On August 15, Major League Baseball suspended San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera 50 games after Cabrera tested positive for testosterone, a substance banned under MLB’s Joint Drug Policy. The suspended began immediately. Including the Giants’ game that day against the Washington Nationals, San Francisco would play 45 games from the time of Cabrera’s suspension through the end of the regular season.
Now that the Giants have clinched the National League West title, they are guaranteed to play at least another three, and as many as five, postseason games in the Division Series. These games will count as part of Cabrera’s suspension. Under the Joint Drug Policy (Section 7.H.), a suspension for a certain number of games includes all regular season and post-season games the player would have been eligible to play. “A player shall be deemed to have been eligible for a post-season game if he was on the Club’s active roster . . . immediately preceeding his suspension.”
If the Giants’ Division Series goes the full five games, Cabrera would be eligible for the team’s Championship Series roster. In fact, the Joint Drug Policy (Section 7. I.) requires the Giants to reinstate Cabrera from the Restricted List “immediately at the conclusion of the specified period of ineligibility” — meaning the Giants must add Cabrera to their 40-man roster. San Francisco currently has 40 players on the 40-man roster so the team will have to make a corresponding move to make room for Cabrera. One possible move is for the Giants to release infielder Emmanuel Burriss, again. San Francisco released Burriss in late July. When Burriss cleared waivers, he reported to Triple-A, and re-joined the team after Cabrera was suspended and rosters expanded in September.
The big question looming over the Giants is whether they would activate Cabrera and include him on the NLCS roster. Neither general manager Brian Sabean nor manager Bruce Bochy has made any comment on the record about the Giants’ plans. When news broke last week that Cabrera had agreed with MLB and the Players’ Association to make himself ineligible for the batting title, some (including this author) suggested that Cabrera was trying to put himself in the best possible position with the Giants and the league, in effort to smooth the way for his return to the team in the postseason.
But beat writers and columnists who cover the Giants regularly have reported that the Giants are not likely to add Cabrera to the NLCS roster. Without quoting any Giants officials, Andrew Baggerly of CSNBayArea wrote: “The Giants are not keen on bringing back Cabrera for the postseason, citing the distraction factor as well as his questionable readiness following a 50-game ban.” Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle put it this way: “The organization is so angry with Cabrera, his chance of wearing a Giants uniform again in 2012 falls into the “fat” category.”
The Giants are 25-11 since Cabrera’s suspension. Most analysts saw his departure, coupled with the Dodgers big trade with the Red Sox, as the death knell for the Giants in the NL West race. Instead, the Giants quickly put the suspension behind them and played their best baseball of the season.
A decision to proceed into the NLCS without Cabrera could raise issues under another provision of the Joint Drug Policy. Section 7.M. prohibits a team from imposing additional discipline on a player after his suspension is completed. “No Club may take any disciplinary or adverse action against a Player (including, but not limited to, a fine, suspension, or any adverse action pursuant to a Uniform Player’s Contract) because of a Player’s violation of the Program.” If the Giants reinstate Cabrera from the Restricted List but do not include him on the NLCS or World Series roster, Cabrera could pursue a grievance against the Giants and argue that he is being additionally punished for his violation of the Joint Drug Policy. The Giants are likely to counter that Cabrera — after nearly two months away from organized baseball — is in no condition to play for the team in the postseason and that the 25 players chosen to represent the Giants in the NLCS were better prepared to do so.
If the Giants have no plans to play Cabrera in the postseason, and want to avoid the possibility that he will pursue a grievance, they could simply designate him for assignment when he becomes eligible to come off the Restrict List. Such a move would not be without consequences, however. Cabrera is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of this season. If he’s not on the 40-man roster at the time he becomes a free agent, then the Giants would lose the right to make Cabrera a “Qualifying Offer” — the process that replaced Type A and Type B free agents under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. A Qualifying Offer this offseason is likely to be in the range of $13 million. Absent the drug suspension, the Giants almost certainly would have made such an offer to Cabrera, and been compensated with a draft pick had Cabrera declined.
If the Giants lose the Division Series, none of these issues arise. The same might be true if they win the Division Series in fewer than five games. That’s because Cabrera wouldn’t then be eligible for the NLCS roster but only, potentially, for the World Series. At that point, the Giants would likely feel very comfortable taking the position that Cabrera’s time away from organized baseball makes him a hindrance, and not a help, on the World Series roster.
Interesting issues all. We’ll keep an eye on how this plays out as the Giants take move onto the Division Series, mostly likely against the Cincinnati Reds or the Washington Nationals.