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Melky Cabrera’s contract is not evidence that the drug program is broken

Nov 16, 2012, 2:38 PM EDT

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As soon as the news broke that Melky Cabrera is signing with the Blue Jays, several people in my Twitter timeline said things to the effect that it must be the case that baseball’s drug testing system is broken if someone fresh off a PED suspension can sign a two-year, $16 million deal. And I get the frustration I suppose, because no one likes to see cheaters prosper, but whatever you think of this deal, it cannot reasonably be interpreted as an indictment of the drug testing system.

Based on his last two seasons, Melky Cabrera was poised to make something like $40 million bucks in free agency. Maybe more. And now, though he is not going to be hurting or anything, he’s going to make less than half that.  Say what you want about the drug testing system, but tens of millions of dollars in lost wages is no small penalty.

Now, that doesn’t mean that Cabrera’s use of PEDs didn’t still somehow help him. I’ll acknowledge that $16 million over two years may still be more than he ever could have got if he never took PEDs.  But we don’t know. We simply have no way of knowing how much of Cabrera’s improvement over the past two years was a function of PEDs and how much of it was natural improvement as he reached an age when most players put up their best years. Maybe he would have turned into the player his potential always suggested he might, in which case he’d still be making a good living. Maybe he wouldn’t have. If anyone claims to know this for sure, they’re making crap up, because it’s unknowable with current science and baseball analytics.

But no matter what amount of advantage he still realized, it’s on Cabrera, human nature and the incentives any person — and any team like the Blue Jays — is subject to, not baseball’s drug program.  Just as no laws, no matter how tough, can eradicate crime, no drug testing program can eradicate cheating. People will still do it from time to time. And when they do, they run the risk of getting caught. And when they get caught, they are punished. As Melky Cabrera was punished, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.

Still not good enough for you? OK, that’s your right to think so. But know that the only logical conclusion to such thinking is to advocate for a lifetime ban for first time drug users. Because that’s the only thing that would have kept a team from taking a chance on Melky Cabrera like the Blue Jays are.  And while you may disagree, I think such a thing would be way too damn harsh.

  1. cur68 - Nov 16, 2012 at 2:41 PM

    Ayup. That’s about how I see it.

    • missthemexpos - Nov 16, 2012 at 4:44 PM

      Hey C68, living somewhere in the Toronto area, should you not be using the phrase Ehup?

      • cur68 - Nov 16, 2012 at 4:47 PM

        I live in Alberta. “Ayup”, “yep”, “youbetcha” & “pass me a beer” are all in play.

      • natstowngreg - Nov 16, 2012 at 5:39 PM

        That’s odd. “Ayup” is normally associated with Vermont, New Hampshire, or Maine.

      • cur68 - Nov 16, 2012 at 7:19 PM

        Pass me a beer

  2. uyf1950 - Nov 16, 2012 at 2:42 PM

    I agree with the point that this contract does NOT prove the drug program is broken. In fact I would suggest just the opposite. Before his suspension Melky was probably looking at a 5 or 6 year deal in the $80MM range. Instead now he had to settle for but a fraction of that. No better proof to me at least that the program is working then when it hurts a players who took advantage of it in the wallet. Just my opinion.

  3. husky2score - Nov 16, 2012 at 2:53 PM

    Craig, your saying way too harsh? You are a Braves fan your supposed to hate Melky! Nothing is too harsh!

  4. danaking - Nov 16, 2012 at 2:54 PM

    Agree. One other thought: If i were the Blue Jays–and the CBA allowed it–I’d have a clause in the contract stating any violation of baseball’s drug policies voids the contract. True, he wouldn’t have to sign it and could look elsewhere for a deal, but any such refusal could tell you a lot.

    • natstowngreg - Nov 16, 2012 at 3:10 PM

      That makes a lot of sense. Which is why such a contract might violate the CBA.

      • blacksables - Nov 16, 2012 at 3:35 PM

        Ever heard of Carlos Zambrano?

      • sabatimus - Nov 16, 2012 at 5:20 PM

        I don’t think a refusal would tell us anything because the public would never know about that clause. Ever. Unless, perhaps, the refused team felt stilted enough to smear Melky or any other player for that matter. And I gotta agree: I sincerely doubt such a clause would be legal under the CBA.

      • natstowngreg - Nov 16, 2012 at 6:20 PM

        Yes, I’ve heard of Carlos Zambrano. Is there a point to mentioning him?

