Dee Gordon‘s recent suspension has renewed the conversation about how to deter and punish PED users. The issue is complicated for a number of reasons. One specific reason — which I discussed this past Friday — concerns the possible benefit to owners of PED suspensions. Teams who employ aging players with large contracts actually benefit when those players are penalized by suspensions without pay. The longer the suspension, the greater the benefit. The principal examples of this at work involve the Yankees (with Alex Rodriguez and his PED suspension) and the Angels (and their frustrations concerning Josh Hamilton‘s lack of suspension for substance abuse).
The noteworthy aspect regarding Gordon’s case, of course, is that he had just received a five-year, $50 million extension this winter. Naturally, the Marlins’ decision to offer Gordon an extension was based, in no small part, on his excellent 2015 season. But was Gordon’s success in 2015 based at all on the positive effects of PEDs? And when he returns to the club in the second half, will he be able to match that success without the aid of PEDs? Did Gordon essentially “dupe” the Marlins into $50 million?
The issue has little to do with moral integrity, but is instead purely financial. The possibility exists for a player to use PEDs, sign a big contract, then get suspended and see his performance decline while the owner remains on the hook for the contract. Players object to this sort of scenario because they see money going to players who are cheating instead of those who play clean. Owners, who have had little problem benefiting from players’ performances even if they are cheating, naturally object to the prospect of owing guaranteed money to players who are unable to provide production at a level commensurate with their contract.
While there is certainly a possibility of PED users benefiting from a large extension or free-agent contract, the questions is, has it actually happened? For this post, I attempted to identify situations in which an owner had been “duped” in this manner during the previous dozen years of PED suspensions.
Major League Baseball began suspending players in 2005, but the suspensions at that time were only for 10- days, hardly an indication that MLB was really ready for meaningful enforcement. Beginning in 2006, the penalty was increased to 50 games, and then in 2014, the current 80-game penalty for first-time offense was instituted. While MLB also suspends for amphetamines, the penalties are less stringent, and the stigma is not anywhere near the same. For the purposes of this post, those cases have been omitted. That leaves us with 31 players and 35 suspensions of at least 50 game since 2006.
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