First Pitch: It Pays to Use Steroids

MLB LogoMajor 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.

Previously Suspended

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.


**Prospect Watch: Taillon Makes Triple-A Debut; Lambo Hits 29th Homer.

**Alex Dickerson Named the Eastern League Player of the Month.

**Minor Moves: Taillon Officially Promoted.

**Minor League Schedule: Haynes Adapting Well To Starting Role.


**Pirates Playoff Roster Projection: Choosing a Champion.

**Pirates Playoff Odds Remain Above 98 Percent into August.

**Francisco Liriano Named the NL Player of the Week.

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Douglas Alexander

I love how MLB has been singled out for years on the PED issue and nobody gives a damn about football or other professional sports.

PEDs are rampant in college football and continue into the NFL.

If a baseball player packs on some muscle, or haves a couple of good years that standout, fans and the media do the ole’ eyeball test and conclude that he was probably on steroids.

Meanwhile, a football player can be an absolute physical freak and the response is, “Wow! He has a really great work ethic. A real gym-rat, good for him!”


I get a laugh out of all these sports journalists who get on there soap boxes and say they would rather be talking about the games instead of ARod and suspensions and steroids, what a crock.
These guys live for controversy it gives them something to sink their teeth into every day instead of boring things like the scores of last nights games, plus they are all for cleaning up the game but when it comes to harsh penalties their little PC minds can’t allow that.

Kevin Anstrom

Is baseball a team or individual sport?
If it’s an individual sport then punish the individual.
If it s a team sport then punish the team.


Ummm….how exactly would you go about punishing a team, assuming the training staff wasn’t dispensing PEDs and the GM wasn’t giving it the OK? If someone like a Braun or an A-Rod is working with some private clinic off the books without the club’s sanction or knowledge, on what basis do you punish the ballclub?

Kevin Anstrom

The way it should be …

In my opinion the league should communicate with the teams and the teams should communicate with the players. I don’t see how / why the league is banning players without the permission of the teams.

I’d propose that a team with a PED problem should be banned by MLB from the playoffs. The ban should only apply for one year. Let the teams decide how to handle the punishment for the player.

If a team wants to reward the cheater with a $40M contract I don’t think the league should stand in the way.


While I would be hesitant to say that PED use is as dangerous to the health of the game as gambling was/is, I think MLB can learn a lesson from its history in connection with betting on baseball. For years–decades, really–the game had a problem with betting that it either wouldn’t or couldn’t come to grips with, which resulted in the inevitable occurrence of players throwing games, culminating in the Black Sox scandal. Finally, faced with the spectre of losing its very viability, the game instiuted the Comissioner system and a lifetime ban for gambling–and over the last 90-plus years, only one big leaguer has been banned for violating that rule. I think if MLB–and the MLBPA– want this to go away, they need to insitute the same punishement for PED use: test positive, and you’re on the permanently ineligible list, done and dusted.

Lee Young

I would definitely use steroids if I had a chance at even ONE million dollar payday.

I have no doubt….and I consider myself a reasonably honest guy.



It’s funny, but Bob Gibson was discussing that at Cooperstown during the HOF induction this year that he wasn’t sure that he wouldn’t use either. You know, baseball is a hard game, and it’s a very short career span, and if you know that other guys are getting an edge on you by using PEDs…well, that’s a hard thing to know and still say “Uh uh, not me.” I can understand A-Rod and Braun trying to get that edge; what digusts me about them is not the using, it’s the refusal to accept responsiblilty while actively throwing other people under the bus.


Baseball has only caught users from essentially 3 sources. Balco, Brian McNamee, and Tony Bosch. To believe that there aren’t dozens of other labs feeding athletes PED’s is beyond naive.

Baseball has been forced to deal with its drug issue. Football has not and may never be forced to deal with theirs. PED’s are pervasive in the NFL, yet nobody seems to be bothered. Biogenesis alone had several football players listed, yet the league and the union hasn’t investigated. This is really a cultural conundrum.

