Tom Verducci's View

June 06, 2004

THE 'ROID VOID

Three months into the first year of mandatory steroid testing
with penalties for positive results, a major league player has
yet to be tested, according to two high-placed sources familiar
with the screening program. That inactivity underscores a major
loophole in the program: Players can be tested only once a year
from March through September, not including a follow-up test to
be administered five to seven days later. That means anyone who
passes a test early in the season effectively has a green light
to use banned substances for the rest of the year.

The five-person committee that runs the program, which includes
union and ownership representatives, rightly wants the testing to
hang over players like the sword of Damocles. Consequently,
owners and players have been negotiating changes to the program
that, if quickly agreed upon, they intend to implement this
season. Rather than subject some players to the existing program
and others to a revised one, they wisely have withheld all tests.

Closing the one-test loophole should be the first priority of
owners and players. In the anonymous, penalty-free tests
administered last season, 240 players were randomly selected to
take a second test, a provision that kept players guessing if
they would be tested again. Though neither side has pushed for
such a measure, off-season testing is also needed if baseball is
serious about cracking down on banned performance-enhancing
drugs.

BELTRAN: ANAHEIM-BOUND?

Several baseball executives agree that the Royals should shop
centerfielder Carlos Beltran (right) now rather than wait for the
July 31 trade deadline. Kansas City, which has no hope of
re-signing the free-agent-to-be (11 homers), ended last week 11
games out of first in the AL Central. "He has more value as a
four-month rental than as a two-month rental," one executive
says. The Angels may be in the best position to satisfy the
Royals with major-league-ready prospects, though the Padres, who
see Beltran as the player who can keep them atop the NL West,
have strong interest.

LOOKING FOR THE RIGHT GUY

With a .259 batting average Alexis Rios (left) was hardly tearing
up Triple A pitching, but the prized Blue Jays outfield prospect
was promoted to the majors on May 26 to inject some life into an
underachieving offense. Rios, 23, is a natural centerfielder who
will play rightfield, with Vernon Wells remaining in center and
Frank Catalanotto in left. "We've tried everybody [at the corner
outfield positions]," general manager J.P. Ricciardi says.
"[Chad] Hermanson, Howie Clark, Dave Berg. Rios had a great year
last year in Double A, dominated winter ball and had a great
spring training. It's his sixth year as a pro. I don't know if
he'll stick, but we don't have a better option right now."

THREE STRIKES

1. B.J. Ryan of the Orioles (right) has emerged as a rare
top-quality lefthanded relief specialist. At week's end
lefthanded hitters were 0 for 29 against Ryan this season with 16
strikeouts.

2. Seattle (18-31) is the team most likely to be dismantled in
the next two months, with pitchers Gil Meche and Freddy Garcia,
infielders Rich Aurilia and John Olerud and outfielder Randy Winn
priced to move.

3. How bad is Tampa Bay? It continues to give at bats to
infielder Rey Sanchez, who at week's end had one RBI, one
extra-base hit and four walks in 90 plate appearances.

COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER COLOR PHOTO: AL MESSERSCHMIDT/WIREIMAGE.COM COLOR PHOTO: ROB TRINGALI/SPORTSCHROME

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)