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White Sox prospect Eloy Jimenez likely to file service time manipulation grievance

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White Sox prospect Eloy Jimenez is clearly ready for the big leagues.

He’s hitting .365/.406/.604 with 11 home runs and 32 RBI in 51 games at Triple-A Charlotte. Before that he hit .317/.368/.556 with 10 homers and 42 RBI in 53 games for Double-A Birmingham. There is clearly no one in the minors to challenge him, so the major leagues are next, right?

Not yet. The White Sox, you see, are doing what most clubs do with their top prospects: they’re manipulating his service time in order to push back his eventual free agency. Oh, they won’t say they’re doing that. They say stuff like White Sox GM Rick Hahn said to the Chicago Tribune the other day when the topic of Jimenez’s readiness for promotion came up:

Hahn said recently stats don’t tell everything about whether a player is ready, and all “boxes” need to be checked.

“While you can look at a stat line or you can look at a box score and say, ‘This guy looks like he’s doing well, looks like he’s ready,’ our checklist that we want these guys to answer is a little more lengthy than that,” Hahn said. “And not until they’ve answered all those questions we have for them at the minor-league level will we promote them.”

Saying such things — instead of telling the truth — is all an executive needs to do in order to avoid losing a grievance. Yet, Jon Heyman reports today, Jimenez may very well be doing that anyway, with his agent Paul Kinzer saying that “Eventually, you’ll probably have to add us to the list.” Meaning the list of players who have filed service time grievances, such as Kris Bryant ant Maikel Franco.

Jimenez won’t win. The current CBA makes it all but impossible for a player to win such a case unless the club does something monumentally stupid like issue a public statement saying “man, we’d love to have him on our club, but we’d really like to save some money!” Heck, even then I don’t know that a case is winnable. The standard is “bad faith” and I presume that even if an executive said something like that if, by the time a grievance got heard, he changed his tune and coughed something out about the player’s “mental preparedness” it’d carry the day.

I do know this much, though: as is usually the case, most of you will put on the front office jersey in this instance and say “hey, the White Sox are only being smart here!” Which no one can plausibly deny, given how narrow a consideration being “smart” is in this case. Very few of you, however, will make the case that this is right in a broader sense. Probably because such a case cannot be made.

MLB and the MLBPA are discussing opioid testing. This seems like the wrong move.

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Evan Drellich of The Athletic reported this morning that Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association are in discussions that could lead to the creation of a testing regime for opioids. This, obviously, comes in the wake of the July 1 death of Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs and this past weekend’s report detailing his opioid use. Opioid use that was done with the knowledge and participation of at least one high-ranking Angels front office official.

Currently the Joint Drug Agreement does not provide testing for opioids, or other drugs classified as “Drugs of Abuse,” by Major Leaguers. Rather, if teams and/or the league become aware of a player’s problem with a Drug of Abuse, it is to be reported to the league which, in turn, refers the player to a treatment program. The purpose is to treat, not punish, a player for his addiction. If and only if the player repeatedly fails to cooperate or comply with a treatment program does discipline come into play. The talks to implement testing, therefore, would mark a major change in the JDA, both in structure and in overall philosophy when it comes to Drugs of Abuse.

It would also be a bad move in my view.

Based on how testing for Drugs of Abuse has gone in the minor leagues, a major league Drugs of Abuse testing regime will lead to the singling out of addicts for punishment. That could, in turn, discourage addicts from seeking the help they can theoretically get now under the JDA. We’ve seen this in broader society, of course. Drug addiction is rarely addressed effectively via punishment of users. It can be addressed by getting them treatment and examining and addressing the root causes of addiction and the sources of the drugs in question.

It also seems to ignore the very circumstances that led to Tyler Skaggs’ death.

Skaggs had an opioid problem. It was not some big secret. And, of course, at least one of the people who knew about it was a high-ranking front office employee of the Angels, Eric Kay. Under the Joint Drug Agreement Kay, and by extension the Angels, had an affirmative responsibility to report Skaggs’ drug use to the league, which would then get him into a treatment program. The club failed in its duties in this regard. If it hadn’t — if the system in place had been adhered to — there is a chance that Skaggs could’ve gotten the help that could’ve saved his life. It’s worth asking why, given that there was a reasonable and easily-implemented means of addressing Skaggs’ problem already in existence, the question is now “how should we go about adding more drug testing for players?” as opposed to “how should MLB punish the Angels for their violation of the JDA and ensure that it doesn’t happen again?”

To acknowledge that failure — to acknowledge that there were procedures in place that could very well have prevented this tragic outcome that went unused — and then to say that the solution is to put it back on the users themselves in a testing and discipline regime — seems nonsensical to me. And that’s not just from the perspective of “hey, the team should’ve done something, so it’s on them.”

The point of drug testing is to find out something that is not known (i.e. whether someone is using drugs). Skaggs’ case suggests to us that the issue is not about obliviousness. Yes, some addicts will go to great lengths to hide their addiction, but opioid use by big leaguers is not a secret inside the game. Rather, based on conversations I’ve recently had with MLB insiders, it is seen as and is often portrayed internally as “recreational.” This is not out of disingenuousness or out of some motive to hide a problem. Rather, there appears to be a genuine ignorance about the issue.

Yes, in some cases it’s about people in a position to help either not being willing to help, as was the case with the Angels, but more commonly it’s about them not truly understanding the nature or seriousness of opioid addiction. It’s not about them not having a positive test result in their hands in order to act. It’s not about outsourcing the problem to MLB when people in a far better position to observe problems and reach out with assistance — teammates and team officials who are around the player all day, every day, for months on end — could do more if better educated, better informed and better incentivized to provide help to players in need.

Based on people in and around the game I have spoken with over the past few days, the problem of addiction inside the game mirrors what’s going on in the country as a whole. As we’ve seen with the country as a whole, going after users is not an effective means of combating opioid addiction. That Major League Baseball and the MLBPA seem intent on making their first step in the wake of Skaggs’ death one in the direction of drug testing seems like a misstep to me.