By Nathan Petrashek
With the Brewers having had their own recent brush with banned drugs, this should be of some interest: today, MLB and MLBPA announced enhanced testing and punishment for PEDs. Players will be tested more frequently, and the 50/100/lifetime ban (which MLB really didn’t follow anyway) has been replaced by suspensions of 80/162/life for first, second, and third offenses, respectively.
That’s all fine, but here’s one big hangup in the new punishment protocols:
“A Player who is suspended for a violation involving a performance-enhancing substance will be ineligible to participate in the Postseason, and will not be eligible for an automatic share of the Player’s Pool provided to players on Clubs who participate in the Postseason.”
Others have argued it’s unfair to punish the team for the acts of an individual player by making him ineligible for the playoffs. That argument doesn’t really work, though; isn’t the team “punished” when they lose a player for 80 regular season games, too? The far more damning critique of this new postseason ban is it treats players differently depending on their team context. In other words, a player on a playoff team will be penalized more harshly than a player on a non-playoff team. And that’s bogus.
Let’s posit a hypothetical. Player A plays for the Marlins, and he’s using synthetic testosterone and gets caught. He denies using and appeals, accusing MLB of a witch hunt and the urine collector of tampering. Player A loses his appeal and is suspended for 80 games. The Marlins don’t make the playoffs, so Player A is effectively lost only for those 80 games. Player B is a Tiger. He also uses synthetic testosterone and gets caught, but apologizes and accepts his 80-game penalty without appeal. The Tigers make a deep postseason run all the way to the World Series, for which Player B is ineligible. His punishment is effectively 90 games for the same offense as Player A: 80 games plus, say, another 10 in the postseason.
I’m not sure how punishing two guys differently for the same offense based on team context is appropriate or fair. And that’s doubly the case where the lesser-punished player drags the process through the mud or engages in other despicable conduct. These drastically disparate sanctions for the same prohibited conduct are a blow to the consistency MLB should strive for in its application of the drug policy.
The new policy isn’t all bad for players, though. The “zero tolerance” policy has been loosened a bit; arbitrators can now hand down lesser penalties if a player proves at the hearing the use wasn’t intended to enhance performance. It’s not entirely clear how that would apply to a claim like Ryan Braun’s, though, in which he said he used to aid his recovery from injury.
Maybe the MLBPA had to give the postseason ban to push MLB off its “no tolerance” stance; I won’t pretend to know what the negotiations looked like. Still, it’s a bad look for both organizations when you have a system in which players are treated differently depending on which uniform they wear.