In The Wake Of Bartolo Colon, The MLB Drug Testing Policy Must Change

Updated: August 22, 2012

Victor Conte not withstanding, the two recent positive tests and subsequent 50 game suspensions of Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon show that the MLB drug testing policy is, more or less, working. Though improvements must continue to be made to make the tests unbeatable, it is clear that the testing net as currently constructed is able to catch at least some offenders.

However, if MLB is serious about cracking down on performance enhancing drugs, the penalties for testing positive must be sufficient to seriously dissuade players from using PEDs in the first place. The current system, which levies a 50 game suspension for a first offense, 100 games for the second, and a lifetime ban for the third, is nowhere near stringent enough. It doesn’t hit potential users where it hurts: their wallets.

There are two things I need to mention before I propose some new penalties for MLB’s testing policy.

First, it’s about time that players were blood tested. Blood testing is the best way to detect doping and is very simply a more effective means than the currently used urine testing. That the union won’t allow it is a joke. They assert that the tests would be an invasion of the player’s privacy but that is a ridiculous excuse.

I’m all for privacy rights, but playing Major League Baseball is a privilege, not a right, and if one of the membership requirements must be a blood test, so be it. In fact, I think that if accurate testing requires it, each player should be subjected to a baseline test before their first game in the league, and then repeatedly retested to ensure they don’t deviate from that baseline.

What is the union going to do, strike? Yeah, that would go over really well with the fans and the media.

This brings me to my second preliminary point. Right now, the limit for testosterone levels, the limit which both Cabrera and Colon broke, is four times the normal level. Does that make any sense? So four times normal is considered positive but three times normal is fine? What does ‘normal’ even mean?

The current ceiling implies that a little doping is ok, as long as you don’t go too far. That’s absurd and needs to be fixed. The PED policy must make sense. That a positive test is only triggered at four times the normal level doesn’t follow this simplest of guidelines.

Ok, so what happens when a player gets caught? Instead of a 50 game suspension I propose a year ban for the first offense. No games for one calendar year from the date of the test.

Not only that–and this is the kicker–the player’s contract is immediately voided upon confirmation of a positive test. This would take guaranteed money out of the offender’s pocket and prevent situations like the debacle a few years ago in LA. To refresh your memory, Manny Ramirez signed a two year, $45 million deal and promptly tested positive, leaving the team hung out to dry.

A voided contract is huge deal. It is completely unprecedented and, I believe, the only way to get through to players the seriousness of a positive. If a player has a 10 year, $200 million deal at the time of the positive… gone, poof, off the books. Same thing for a one year tender at the league minimum.

In all seriousness, wasn’t it worth it for Melky Cabrera to use PEDs? Obviously his positive test cost him millions upon millions of dollars (I wrote about that here), but arguably, if not for the ’roids, he would never have had that opportunity in the first place. It was worth the risk of a 50 game ban for Cabrera because the payoff was exponential. If he had to sit for a full year, lost all the money that was still owed to him, and was a free agent when he came back, that cost-benefit equation would change. Big time.

For a second offense, if all the penalties from the first aren’t enough, I propose a lifetime ban. Two strikes and you’re out! That’s it. No baseball for you.

Of course, all of this would be a tough sell to the Players’ Union but, again, what are they going to do? Realistically, they have no leverage here. The public and the media are squarely in the ‘get the game clean’ corner and any opposition to that simply wouldn’t fly.

If the MLB really wants to clean up baseball and keep PEDs out, follow my suggestions.

-Max Frankel

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