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.

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.