Think Braun is still dirty? Fine, but then at least admit you don’t care about drug testing

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After a night’s sleep and a couple hundred angry comments and emails, I think I’ve figured a couple of things out about the Ryan Braun reaction and people’s overall feelings about MLB’s drug testing program. Mostly, though, I’m just dumbfounded at the cynicism and intellectual dishonesty of so many who wish to ignore the arbitrator’s ruling and cast Braun as a PED-using villain regardless.

For years, people argued for Major League Baseball to adopt a rigorous testing regime. Why? To end the speculation. To stop the “is he using or isn’t he” parlor games.  Read every single column written about Jeff Bagwell’s Hall of Fame candidacy and you’ll find some variation of “but for so long there was no testing, so we just can’t know, and that uncertainty is horrible …” sentiment.

Now we have a testing program. And it’s amazing to me just how quickly the end product of that testing program — no suspension for Ryan Braun — is diminished or outright dismissed when results aren’t what people wanted.

I’m talking about those who don’t care that the procedures weren’t followed and say that they still don’t think Braun is clean, his name not cleared.  Sure, you’re allowed to think that if you want, but just understand that if you do — if “we still don’t think he’s clean” or “questions still remain” holds — then there is no purpose whatsoever to have a testing program in the first place. Because even with one in place, people will just assume what they want to assume regardless of the end product, and that’s no different than where we were in 1998.

The reason? Because no scientific protocol has legitimacy if only some parts of it are adhered to and others aren’t. When you go with testing, you go with everything. You can’t say that the preliminary test results matter and the chain of custody protocols don’t. It’s all of a piece.  It’s the entire process that lends drug testing its legitimacy, not just part of it.

But hey, if you still want to crap on Braun — if you still want to say “but his testosterone levels were high, so he’s suspect” or “MLB has egg on its face because the testing failed” — fine. Do so. It’s a free country.  But if you do so, admit that you do it because you simply don’t like the results here. And spare me any whining about the past, and about how Major League Baseball was so lax in testing for so many years before now.  Because as is evidenced by your Ryan Braun reactions, you wouldn’t have cared regardless.

Agent: Nick Senzel’s reassigment “egregious case of service time manipulation”

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Reds prospect Nick Senzel is ready for the majors. Although he battled injuries, the 23-year-old performed well with Triple-A Louisville last season, batting .310/.378/.509 with 20 extra-base hits, 25 RBI, 23 runs scored, and eight stolen bases in 193 plate appearances. Senzel has also performed well this spring, batting .308 across 39 at-bats.

The Reds, however, announced on Friday that Senzel was among a handful of players reassigned to minor league camp. Senzel was drafted as a third baseman, began playing second base last year, and had been playing in center field during spring training. The common thought is that the Reds, who have built a competitive roster, will keep Senzel at Triple-A to begin the season and call him up right after the club secures an extra year of contractual control.

Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Senzel’s agent Joel Wolfe calls Senzel’s reassignment an “egregious case of service time manipulation.” The full quote:

I don’t believe I’ve ever made public statements on this issue in my career, but I feel compelled to do so in this case where it feels like a simply egregious case of service time manipulation.

We are well aware of the mandate from ownership for the Reds to win this year — and this seems to fly in the face of it. The NL Central was decided by one game last year. Every game matters. This is a shortsighted move that may be frugal now but could cost them dearly later.

Nick Senzel is not a young prospect. He’s a major league-ready impact-type player. He has done everything they’ve asked this spring, including working hard to become a major league center fielder.

Nick takes pride in wearing the Reds uniform. He appreciates how much support he’s received from Reds fans. He’s going to go to Triple-A and prove every day he belongs in MLB.

We have covered the service time manipulation issue pretty extensively here, so Wolfe’s statement doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Prior to an injury, the Blue Jays were going to undeservingly stuff Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. — baseball’s No. 1 prospect — at Triple-A for the first two weeks or so of the season. The White Sox were going to do the same with Eloy Jiménez before using their leverage to nudge him into inking an extension. The Braves toyed with Ronald Acuña Jr.’s playing time last year. Kris Bryant and Maikel Franco filed respective grievances against the Cubs and Phillies for service time manipulation several years ago.

Team executives don’t outright admit to gaming a prospect’s service time to gain that extra year of control because that’s how one loses a grievance. They dance around the topic by making a nebulous claim, typically about the player’s defense needing to be worked on at Triple-A. That’s what the Cubs said about Bryant, and it’s what the Jays said about Guerrero. It’s a subjective enough evaluation that it can’t be falsified. It’s why the grievances that have been filed over this have fizzled out and it’s why more and more teams have brazenly joined the service time manipulation bandwagon.

Senzel’s case is, admittedly, a bit more murky. Though he performed well this spring, Scott Schebler has outperformed him, batting .379 with five extra-base hits and 11 walks in roughly 40 trips to the plate. The starting spot in right field is taken by Yasiel Puig and left field is taken by Jesse Winker. Schebler has ostensibly earned the starting job in center. I can’t imagine Wolfe having a compelling case if he were to file a grievance on Senzel’s behalf.

That being said, it is important that agents (and the MLBPA) speak out about this when they can. Senzel’s case may not be open-and-shut, but bringing service time manipulation into the public consciousness will have a lasting impact ahead of the December 2021 expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement. Holding team executives publicly accountable may make them less willing to manipulate their players’ service time going forward, as it may sour what could otherwise be a terrific relationship between team and player. Service time manipulation is an important piece of the labor puzzle and those on the players’ side have to seize whatever they can to potentially gain leverage. Awareness leads to solidarity.