MLB discipline in scandal not a given
League can suspend players without a positive PED test, but it's very difficult
MIAMI -- Before the New York Yankees can actually move to void Alex Rodriguez's contract -- an extremely difficult proposition -- he'll have to be suspended for doping. And that is far from a sure thing, for Rodriguez or any of the players implicated this week in a growing performance-enhancing drug scandal.
The evidence published in Miami New Times linking Rodriguez to Anthony Bosch and the BioGenesis clinic in Coral Gables, Fla., is not enough for Major League Baseball to suspend him.
MLB can discipline a player without a positive test if there is a preponderance of evidence that the person doped or tried to dope. It's called a "non-analytic positive." But the ledgers that allegedly connect Rodriguez to the clinic would have to be sworn to under oath by someone with direct knowledge of them. Namely, Bosch himself, who has denied wrongdoing in a brief statement and also through his attorney.
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Without pressure from federal prosecutors, it's hard to see how Bosch could be compelled to swear an affidavit or testify in an arbitration hearing about the documents, or his connection to any of the players. MLB would need a witness or some sort of documentation -- a prescription, shipping records, something that can directly connect them -- to suspend Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, Gio Gonzalez, Yasmani Grandal or Nelson Cruz, who were all implicated in the report. MLB officials have tried to speak to the players about possible drug connections, but were rebuffed, sources said.
Cabrera, Colon and Grandal were suspended for 50 games after testing positive last season, but each could face a second, 100-game suspension if MLB can establish that the players used PEDs on other occasions. The requirement would be establishing that any further incidents were independent of previous transgressions.
There is precedent. Manny Ramirez was suspended in 2009 after MLB discovered a prescription for human chorionic gonadotropin, written by Bosch's father, Pedro.
But getting corroboration isn't always easy, whether it's for an administrative or a criminal case. Federal prosecutors had ledgers that appeared to link Barry Bonds to the BALCO lab at the center of a massive steroid scandal 10 years ago, but the only man who could verify those records, Bonds' friend and personal trainer Greg Anderson, chose to sit in prison on contempt of court charges rather than testify against the former Giant. Without Anderson, Judge Susan Illston ruled that the evidence was inadmissible. A federal jury still convicted Bonds on one count of obstruction. MLB wasn't able to punish Bonds because his use took place before a policy was in effect.
Even when the government has a witness, that's no guarantee that witness will hold up as credible. Federal prosecutors had the cooperation of Roger Clemens' trainer, Brian McNamee, but despite his detailed testimony about Clemens' PED use, a jury said it didn't believe him when it acquitted Clemens of all charges.
In the event Rodriguez is suspended, it is still unlikely the Yankees could void his contract. The game's labor agreement specifically addresses PED use and prescribes a 50-game suspension for a first offense, a 100-game suspension for a second and a lifetime ban for a third. The language was developed so teams couldn't arbitrarily punish players for PED use, and legal experts say there would have to be extraordinary circumstances to get around that language.
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