        As far as putting something in a player’s contract, after looking at the CBA and MLB Drug Policy, can’t say. But then, I’m not a lawyer, don’t play one on TV, and didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express(tm) last night.
        CBA:http://mlbplayers.mlb.com/pa/pdf/cba_english.pdf
        Drug Policy: http://mlbplayers.mlb.com/pa/pdf/jda.pdf

        The Uniform Player Contract refers to the Drug Policy, which includes suspensions for getting caught. I’d imagine that, if a team tried to put something more specific in a player’s contract, even if it is legal, the MLBPA would scream bloody murder, seek arbitration, etc.

    • superpriebe - Nov 16, 2012 at 4:33 PM

      Were he suspended a second time, it would be for 100 games, right? What about tethering salary in the second year to games played?

  5. stevejeltzjehricurl - Nov 16, 2012 at 2:58 PM

    What’s the goal of the system? I’d like to think that it’s to dis-incentivize the use of PEDs.

    I think it’s impossible to tell what the results would have been for Melky if he had not been using. But the system caught him, and as a result, he landed a contract in free agency that was far less than he would have obtained if he had not been caught. I’d say mission accomplished.

    • natslady - Nov 16, 2012 at 3:22 PM

      That doesn’t make sense at all. Of course you lose if you get caught. I mean, if you are a jewel thief and you get caught, you get jail time. The reason Melky is getting less $$ is because he is a twofold risk

      (1) He will regress due to not using PEDs and not be worth $80MM
      (2) He will get caught again, and incur a 100 game suspension, thereby the Blue Jays will be deprived of his services.

      What the Blue Jays are hoping is that he uses and doesn’t get caught. That’s not what I call a disincentive.

      • cur68 - Nov 16, 2012 at 3:33 PM

        Now now, Natslady. You presume that My Boys are going to condone PEDs use. But take a look at this from another perspective: Melky’s coming into his age 28-29-30 seasons and he’s under contract to play ball for them. It could be true what you say: “the Blue Jays are hoping is that he uses and doesn’t get caught”. OR it could be true that Anthopolous recognizes that this kid’s just coming into his most productive years and will RAKE, PEDs use or no PEDs use.

        The Beavermen have an excellent hitting coach. By now they must see him as their locker room deity a la Jobu in Major League. A little of that Duane Murphy Magic and who needs the PEDs?

      • paint771 - Nov 16, 2012 at 3:54 PM

        WTF. How about:

        (3) That Melky is worth 2/16 deal even without PEDS.

        And isn’t that the most LIKELY outcome?

        I mean, it’s not like just a YEAR ago we didn’t have a player go into the off-season with PED questions surrounding a phenomenal performance. And, it turns out, he had pretty much the exact same year he did before the PED positive test (Ryan Braun, of course). In fact, I’m hard pressed to think of a single example of a player who tested positive for PEDs and then massively regressed the next year.

        It continues to just befuddle me how people view this issue with a grade-school level understanding. Like PEDs are some kind of magic bullet that turn sucky players into great ones – like spinach to Popeye. EVERY SINGLE BALLPLAYER YOU LIKE IS TAKING BOATLOADS OF PERFORMANCE ENHANCING DRUGS.

        This is long, but whatever, don’t read it then – cur suggested, when I posted it relating to Braun last year, that I re-post it whenever this topic comes up.

        —-

        My basic stance here is that there is no practical solution, and that the lines we try to draw are little more than polite fictions.

        Using baseball as the example, would I prefer that all players be natural athletes? Sure. But there’s no way to accomplish that in any meaningful way, and it comes down to an arbitrary philosophical question rather than a moral one.

        I think it’s important for people to understand that “performance enhancing drugs” isn’t a light switch – which is to say it isn’t really on or off, a binary yes-no kind of thing.

        Rather, it’s a spectrum – a color wheel sort of thing, with an arbitrary, often-moving line where, on one side, we call it “dark” and on the other side “light”.

        What non-athletes I think don’t get is that pretty much EVERY professional athlete is taking a TON of performance-enhancing substances, for everything from injury recovery/prevention injections to just routine conditioning supplements. Go into any GNC store in the world and start reading ingredients and you’ll see what I mean. Ask any professional or even semi-professional athlete what they ingest besides food and booze on a daily basis, and you’ll often get a list a mile long – checking ingredients would be like reading a shampoo bottle.

