A summer sewn with satisfying storylines of emerging young stars and tight division races may be overshadowed by suspensions and appeals, moving the spotlight from ballparks to courtrooms.
ESPN’s Outside the Lines reported Tuesday that as many as 20 players -- including Brewers leftfielder Ryan Braun and rehabbing Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez -- could be suspended after the All-Star break for alleged performance-enhancing drug-related offenses linked to their alleged involvement with the Biogenesis clinic.
League spokesman Pat Courtney wrote in an email, “We are still in the midst of an active investigation, and no decisions have been made.” Rodriguez has previously denied being Bosch’s patient and declined to comment on Tuesday, according to ESPN. Braun has long denied using PEDs and did not address this new report, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
The report provided new information -- Braun apparently refused to answer questions about the matter in an interview with Major League Baseball, and Rodriguez is scheduled to meet with MLB on Friday -- and also helped establish a timeline for league action. Ever since Outside the Lines first reported that Biogenesis operator Tony Bosch had agreed to cooperate with MLB, suspensions have been looming; now they seem imminent.
While it is noble for the league to pursue bans for all alleged cheaters, whether they are stars or otherwise, the timing of this matter may set a cloud over the second half of the season.
There’s the obvious issue of the players involved potentially being absent for 50 or even 100 games -- Rodriguez’s Yankees are hanging in the AL East race, for instance; Braun’s Brewers will have 25 remaining games against the division-contending Cardinals, Pirates and Reds -- but there’s also an inherent level of distraction in a publicly protracted process.
Once the league attempts to suspend someone, the player and union will inevitably appeal that suspension, making for a drawn-out process that could dominate the headlines. Typically, suspensions and appeals happen privately, but ESPN’s T.J. Quinn reports that they will be done publicly this time:
Furthermore, the precise timing of this process will matter a great deal to postseason races. “After the All-Star break” is a vague and flexible date, but the trade deadline -- July 31 -- is not. Will contending teams know the likelihood of their players getting suspended in time to make a corresponding move? How long will the appeals process last? In what order will the cases be heard? Anything besides concurrent decisions on appeals from the arbitrator could alter the competitive landscape, if a player from one team is suspended this season while a player on an opposing contender isn't suspended until next season.
A lot remains unknown, such as whether MLB has enough evidence to uphold these expected suspensions and who is included on the roster of remaining players -- reportedly 20 could be suspended but only a little more than half have been previously named. About all that seems certain, in fact, is that whatever happens will be a lot less fun than the actual baseball.