MLB, MLBPA announce stronger testing, harsher penalties for PEDs

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In the wake of the Biogenesis scandal and Alex Rodriguez’s subsequent 162-game suspension, Major League Baseball and many of its players have called for tougher drug testing and harsher suspensions for violations of baseball’s drug policy.

They just got it.

Major League Baseball and the MLBPA have announced that they have reached agreement on changes to the drug testing program which enhance testing procedures and increase penalties for taking PEDs.

The enhanced testing procedures

  • The number of in-season random urine collections will more than double beginning in the 2014 season, from 1,400 total tests to to 3,200;
  • Blood collections for hGH detection will increase to 400 random collections per year, in addition to the 1,200 mandatory collections conducted during Spring Training;
  • Carbon Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry tests will be randomly performed on at least one specimen from every player. Basically, this is an enhanced analysis of blood samples which are considered more effective in detecting hGH in blood and are tests endorsed by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

The enhanced punishment

  • A first-time violation of the Joint Drug Program will now result in an unpaid 80-game suspension, increased from 50 games.  A player’s second violation will result in an unpaid 162-game suspension, increased from 100 games.  A third violation will result in a permanent suspension from Baseball.
  • A suspension of 162 games will result in 183 days worth of pay docking, to account for the fact that players are paid baed on a 183-day schedule as opposed to being paid per game. This was implemented in reaction to Alex Rodriguez still receiving some pay this year despite a 162-game ban.
  • Every Player whose suspension for a performance-enhancing substance is upheld will be subject to six additional unannounced urine collections, and three additional unannounced blood collections, during every subsequent year of his entire career.

MORE: To read the full summary of the MLB-MLBPA joint drug program modifications, click here

There are also some advantages to players under the new system. Specifically, if a player tests positive, he can argue to an arbitrator that his use of PEDs was not intended to enhance performance. This changes things from the “zero tolerance” policy which previously existed and under which someone faced first-time discipline even if their PED use was accidental.

Additionally, the league and the union are creating a safe harbor of sorts: they have established a program in which players will have year-round access to supplements that will not cause a positive test result. This should reduce confusion on banned over-the-counter substances and reduce the use of the “I got this from GNC and thought it was OK” defense many have raised in the past.

Many anti-doping experts already viewed Major League Baseball as having the toughest drug testing regime in all of U.S. team sports. This only increases baseball’s lead in this regard.

It does, however, present some reasons for concern. As we at HBT argued this morning, the playoff ban for those players who tested positive and have already served their entire suspensions seems somewhat draconian and will result in harsher penalties for players on winning teams than those on losing teams. It also punishes innocent players on playoff teams in ways the previous system did not before. Moreover, merely adding games to first and second offenses may make everyone feel like the system is tougher, but it must not be assumed that the same basic incentive to cheat — if a player can get away with it, it could mean millions of dollars — will always persist. We execute murderers yet murder still occurs.

At the same time, the strengthening of the drug testing procedures and the implementation of the supplement supplies is most welcome. If the players in the Biogenesis investigation had been caught via testing, no one would have thought of that episode in baseball as a particularly black mark and a year’s worth of bad publicity and litigation would not have been necessary. The best way to cut down on PED use in baseball is to catch the guys who cheat, not to try to make up for testing failures with harsh rhetoric and tactics after the holes in the drug testing system are exposed.

Either way, this is a significant increase in the strength of the drug testing program and will likely be met with overwhelming praise by players, fans, the media and the clubs.

Who are the candidates for the Cardinals managerial job?

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If you logged off over the weekend, you may not have heard that Mike Matheny was sacked as the Cardinals manager late Saturday night. I wrote about the reasons for this yesterday morning. Mike Shildt was named the interim manager and he will keep the job through the rest of the season. Between now and then the Cardinals’ brain trust is going to figure out who they want for the job full time.

Today Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch goes over a list of potential candidates. No, the Cardinals have not identified any officially, but Goold is a smart cookie and hears stuff and what wasn’t heard is informed speculation. At the very least, expect to hear many of the names he lists several times as the process goes on.

You gotta read his article to get the list, but there are a couple on there I want to talk about for a second.

The first one is Joe Girardi, who makes it because (a) he is the most prominent marquee manager who doesn’t have a job at the moment; (b) he played 16 games with the Cardinals in his final season; and (c) far more important than that is that he is tight with John Mozeliak. But while Girardi seems like a perfect candidate for a club in win-now mode, I question whether he’s truly the right guy given that he left New York for many of the same reasons Matheny left St. Louis (i.e. not relating well with young players). We can’t overstate that, however, because Girardi is, by every other measure, a superior manager to Matheny, primarily when it comes to managing a bullpen, so his rapport with the kids is not the be-all, end-all.

Goold also mentions Mark McGwire. He’s obviously a legend in St. Louis and, unlike a lot of former players who talk about wanting to get into managing these days, McGwire has been putting in his time as a coach for a long, long time. He’s currently the Padres’ bench coach. I’d like to see McGwire get the job for petty, personal reasons: a lot of people would get really, really mad about a PED guy getting the gig, they’d say and write a lot of dumb stuff and that, for me, is the key to a lot of content. Not gonna lie about that.

A lot of other interesting names on that list too. And there will likely be a lot of people, beyond those who the Cardinals initially identify, who express interest in the job too. It’s a sweet gig with historic job security for a marquee franchise in a baseball city, so what’s not to like?