Major League Baseball suspended 12 players today from the Biogenesis list, along with Alex Rodriguez, who is the only person appealing the suspension. This all follows the suspension of Ryan Braun from a few weeks ago. Throughout the process, MLB has tried to make it look like they are cracking down on steroid use, and that they are serious about it all. But at the end of all of this, the penalties are weak, the process has been sloppy, and there has been no disadvantage to using steroids.
We don’t know the effects that steroids have on a player. For example, Ryan Braun is probably a good player without steroids. He’s probably going to get paid no matter what. I don’t think steroids created Braun, but they certainly helped. Maybe they took him from a $15 M player to a $20 M player. Maybe they kept him on the field so much, rather than missing time due to injuries. All we know is that there has to be some benefit to taking steroids, otherwise players wouldn’t even bother with them. We just can’t quantify the benefit.
In the case of the 12 players named today, and the previous players who have been involved in this scandal, almost all of them have made the majors or have been top prospects. In a lot of cases the players will lose money, and some of them will lose a lot of money due to the suspensions. But that money doesn’t mean much when compared to what those players have made leading up to now, and what they will be allowed to make going forward. Here is a list of the players involved in this scandal, and how the finances break down.
The 12 Names Today
Nelson Cruz – He’s set to lose a little over $3 M the rest of the year, but he has made $17 M in his career.
Jhonny Peralta – He will lose $1.75 M this year, and has made a little under $28 M to date in his career.
Everth Cabrera – Cabrera hasn’t been in the majors much, and this was his first year of arbitration. He will lose about $370,000 the rest of the year, but has made about $1.7 M in his career after being a Rule 5 pick.
Jesus Montero – Montero has been in the minors, so the amount he loses this year isn’t going to be a lot, as he was making a minor league salary. He was one of the top prospects in the game, and was traded to Seattle as a top prospect and given over a full year in the majors where he has made over half a million in his career.
Francisco Cervelli – He will only lose $150,000 this year, but he’s been a backup for several years, and has made about $1.6 M in his career.
Fernando Martinez – Another former top prospect who has been getting a lot of chances and has made about half a million this year.
Cesar Puello – He has only made it as high as Double-A, but he’s a top prospect and was added to the 40-man, making about six times more than what the normal minor leaguer makes this year.
Jordan Norberto – He had 1.132 years of service before this, and has spent almost the entire year in the majors, so he should be over a million before the suspension.
Fautino de los Santos – He’s been in the majors for about a year total, and has made about half a million.
Antonio Bastardo – Bastardo has been one of the top relievers in the NL in the last two years, and was making $1.4 M this year. He will lose a little over $400,000, but has made about $2.7 M in his career.
Jordany Valdespin – He’s been in the majors for about a year total, giving him about half a million.
Sergio Escalona – Prior to this year he had two years of service time, and has been up a lot this year. He’s made over a million before the suspension.
Ryan Braun – Braun accepted a 65 game suspension, which cost him about $3 M this year. However, he has made $18 M in the past, and has $117 M owed to him in the rest of his deal. He’s also been caught twice for steroids. He got out of the first one due to a legal technicality, and was only suspended 15 extra games than everyone else the second time around.
Bartolo Colon – He previously served a 50 game suspension, but came back this year to get a $3 M contract, and has made about $75 M in his career.
Melky Cabrera – He was also previously suspended for 50 games, but signed a two year, $16 M deal after his suspension. So far this year he has tanked, and his two year stretch in 2011-2012 looks suspicious when you consider that every other year was a .752 OPS or worse. His current contract was probably based on those two years.
Suspended and Working on an Appeal
Alex Rodriguez – He will get the harshest penalty, and MLB is trying to make an example out of him. But what is the example? Rodriguez will lose about $8 M this year, and $25 M next year. Even if he never plays again, he’s made $345 M in his career prior to the suspension.
It Pays to Use Steroids
Here is what Major League Baseball is saying with these punishments. They are saying that you can use steroids to improve your career, at the risk of getting caught. You might get caught when you’re in Double-A, making $39,950 a year. You might get caught when you’re in the majors, making half a million a year. You might get caught during arbitration, when you’re making a few million a year. Or you might get caught when you’re a star, making hundreds of millions of dollars.
When you get caught, the league will be more interested in how smoothly the suspension process goes, rather than bringing down a big punishment. They will work on a deal for a shortened sentence in exchange for you skipping the appeal process. You will miss 50 games without pay, and then you will go back to where you were before. You’ll remain on the 40-man roster. You will have the same service time, so you will be eligible for arbitration at the same rate. You will still have that multi-million dollar deal you agreed to. Or you’ll become a free agent, and you’ll still get paid based on your name value and the chance that your production might not have been steroid related.
What’s the alternative if you’re a minor league player? You make $6000 per year, you have an off-season job just to make ends meet, and you probably have no shot at making the majors, or even the 40-man roster. That’s not saying it’s impossible to make the majors or the 40-man without steroids. But there are plenty of players who don’t have a shot at all of these things. They can improve their chances with steroids, and there is very little downside. If they get caught, they get suspended for a short time, then go back to the game. The downside is limited, since it’s not like they have a lot to risk. The upside is tremendous. You don’t even need to have Ryan Braun money to benefit from the upside. For most people if you made $490,000 for one year, and you spent your money wisely, you’d be very well off. You couldn’t retire, but you could certainly live comfortably.
The downside to using steroids pales in comparison to the upside. The process is a mess. For 14 out of the 16 players above, MLB was only interested in a smooth process and 50 game suspensions. Ryan Braun got an extra 15 games. MLB is trying to suspend Alex Rodriguez for an additional year. It’s all so arbitrary. And none of the punishments really deter from the use of steroids. Nelson Cruz, for example, is suspended the rest of the year. He will lose out on $3 M, but has already made $17 M. And he’s a free agent in the off-season, so he will probably get paid. It might be less than what he would have received before, but he’s still getting paid. So where is the downside for Cruz? Because he missed out on $3 M? We can’t quantify the value of steroids, but I think it’s safe to say that steroids have earned Cruz more than $3 M. And it’s not like he’s giving up $3 M. That’s not money out of his pocket. It’s just money he won’t be allowed to earn.
Major League Baseball hasn’t shown they are serious about steroids. They’re putting on a show to act like they are serious, but that’s all it is. If they were serious, they wouldn’t be negotiating deals with players to give them the basic 50 game suspensions. They wouldn’t be negotiating deals at all with Ryan Braun, who got out of one steroid incident, scolded everyone who accused him of ever using steroids with a “holier than thou” speech, and then was caught using steroids all along one year later. All of the negotiations come across as a league that wants this scandal to be over with as soon as possible, rather than a league that wants the problem to be over with as soon as possible.
If baseball wants to get rid of their steroid problem, they need to come up with harsh penalties. Ban people from the game for the first offense. Why even allow multiple offenses? If players know they could be out of the game for steroids, they’re probably not going to use them. Right now that’s not the case. Why would players be afraid of the punishment for steroids when Melky Cabrera can get caught, and follow that up by signing a $16 M deal over two years? Where is the downside?
There is none right now. There is tremendous upside to using steroids. The only downside basically amounts to a slap on the wrist, a quick timeout, then permission to re-enter the game and continue receiving the benefits that were partially fueled by steroid use.
Links and Notes
**Check out the latest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 15: Recapping the Slow Deadline; The Pirates Are Legit Playoff Contenders.
**Here is the newest episode of Pirates Roundtable Live: VIDEO: Pirates Roundtable Live — Episode 4.