This past week in Major League Baseball had two major storylines that both had ties to—both directly and indirectly—performance enhancing drugs and their place in the game. Unfortunately, the stories being talked about aren’t the only ways drugs are impacting the game.
Wednesday the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced it’s newest members—Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas—elected by the Baseball Writers of American Association (BBWAA). Amidst the election was one voter giving his vote to Deadspin, while another voter submitted a blank ballot and another voted just for Jack Morris. Each vote, or lack of vote, was some kind of personal statement or protest to the players of the Steroid Era and their place in the game.
Throughout the election process many outside of the BBWAA called for voters to publicly display their ballots and many more clamored for reform in how the Hall of Fame voting process is conducted. Members of the BBWAA continue to believe their membership is the best body to elect Hall of Famers and decide the role players of the past generation have in the Hall and the game’s history. Each vote cast is the writer’s opinion of what is, “best for the game.”
Meanwhile, in another attempt to do what is best for the game of baseball, Alex Rodriguez was suspended for 162-games on Saturday for his use of performance enhancing drugs. An independent arbiter decided the evidence and testimony linking Rodriguez to continued use of performance enhancing drugs was enough to suspend him for the entire 2014 season. It’s a punishment most expected and few feel sorry for Rodriguez.
Major League Baseball and Commissioner Bud Selig will certainly tout this as a victory against players who use PEDs and see it as a day that will scare other players from making the choices that Rodriguez has made and led him to this crossroad. It’s also a victory for others that might not necessarily be in the best interest of the game, the thing everyone seems to be so concerned about.
One of the stories from the fallout of Rodriguez’s suspension that isn’t getting nearly enough attention is that the New York Yankees will not have to pay most of his salary this season while he is suspended. (I was stunned to learn Rodriguez still gets paid for the off days in the Yankees schedule, according to Forbes.) Rodriguez’s salary, plus the almost certain $6 million bonus he would have earned if he hit six home runs this year, tying Willie Mays’ 660 mark, will save the Yankees $28.13 million this season that they can now redistribute back into making their team better.
While Major League Baseball does not have a salary cap, every team has their own self-imposed salary cap. Each team’s salary cap just happens to be different. No team deficit spends and Yankees have made it very clear their goal is to get under the $189 million Luxury Tax imposed by Major League Baseball. Because of this, the Yankees have been smaller players in free agency the last couple winters than they have much of the last decade. It also has allowed key names, including their own homegrown Robinson Cano, to sign in untraditional landing spots like Seattle. One could argue their insistence to get under the Luxury Tax was part of the reason they parted ways with Nick Swisher and the Cleveland Indians even had the opportunity to sign him.
Now the Yankees are off the hook for the $28.13 million Rodriguez would have likely earned in 2014. They can use that money to make a strong push for Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and maybe another starting pitcher like Matt Garza, Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez to strengthen their staff and improve their team. A newly available $28 million in the middle of January can make a team much better quickly.
It doesn’t really seem fair that an organization that willingly invested $275 million over 10 years in 2008 has no punishment or repercussion for making a terrible investment. On top of it, it seems the Yankees are rewarded with a rebate that will benefit themselves and hurt other teams in the game.
The trickle down effect has an impact on everyone. If the Yankees use that money to sign players they otherwise would not have been able to afford, they benefit by making their team better but other teams get worse by not adding those free agents to their roster. Take the Indians, for instance, who are quietly watching the calendar and the market to see if Jimenez may consider returning to them on a one-year deal. The Yankees rebate on Rodriguez’s contract could be the money they need to sign him for the price Jimenez has been looking for and not finding all winter. The Yankees get better, the Indians—or whatever team would have signed him—are now worse.
Fans and media alike clamored earlier this winter when Jhonny Peralta received a four-year, $56 million contract from the St. Louis Cardinals, just after serving a 50-game suspension for PEDs during the 2013 season. Much of the same was true when Melky Cabrera signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays a year ago, right after serving a 50-game suspension in 2012.
Considering teams receive a “get out of jail free card,” on a player’s contracts if they are suspended, why would a team hesitate about giving any of these players a big deal. Worse yet, you could argue a team does not necessarily have an incentive to be proactive against PEDs. If players use masking agents and beat the tests, teams benefit on the field and in the standings with the juiced up statistics and production. If the player is caught, teams get their money back.
When Peralta signed his contract earlier this winter and when MLB suspended players last August, there was an outcry to make players’ contracts non-guaranteed. Instead of just allowing teams to void contracts, why not force teams to continue to pay those salaries of suspended players, but have the money instead go to charities or drug prevention programs?
Suddenly, everyone would be accountable to the problem hurting baseball for the last 25 years. General Managers would think twice before signing a known PED user. Front office executives that did sign a player who was later busted for PED use would likely be under pressure for their own job. If teams were on the hook to pay contracts, for players they were receiving no performance for, everyone involved would have something invested in making sure MLB was a clean game.
It’s a concept that could help clean up the game and improve competitive balance, yet no one seems to be writing about it. Maybe those BBWAA writers grandstanding through ballot giveaways or blank ballots about their opinions of the past could instead use their position and voice to write about ways to improve the game’s future.
It could be a step toward not just cleaning up the game, but their Hall of Fame ballots.
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