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.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Free-agent ace Jacob deGrom and the Texas Rangers agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner leaves the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

Texas announced the signing Friday night after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

“We are thrilled that Jacob deGrom has decided to become a Texas Ranger,” executive vice president and general manager Chris Young said in a statement. “Over a number of seasons, Jacob has been a standout major league pitcher, and he gives us a dominant performer at the top of our rotation. One of our primary goals this offseason is to strengthen our starting pitching, and we are adding one of the best.”

Texas went 68-94 last season and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco, as its new manager. The Rangers’ six straight losing seasons are their worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

This latest blockbuster move comes just before baseball’s winter meetings, which begin early next week in San Diego. The Rangers said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson University, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his professional career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons.

New York won 101 regular-season games last season, second-most in franchise history, but was caught by NL East champion Atlanta down the stretch and settled for a wild card.

After declining his 2023 option, ending his contract with the Mets at $107 million over four years, deGrom rejected a $19.65 million qualifying offer in November, so New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation. Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.