        Most of that stuff we call legal, and some of it we call illegal, and some of the stuff legal today is illegal tomorrow, and some of the stuff that’s legal tomorrow will essentially do the same thing as the illegal stuff of today. There’s about a million ways, for instance, to bump your testosterone levels (as per Braun). Some are legal, some aren’t, and some guys have levels that baseline at a level that would be illegal for other guys. But the line is entirely arbitrary, and the basic idea – that there are some guys that succeed based on natural ability and talent, and then the f’ing cheaters – is entirely false.

        And, frankly, the other thing I think people understand is that illegal PEDs aren’t some kind of magic bullet that causes a .230/13/42 guy to go to a .313/54/138 guy in six months. You could dope me up with all the PEDs that I could tolerate without dying and it’s not like I’d become a major league all-star (or even minor league journeyman). It really only makes a difference in shades. All the major leaguers are taking stuff, and they’re all, for the most part, all taking the same stuff. And some of them are taking more of it, or certain varieties that cross the line by being slightly more illegal than the stuff that’s legal. But almost without exception, the difference is in degree, not kind. A tomato can is a tomato can, and a guy that can blast is a guy that can blast.

        The premise – that we can (or do) separate the natural from the enhanced is entirely nonsense in every real-world way. It becomes instead “purity theater” with no meaningful impact on the game save causing a lot of headaches and distractions. I’d rather instead a system in which players are given regularly health checkups (physicals and blood work with a higher bar) to make sure all they stuff they’re taking isn’t killing them, and then sending them on their merry way.

        Again, I get integrity of the game arguments, and entirely sympathize. But in the history of sporting contests, there have been things that athletes do to themselves that a “natural” person doesn’t that gives them an edge, be it mechanical, chemical, whatever. That is, in fact, in large measure what makes them athletes. As long as there is a material advantage to being better at something physical than your peers, people will find ways to tweak their physicality to give them an edge.

      • natslady - Nov 16, 2012 at 4:10 PM

        cur, that is possible. I wish there were some kind of “probation,” to determine that. IOW, no lifetime ban for only one violation, but he’s only allowed a 1-year contract, at a max salary of say $5MM. Unfortunately, that’s not feasible, because if he really has “figured it out” and can play at a high level without the PEDs, then every team would be willing to take the risk for such a bargain. So, short of a lifetime ban, you are letting the free market operate, apparently.

        Absolutely agree that Melky is in his “prime” years and a good coach can help with his hitting problems, should they (re)surface. And you know, all the PEDs in the world wouldn’t make me an MLB-level hitter (though I would grow a lot more hair). But Melky (and his agent and trainer) knew he was in his prime years, etc., etc., yet they still added on the chemicals.

        You better get a damn fine manager there, cur. Because I’m assuming there are players on the Jays who are NOT using, and it’s gonna be a challenge in the clubhouse. I think there are probably players on every team that use, and it’s a matter of degree. But I don’t think the system is “working.” I just don’t know what the solution is, given the amount of money involved and the desire for teams to win the WS–and believe me, I KNOW what it means for a fanbase to want to win a WS!

      • stevejeltzjehricurl - Nov 16, 2012 at 4:36 PM

        I still think it’s a disincentive, but I think what you’re arguing for is a greater disincentive. Not sure there’s one available that makes sense here.

        The Jays are paying him $16 million over two years. It’s certain he would have earned more if he had not been caught using.

        Now, would he have been worth even this much if he hadn’t been using? Not sure, but there’s really no way to measure that. Maybe he would not have been, and hence comes out ahead in the deal.

        What other options are there, short of a longer suspension? I think your point about a limited contract isn’t bad, except the player’s union will never agree to something like that.

      • pdowdy83 - Nov 16, 2012 at 4:52 PM

        With or without the PED use the knock on Melky was his lack of concentration, conditioning and his immaturity. The talent has always been there and that is what frustrated Yankees and Braves fans. The guy should have been putting up seasons like his 2011 season his entire career. I’m sure the PEDs spiked his performance to some extent but Melky has always had the talent it was more of a focus issue.

        With the contract the Jays gave him all he has to do is land somewhere inbetween 2009 Melky and 2011 Melky to make the contract worthwhile. Basically that means playing league average defense in LF, a slash line of .285/.335/.440 with 12-18 homers and 15 or so steals. I think its a darn good gamble on the Jays part. If he regresses he should still be able to make the contract at least a wash.

      • sabatimus - Nov 16, 2012 at 5:28 PM

        paint, I’m copying this and will bring it forth with due credit as situation presents. I’m not sure anyone could say it better than you did.

