San Diego Union-Tribune over the weekend about the Padres, their owners and their finances.

The article purports to be a rare look into the finances of a big league club. And yes, the owners opened their books, to a degree, to the writer of the story, talked about the team’s financial position, its debt and its approach to team payroll, past, present and future. The upshot: the team has had lots of debt, has had to do a lot of work to get out of that situation and now, with some restructuring out of the way, the club looks forward to spending more on players. Eventually. Like, maybe in 2020 or 2021.

On the one hand, yes, it’s actually got some good information in there! Some details about team finances you don’t often see. Which is totally cool as far as that goes. The problem is that the article doesn’t go nearly as far as it may seem and, in the end, is just a far more elaborate than usual excuse from a team about its failure to spend money.

The tell here comes from what is not mentioned as opposed to what is. For example, while it talks about how much is being spent on various things — baseball salaries, operating, marketing, etc. — nowhere does it talk about the owners’ own take. Rather, it leaves you with the impression that the owners haven’t seen a dime from the team in the several years that they’ve owned it. Color me extraordinarily skeptical about that. As we’ve seen with other clubs — most notably the Marlins, but most do it — broad categories such as “baseball operations” or “non baseball operations” often include substantial payments to owners in less-than-obvious line items. Payments to LLCs and partnerships for “consulting” or “management fees” or what have you. Do the Padres have similar expenditures? We can’t tell from this article, but it’s telling to me that they have spent about as much on front office/miscellaneous baseball ops stuff as player salaries over the past several years. A lot of that has been at building a strong minor league development system, but I’m guessing not all.

Similarly, there is an awfully large portion of the article aimed at telling the tale of the clubs’ massive debt and its restructuring. Yes, debt service can be a killer for liquidity, but it doesn’t really talk too much about the debt for its own sake. Such as the fact that (a) the current owners knew full-well of the debt they were inheriting from the previous owner, John Moores, when they bought the team; and (b) that by assuming the debt, their purchase price for the team was lowered, as it always will be in transactions that involve a lot of debt-assumption. The current owners have had the team since 2012. I don’t recall them telling the public then that there would be a near decade’s worth of swimming against the current of debt before they started paying for players. That’s never been in the season ticket brochure.

It’s also worth noting that, for as much as the debt restructuring is talked up in the story, it is saving the Padres only $8 million a year. They’ve been at least $60 million below the luxury tax threshold for several years now. It’s more than the club’s debt keeping them from spending money. It’s largely been a choice.

Again, none of which is to say that the article is not interesting in its own right. It certainly is. There is certainly more information here than one typically sees in an article about a team’s finances. But it is just partial information. Moreover, it seems to be aimed at justifying another year or two of non-contention to fans without satisfactorily explaining all of the many years of non-contention which preceded it. The Padres famously went all-in and spent some money on players in 2015. Why did that make sense then if this debt problem has been there all along? Why did they give Eric Hosmer over $100 million last year? The article wants to portray ownership as sober and responsible and prudent and use that to explain why the Padres have stunk on ice for a good long time, but it is not very convincing in communicating some consistent, rational thread from ownership.

That all of this comes at a time when clubs are being criticized for not spending money is no accident, I suspect. As such, I am choosing to read the piece for some interesting information it conveys while understanding that it has a pretty significant P.R. component to it as well.