Five Cuts after Wednesday's announcement by Major League Baseball that Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for testosterone:
The Giants entered play on Wednesday tied with their archrival Dodgers for first place in the National League West. Whichever team doesn't win the division is only a half-game behind the Pirates for the second Wild Card spot. San Francisco has recently acquired rightfielder Hunter Pence in a trade, seen co-ace Tim Lincecum improve on his disastrous first half and had All-Star third baseman Pablo Sandoval return to its lineup. In short, the 2012 season was shaping up for the Giants to make a strong run at the postseason and, they hoped, their second World Series title in three years.
Now they've lost Cabrera for the next 50 games and their outlook isn't so rosy. Cabrera leads the team in batting average (.346) and hits (159) and is second to catcher Buster Posey in home runs (11), RBIs (60), on-base percentage (.390) and slugging percentage (.516). San Francisco has 45 remaining regular-season games; if it makes the playoffs, Cabrera would be allowed to rejoin the team after its first five games. That said, one wonders if the team will want him after this breach of trust and, practically, whether he'll have had enough high-level at bats to be ready for the game's best pitching. (The minor league postseason will be long since over, meaning instructional leagues might be his only outlet for game action.)
Cabrera may not be an active Giant for the next 50 games, but he still made a lasting contribution to help the National League win another World Series. It is unknown exactly when Cabrera failed his test, but he was an eligible player at the time of the All-Star Game, for which he was named MVP thanks to his two hits, including a home run, in the NL's 8-0 win.
The Giants are now missing their everyday No. 3 hitter and leftfielder, who won't be easily replaced. The trade for Pence was necessary even with Cabrera in the lineup as the club ranks ninth in the NL in runs scored and 15th (i.e. next-to-last) in home runs. San Francisco signed Xavier Nady to a minor league contract earlier this month, and he could provide some depth behind Gregor Blanco, who will presumably take over in the everyday lineup, though Nady is not an impact player.
With the suspension having been handed down after the trade deadline, San Francisco will have to be more creative to make an addition, by either trusting a minor leaguer or by making a trade for a player who either has cleared or will clear waivers. In the minors, Triple-A outfielder Justin Christian, who is batting .348, will likely get a second call at the big leagues after batting just .158 in 38 at bats earlier this season. As for waiver trades, the Cubs' Alfonso Soriano, who is still owed roughly $40 million in the final two-plus years of his contract, is probably one such option after he reportedly cleared earlier Wednesday, but he has 10-and-5 trade veto rights, which is an additional complication. It's unclear who else might become available, though surely there'll be a few options.
The testing system put in place by the Joint Drug Program received a lot of attention last winter after Brewers leftfielder Ryan Braun successfully appealed a possible suspension, citing a problem with the collection procedure in a process that played out publicly because of a leak to the media. The JDP was revised in June and, though other players have failed tests and been suspended in the interim, none approached the stature of Cabrera, who's a batting title contender and All-Star Game MVP who was about to become a very rich man in free agency.
In this instance the JDP testing procedures seemed to work very well, as Cabrera did not follow through with an appeal he didn't think he could win, according to a report by the New York
"My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used," Cabrera said in the statement. "I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and I will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down."
On the heels of two very good seasons -- a .305 average and .809 OPS in 2011 with the Royals, followed by a .346 average and .906 OPS in 2012 with the Giants -- would have set up Cabrera, who turned 28 four days ago, for a bounty this winter. He'd have shown consistency and improvement over the past two years, with success in both leagues.
That's the type of production that could have landed Cabrera a huge multi-year contract. Now prospective employers will wonder how much of that success is tainted and whether such a lapse could happen again, crushing his potential value. He'll surely have several suitors, but it's doubtful any will offer anywhere near as much as they would have before this revelation.
There isn't any notable precedent of an attractive free agent hitting the open market on the heels of a PED suspension, so it's hard to know exactly how much impact this will have. The biggest name that has been suspended -- leftfielder Manny Ramirez, first in 2009 and then in 2011 -- received both of his bans shortly after signing contracts.
Cabrera's .346 average currently ranks second in the NL behind only the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen at .359. To date Cabrera has 501 plate appearances, only one shy of the minimum number needed for the batting title. However, according to Rule 10.22, all PAs shy of the minimum are allowed to be counted as outs, if the player would still lead his league. (In 1996 the Padres' Tony Gwynn was named batting champ despite only 498 PAs; he actually hit .353 but his formal ranking with the added outs was .349, which still outpaced second-place Ellis Burks at .344.)
Adding one out to Cabrera's stat line only drops his average from .3464 to .3457 -- both would be counted officially as .346 -- meaning he could still win the batting title even without playing again in the regular season.