As was reported on Wednesday night, Marlon Byrd was suspended for 162 games by MLB for testing positive for PEDs for the second time. This is another player on the long list of suspensions this season. Jenrry Mejia was one of the first dominoes to fall when he received a lifetime ban for testing positive for the third time.
The biggest name player to recently test positive for PEDs was Dee Gordon. Gordon won the batting title last season and received a five year $50 million contract from the Marlins for his efforts. So even though the MLB has come a long way with their Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program the question remains why does a PED problem still exist?, and what can be done to put an end to the use of PEDs.
Taking a closer look at Dee Gordon’s career there was an obvious turning point that occurred in 2014. In the two seasons prior Gordon had a batting average below 0.250 and he failed to even accumulate 100 hits in over 400 plate appearances. He then went on to have a breakout 2014 campaign where he hit 0.289 and had 64 stolen bases.
Following a trade to the Marlins in 2015 he went on to eclipse 200 hits and steal 58 bases. Gordon went from a player that struggled to stay in the major leagues to an all-star. Dee Gordon will lose $1.65 million this year from his 80 game suspension but he will still collect the rest of his $50 million extension,So one can argue that he made a gamble on taking PEDs and it paid off because he landed such a lucrative contract.
Another player suspended this year was Chris Colabello. Colabello had a storybook rise to prominence last season when he came out of nowhere to become a major contributor for the Toronto Blue Jays. He hit 15 home runs and drove in 54 runs while hitting to an average of 0.321. Colabello is 32 years old and probably felt that he had nothing to lose in taking steroids. His chances to make it in the big leagues were likely running out, so why not take the risk if it could mean finally becoming a successful major leaguer.
This brings me to the most recent suspended player, Marlon Byrd. Mets fans will remember Marlon Byrd’s 2013 season. Byrd was signed to a minor league contract after being suspended in the previous season as a member of the Red Sox. He went on to hit 0.291 with 24 home runs and 88 runs batted in playing for both the Mets and the Pirates. After such a productive year he signed a 2 year $16 million deal with the Phillies. He signed this deal as a 36 year old and one might assume that if he didn’t take steroids he never would have received a deal such as this so late in his career.
A lot of this is speculation. No one knows when these three players started taking steroids, if all of their success was due to the substances they took, or even how long they were taking these substances. All that I know is that they tested positive for PEDs and have been suspended by the MLB. But when looking at these players what is clear is that they felt that the risk of using steroids was one worth taking. This will continue to be a problem unless the drug policy is adjusted to prevent players from benefiting financially from cheating.
The most glaring issue with the current policy is that contracts in the MLB are all guaranteed. This is why Alex Rodriguez is still in a Yankees uniform despite his current struggles and all of the headache he has brought to the organization, because they want to get some value out of his contract. The solution could be to give teams the right to terminate the contract of a player that has a violated the drug policy.
If the league gave the teams the right to terminate contracts this would disincentivize the player to the point where they would have to strongly consider whether taking steroids was worth it. If the Yankees had the chance to cut ties with A-Rod I’m sure that they would have. Would the Marlins still want to keep Dee Gordon after his suspension? Maybe, but they should have that right. Now the players association would want to fight to keep guranteed contracts for their players, but its hard to argue that proven cheaters deserve to have all the same rights as the players who been playing by the rules.
Another way that the policy could be addressed is the three strikes your out policy. While three strikes your out is a common theme in baseball the league could become even stricter and make it a two strikes and your out. Currently the first time offenders are suspended 80 games, the second time offenders are suspended 162 games (i.e. Marlon Byrd), and the third offense results in a lifetime ban.
If they agreed to jump straight to a year long suspension for the first offense than players will be even less likely to think about cheating the system. Jenrry Mejia got the unpleasant distinction of joining the Black Sox, and Pete Rose as the only players to ever receive lifetime bans, but if a two strike policy was adopted this could become a much more prevalent occurrence. Some might think this is harsh especially when some players claim to have been suspended for taking a substance that they did not know was banned.
The reality is that these players have an entire staff devoted to their physical fitness and well being, so they should have no problem going to the team first to clear any and every substance that they take.
The fact is that PEDs will never truly be erased from the game. There will always be some players getting caught and some that are able to successfully cheat the system. What the MLB needs to consider is how they can make taking the risk of steroids as unappealing as possible for future players.