Tiger Woods obviously used HGH, but why would golf persue him? It would be detrimental to its sport. My point is we should applaud baseball (even 15 years later) for actually doing something about PED’s… know…..if it really bothers you.


I really feel this is a player problem – not an MLB one. The Arizona Diamondback players who were robbed by Ryan Braun don’t seem very upset about that. The White Sox players who went ahead and played in a game with a known – confessed cheater did not seem very troubled by that. Heck the Yankee players who have been tainted by being on the same roster as A-Fraud seem OK with that. Until the PLAYERS come out for zero tolerance I will pretty much ignore this stuff – it is more side show than enforcement.


I am all for eliminating steroids from the game, but I believe a lifetime ban for a first offense is pretty harsh, particularly when you consider some of the circumstances that players came from. Your a 16 or 17 year old player from latin America who gets injured and someone you trust offers you some medication to help you heal. You take it, but don’t realize it is a banned substance.

Further, I would want assurances that products you buy off of the shelf don’t contain traceable levels of banned substances. Hate to see someone take a medicine for cold relief, not knowing that it trip a drug test.

What I would be very much in favor of are harsh penalties.

A one-year suspension for any major league player who fails a test for a first offense, with the salary donated to charity, so the players major league team does not get the benefit of a suspension.

A lifetime ban for any major league player who fails a test a second time, with more frequent testing of the player after the first offense. Similarly, all salary goes to charity.

For a minor league player, I would suggest a much shorter suspension for a first offense, perhaps 30 games, with major league baseball offering counseling to the player over the remainder of their career. If a minor league player has a second offense, they are banned from baseball.

With respect to the team’s, I penalize the team for condoning steroid abuse by making them forfeit the players salary, fining them an equal amount that must be donated to charity and I strip them of draft choices. In my opinion, management has turned a blind eye to steroid abuse and they need to be part of the approach to eliminate such.

Also, I am suspicious of agents, some of whom likely had knowledge of their client’s activities. I penalize the agents by prohibiting them from continuing to represent a player that was caught abusing steroids and I limit their right to represent new clients coming out of the draft for a full year.

In short, everyone needs to be on board if baseball really wants to eliminate steroids. Which gets back to Tim’s original point — I am not sure that the Commissioner’s office, the Owner’s or Management really wants to tackle the problem.


There will be a new policy jointly agreed upon by MLB & MLBPA which states a 1-yr ban for 1st offense and lifetime ban for 2nd offense. This policy will effectively curb PED use, but not eradicate it.

Interesting to see how those suspended are paid when they are FA this winter. I wonder if Owners will collude on a guy like Cruz?

Blue Bomber

Look at Melky Cabrera’s numbers before (4th outfielder type), during (MVP candidate), and after (back to 4th outfielder) PED’s. We can’t be sure of the timeframe of his usage, but the stats are compelling. Anyone signing Cruz for a big contract would be taking a huge risk. No collusion needed.

Matt Beam

or the way the olympic sports deal with things, 2 yrs for the first offense, potential lifetime ban with the 2nd… still, even with these harsh penalties, you still have lots of use and suspensions – too much $ involved

speaking of which, how many NFL and MLB guys do you think are using HGH? my guess, A TON!


Shouldn’t it be noted that half of the players caught either currently play or have played in the Yankees system? Does this run deeper into someone within their organization pushing this onto players?

Matt Beam

More accurately is the number of Latin ball players. From 2nd hand experience, there is a feeling that a ton of these guys go back home over the winter and juice and then come back to the US for the season… and I’m talking minor leagues, too much financial incentive and lack of a decent plan B for their lives if baseball doesn’t work out to not do it


Yea let’s ban something that if used responsibly increases our health, longevity, performance and overall quality of life. Makes a whole lot of sense. FN retarded


How about the kids who were being paraded into the Biogenesis clinic by their parents so they could get an edge like the big-leaguers do? Is that the kind of responsible usage that should be encouraged?

Faye Zbuksukcz

That’s true if you’re a cancer patient. Otherwise, not so much.

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