Monday, August 5, 2013

By David Saltzer Senior Writer

While most of the discussions around the current PED scandal have revolved around what to do with the individual players who allegedly took PEDs, there has been some healthy discussion about what to do with the teams whose players actually took the drugs. It’s a legitimate issue because the PED scandal cuts at the purity of the game which lies at the heart of baseball. The numbers, the records, the history of the game are all tainted as a result of the scandal.

Some fans have called for reversing or removing the stats from the players involved in the scandal. While this would seem the most Solomonic, in reality it cannot happen. One cannot say how the seasons would have played out simply be removing a certain player’s numbers. With all the permutations on in-game moves, trades, free agent signings, etc. make this solution impossible. No one would have the wisdom to truly discern how a season would play out without the stats from those who cheated. As much as fans would like to be rid of the illgotten records, we are unfortunately stuck with them.

But that does not mean that teams who signed players with PEDs should get off scot-free. Those teams and those fans received unjust rewards as a result of the cheating. They won games that they shouldn’t have won, made playoff appearances that they didn’t legitimately earn, sold seats and merchandise, etc. As such, they should be punished.

I believe that teams who have Major League players caught using PEDs should have two direct consequences. The first is that the teams should be forced to donate the salary for any player suspended for using PEDs into MLB’s Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities (RBI) charity. Second, I believe that any team who has a player caught using PEDs should lose their draft picks for the first three rounds in the following year’s draft and be forced to draft last in every subsequent round, regardless of their record (and receiving the lowest signing bonuses as computed for their draft slots for both the domestic and international pools). If multiple teams are caught at the same time, a coin toss would decide the order for picks, but all would be given the least amount in signing bonus money. And, if teams have multiple players caught at the same time, they should lose picks for 3 more rounds for each subsequent player caught. (Please note: I do not think that these punishments should be given for teams with Minor League players caught using PEDs—that should be handled differently).

The first punishment is necessary to preserve the integrity of the team. Let’s face it, there is a strong and justifiable belief that Major League Baseball and the Yankees were pushing for a lifetime ban for A-Rod just to help the Yankees get out of a bad contract. Whether it is true or not is irrelevant at this point: it’s the perception that matters.

Buck Showalter already pointed out that banning A-Rod would in fact help the Yankees to avoid the luxury tax and allow them to go on a free-agent spending spree with the potential windfall money saved from A-Rod’s contract. This would disrupt the competitive balance of the game, much to the detriment of a team like the Orioles which cannot afford to spend like the Yankees. It is very logical to assume that many teams made trades or signings as a result of the current economic realities. Allowing the Yankees to completely upset that would be a major disruption to all teams, and would give them a tremendous advantage predicated on A-Rod’s cheating. As a result, MLB should want all teams to appear honest and fair about their dealings in this scandal, and the best way to protect the integrity for all teams is to donate the salaries to a worthy charity.

By donating the salary money to the RBI charity, baseball would also be taking a step to counteract one aspect of the PED scandal: the long-term effect on the popularity of the sport. With the rise of numerous other sports, not as many kids today are growing up playing baseball. This is especially true in inner cities, where access to fields, equipment, coaching, etc. is more limited. In the long run, that will decrease the potential market for the game in a generation or two which is bad for the long-term economics of the game. By giving the salary money to the RBI charity, the teams would be taking a step to further increase the sport’s future fanbase.

As for stripping teams of the following year’s draft picks, this is a fair solution to a difficult challenge. Much like steroids give players a boost in the present by potentially robbing from their health in the future, the teams that benefitted from the cheating will get to keep their records in the present but at the expense of the future. And, much like there is no certainty as to how much benefit an individual received from taking the steroids, there is no certainty as to how much of a loss it would be to a team to draft picks in their first three rounds. As we all know, there have been plenty of great players picked in later rounds, so, it does not deprive a team of all hope. But, what this does do is provide a punishment for the teams that received an illgotten benefit.

Normally, our legal system does not punish people for the criminal acts of another. However, there are plenty of exceptions to that such as those who act as accomplices and co-conspirators. For example, all the members of a conspiracy, such as the manufacturing and distribution of illegal drugs (think “Breaking Bad”) can be punished for the criminal acts of all the other members of the conspiracy as long as they derived a benefit from the act or the crime was done in furtherance of the conspiracy. They can be punished for the acts of others in the conspiracy, whether or not they knew of the other parties or criminal acts, as long as they derived some benefit from them. (Now before people jump all over me, I’m only using this as an example and do not believe that steroids are as bad as the meth depictions in the TV show). 

It’s fairly obvious that for a long time baseball turned a blind-eye towards PEDs. Worse yet, baseball profited from PEDs with increased revenue. This must stop. Teams should be actively discouraged from having players using PEDs because it allows a few players to tarnish the sport for the majority. Teams should have every reason to actively discourage their players from using PEDs. Stripping teams of their draft picks would be a substantial incentive towards being more proactive about not using PEDs and preserving the game’s image. Teams should have an active interest in what happens in their clubhouses and with their players, and should not be allowed to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that they have no knowledge.

There is one potential down-side to making teams forfeit their draft picks and reducing their signing bonuses. In an unfortunate way, this could encourage teams to seek out players lower in the draft who might be more prone to using PEDs to make it into the Major Leagues. Hopefully, teams would realize that this would not work as the players would earn larger and larger contracts that would have to be paid if the player were ever caught cheating. But, if that did not stop the problem, repeat violations could result in more severe losses, such as losing draft picks for more rounds in order to deter a team from seeking out that type of player.

I know that this cannot happen right now in light of the current scandal. None of this is in the current CBA and would have to be negotiated with the players union. However, if I were the commissioner, I would want to see the teams whose players have been caught using PEDs receive a consequence, and these are the consequences I would desire.

Now it’s your turn to sound out on whether or not you think teams should be punished for having players using PEDs and if so, what the punishment should be. 
Love to hear what you think!

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