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

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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

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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Hi. Happy to back. Let’s recap, shall we?

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Braves 7, Red Sox 1: The Braves salvage one against the Sox to avoid the sweep thanks to an outstanding performance from Mike Foltynewicz (7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER) and a three-run homer from Tyler Flowers, but got bad news in the form of a Ronald Acuña knee injury. That was quite a tumble. Here’s hoping the fact that his body is young will keep him from missing much time. Young people can bounce back from anything.

Yankees 3, Angels 1: The Yankees take two of three from the Angels thanks to a strong performance from Masahiro Tanaka, who allowed one run and struck out eight over six innings. Garret Richards pitched for the Angels. He threw 70 pitches in two and a third and walked five guys. That’s U-G-L-Y, he ain’t got no alibi, it’s ugly. His momma say he’s ugly, HEY.

Indians 10, Astros 9: That was a wild one. The Indians trailed 8-3 entering the bottom of the ninth, tied it up to force extras and then came from behind again in the 13th via a Yonder Alonso homer, holding on to win it in the 14th with a Greg Allen walkoff homer. Keying the ninth inning rally: a 17-pitch at bat from Jose Ramirez, who is having an absolutely fantastic year. All of that buried the fact that the Astros only had that lead because the Indians’ pen has been a garbage fire of late, letting Houston put themselves ahead in the first place. Let us dwell on that another day, however.

Tigers 3, White Sox 2: Blaine Hardy outdueled James Shields, allowing one run over seven to Shields’ three runs over seven. Hardy is really a reliever, by the way, but no one tell him that or else it’d be like when Wily E. Coyote looks down after running off a cliff. If he never knew, would he have fallen?

Nationals 5, Marlins 2: The Nats beat the fish for the 11th time in a row, completing the sweep in this series. Bryce Harper homered and hit a sac fly. He’s not been hitting great of late, but he’s hitting homers. He said after the game that he’d take a .230 average if he could hit 40 homers. He’s hitting .232 and is on pace for over 50, so I guess he’ll take that too.

Rays 8, Orioles 3: I missed the back and forth about Sergio Romo and his role when I was on vacation. I don’t have super strong opinions about that, but it didn’t work great yesterday as Romo gave up three runs in a third of an inning. Since his relief — Vidal Nuno and Austin Pruitt — combined to throw 8.2 scoreless innings after that, however, no one is going to dwell on it all too much. A six-run third inning also helped spackle over that mess. Brad Miller homered, doubled and drove in three. The Rays may be the world’s foremost test lab for the concept of getting cool with “bad ideas-good outcomes vs. good ideas-bad outcomes” this year.

Blue Jays 5, Phillies 3: The Jays took two of three from the Phillies, winning this series just like they won the 1993 World Series. Well, not just like that, because Joe Carter wasn’t playing, but you get that. Devon Travis and Dwight Smith Jr. each hit two-run doubles, Curtis Granderson — who was 12 during the 1993 Series, so at least he remembers it — homered and J.A. Happ, who turned 11 during the series — beat his old team.

Oh, and while I’m talking about the Phillies, I think you all need to know about the fact that, right around the corner from the place where I stayed in London was a Philadelphia Phillies theme bar. I am not making this up:

They later got on Twitter and asked if I was going to come by and watch the Phillies-Braves game with them. I declined, but only because the game didn’t start until midnight local time. And because I’m never going to a Phillies bar, ever, even if it’s in dang England.

Cardinals 6, Pirates 4: St. Louis was down 4-1 heading into the seventh but rallied with two that inning and three in the eighth to take two of three from the Pirates. Harrison Bader‘s RBI single tied it and the Cards then went ahead on a bases-loaded walk. That’s a pretty depressing way for a team to lose.

Brewers 8, Mets 7: New York had leads of 4-1 and 6-4 and still woofed it away. Domingo Santana‘s two-run double in the Brewers’ four-run seventh inning aided that woofing, as did Jesus Aguilar, who hit a three-run homer and drove in four. The Brewers take three of four from the Mets, who have lost five of six.

Royals 5, Rangers 3: It was Hammel vs. Hammels here, and Jason outpitched Cole, striking out ten and getting backed by homers from Drew Butera and Sal Perez. Texas went 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position. Oof.

Rockies 8, Reds 2: Carlos Gonzalez had four hits including an upper deck blast off of Matt Harvey, who gave up four over five and a third. David DahlNolan Arenado and Ian Desmond also homered for the Rockies, who took two of three from the Reds.

Athletics 2, Diamondbacks 1: Zack Greinke was pretty good until the sixth, when he issued a couple of walks and then gave up a tie-breaking RBI single to Matt Chapman. Coming into that inning Greinke had issued only seven walks all year. Frankie Montas pitched three-hit ball over six innings to snag his first win in his first start with the A’s.

Mariners 3, Twins 1: Mike Leake allowed one run over eight and Ryon Healy doubled home two runs in the eighth inning to break a 1-1 tie. Alex Colome made his first appearance as a Mariner and locked down the save. He won’t usually close for Seattle, but Edwin Diaz had a day off. The Mariners sweep the Twins and have won eight of nine.

Dodgers 6, Padres 1: Walker Buehler allowed one run over seven and struck out eight and Max Muncy and Cody Bellinger each homered. The Dodgers started out the season like total trash but have now won eight of ten and are only three and a half back in the West somehow.

Cubs 8, Giants 3: Cubs starter Tyler Chatwood didn’t have much, but neither did Giants starter Ty Blach, and the Cubs’ bullpen shut down the Giants for the final six and a third innings. Javier Baez‘s three-run shot in the fourth inning broke a 3-3 tie. This game lasted three and a half hours after which the Cubs got on an airplane to go play a day game today in Pittsburgh, which sounds like a load of fun. Not as fun as Pablo Sandoval playing second base, of course: