Weiner: the 50-100-lifetime suspension rules don’t apply to Biogenesis

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We were really thrown a curveball earlier today when MLBPA head Michael Weiner, addressing the media, said that the penalties facing Biogenesis-implicated players are not ruled by the Joint Drug Agreement’s 50-game, 100-game, lifetime ban specifications.  When asked about why that was, Weiner pointed to the Commissioner’s “just cause” powers under the JDA.

Which seems odd to me because, as Wendy Thurm pointed out earlier today, the JDA says this about discipline:

A player who tests positive for a Performance Enhancing Substance, or otherwise violates the Program through the possession or use of a Performance Enhancing Substance, will be subject to the discipline set forth below. (emphasis mine) 1. First violation: 50-game suspension; 2. Second violation: 100-game suspension; 3. Third violation: Permanent suspension from Major League and Minor League Baseball.

That italicized language seems to say that the discipline regime applies whether it’s a testing positive or, as will be the case with Biogenesis, non-analytical positives, circumstantial evidence-based violations, etc. There’s nowhere else in the agreement which speaks to Commissioner discretion with respect to discipline beyond the mere words “just cause,” which again, seems to speak to the violation, not the discipline.

Could this be a negotiated thing? The union and the league having an understanding, either now or having had it always, about what might happen if they’re dealing with a non-testing-based violation? And no matter when it was decided that any amount of discipline could apply for such violations, could it not mean that some guys get less than 50 games? Some way more.

As an example: say a Biogenesis Player — let’s call him Theo Blonzalez — has very weak evidence against him in the documents and testimony, but that the league wants to discipline him anyway. Might they take this discretion and give him, say, a five game suspension? That might be a nice break for someone like Blonzalez who, otherwise, might be subject to an automatic 50, which would seem overly harsh. At the same time, might another player with stronger evidence against him — say Schmalex Rodriguez — be slapped with unlimited discipline even if it’s a first offense?

I don’t know what it means, frankly. But I find it fascinating. And it further underscores my suspicion that a lot more conversations are happening between the union and the league than we know about. And that, just maybe, it’s nowhere near as adversarial as we might think.

Players are waking up and getting ready to fight

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There’s this idea out there that the owners have been eating the players’ lunch at the bargaining table in recent years because the players are, generally, rich and happy and maybe don’t care about a lot of the stuff the previous couple of generations of players did. There is probably some degree of truth to that. The difference between a good deal and a bad deal, in both collective bargaining and on the free agent market, is way less dire now than it used to be and thus the urgency may not have been there over the past several years the way it was in 1981 or 1994.

But it goes too far to say that such a mindset is universal among players. Or that it’s a mindset which, even among those who hold it, will always persist. Players may not have been as vigilant about labor matters over the past several years as they used to be, but they’re not idiots and, at some point, the owners are gonna push ’em too far and they’ll respond.

As we find ourselves in the second straight offseason in which teams simply don’t seem all too keen on signing free agents, it’s starting to happen already.

Earlier this week Dallas Keuchel tweeted out some things critical of the current market and teams’ approach to it (and took another swipe today). This afternoon Giants third baseman Evan Longoria chimed in on Instagram, posting a picture of Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, and saying the following:

We are less then a month from the start of spring and once again some of our games biggest starts remain unsigned. Such a shame. It’s seems every day now someone is making up a new analytical tool to devalue players, especially free agents. As fans, why should “value” for your team even be a consideration? It’s not your money, it’s money that players have worked their whole lives to get to that level and be deserving of. Bottom line, fans should want the best players and product on the field for their team. And as players we need to stand strong for what we believe we are worth and continue to fight for the rights we have fought for time and time again.

Most of that is common sense, the sort of which we’ve been arguing for around here for some time. Fans should care about good players and winning baseball games, not whether or not their front office can get a great bargain for its own sake. It may be interesting to talk about payroll and salaries and wins/$, but the point of baseball is to win, right? When so many teams seem rather uninterested in that, it’s a problem that all of the interesting analytical insights can’t really make up for.

The second part is worth keeping your eyes on. Maybe players have not been on a war footing the likes of which their predecessors were in the 1970s through the 1990s, but it doesn’t mean they won’t get back there if pushed. As is abundantly clear, the owners are pushing. Salaries are dropping in both an absolute sense and, especially, compared to baseball’s revenues. Players are getting a smaller piece of the pie than they have in a while and ownership seems quite pleased to see that continue.

If players are saying stuff like this publicly, it means that players are talking about it amongst themselves privately. The last two years have likely served as quite a wakeup call for them, and they seem to be waking up. Evan Longoria is. Dallas Keuchel is. So are some others. If current trends continue, more and more will wake up.

The current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires following the 2021 season. What happens over the rest of this offseason and the next two is going to determine the mood of the players. The mood of the players, in turn, is going to dictate the tenor of negotiations. If they were to begin right now, those negotiations would be very, very rocky.