    • natstowngreg - Nov 16, 2012 at 6:36 PM

      To say that the Jays are risking that Melky uses and doesn’t get caught, is just wrong. The Jays are risking that Melky has learned his lesson, will lay off the drugs, and show more dilligence in conditioning than he has shown in the past. The downsides are as natslady stated.

      As for limiting the salary of someone coming off a drug suspension. no way the MLBPA would agree to that. The market has punished Melky by reducing the size of the contract he could command. Losing 50 games, plus the chance to play in the World Series, plus millions in future salary, is enough. If Melky doesn’t learn from that, then he will lose even more, until he either changes his ways, or until no MLB team will give him a job.

      Just seems to me that, in Melky’s case, the system is working.

  6. proudlycanadian - Nov 16, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    I just got back from a doctor’s appointment, and saw the Melky story. Not sure what to make of it, but the comments by Craig and Cur make sense to me.

  7. Marty - Nov 16, 2012 at 3:33 PM

    Well, I can’t see how MLB could have made this right. The Blue Jays want to win and Melky wants to play for lots of money. So there you have it. I do think a line was passed over today and the risk/reward of taking PEDs tipped in the cheaters favor.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 16, 2012 at 4:02 PM

      I do think a line was passed over today and the risk/reward of taking PEDs tipped in the cheaters favor.

      I’m honestly not sure how you came to this conclusion. He’ll be a 28 year old, in his prime, OF that signed a deal worth $8M a year and you think he benefited by taking PEDs?

      • natslady - Nov 16, 2012 at 4:12 PM

        He benefited by taking PEDs until he GOT CAUGHT. What is so hard to understand about that? Then he still benefited, just not as much.

      • natstowngreg - Nov 16, 2012 at 6:44 PM

        @natslady — What would you do, ban him for one offense? Because that’s the direction your argument goes.

        It’s nice to vent about punishing cheaters. But Melky Cabrera did not commit murder, for cryin’ out loud. There is principle about the punishment fitting the crime. As I explained in my response to your comments above, I think that’s the case with Melky Cabrera. He lost a lot because he cheated. If he cheats again, he will lose even more. Isn’t that enough?

      • Marty - Nov 17, 2012 at 12:26 AM

        Church, you’re assuming he is worth 8M a year withou mt the PEDs

    • cur68 - Nov 16, 2012 at 4:08 PM

      Going rate for a guy with his slash line, age and qualifications is more than 2 times more per year what he’s getting paid. He’s getting hosed.

      • natslady - Nov 16, 2012 at 4:15 PM

        Yes, but would he have that slash line and those qualifications if he hadn’t been using. That’s the $16MM question.

      • cur68 - Nov 16, 2012 at 4:33 PM

        I don’t think PEDs has as much to do with baseball performance as some think. There is some room for debate here but if he regresses due to non use he’ll still be more than worth what they are paying him. My opinion is that he’s getting a hosing.

      • clydeserra - Nov 16, 2012 at 4:36 PM

        he was tested in 2011 and passed. He had a similar line.

  8. APBA Guy - Nov 16, 2012 at 3:34 PM

    There’s plenty of risk mitigation on both sides of this deal by it being of 2 year duration. If Melky stays clean (or doesn’t get caught) and performs well, his next payday will be bigger. If he doesn’t, the Jays are only on the hook for two years at modest (by MLB starting player standards) wages. Solid move by the Beaver Men.

    • paperlions - Nov 16, 2012 at 4:13 PM

      …and his next suspension would be 100 games, right? That’s without pay, so if he’s caught using, it won’t cost Toronto money, just the services of a player.

      • APBA Guy - Nov 16, 2012 at 6:27 PM

        That’s right. Although, you’d like to believe the greater risk is for a decline in performance, another suspension is a possibility.

  9. lawrinson20 - Nov 16, 2012 at 3:51 PM

    “Too harsh?”
    Firstly, an extremely harsh and punitive action for offenders would be more of a DETERRENT than something that would have to actually be applied routinely.

    Melky wouldn’t have taken the PEDs if he didn’t believe they were improving his game. THAT is first-person ‘evidence’ of the performance advantage. So, yeah, it is a risk: he improves his game, gets a chance at the 40mil payday, and if he’s caught, he still gets a bigger payday than he otherwise would have found. Win-Win-Win for the cheater. Plus, he still has another contract in two years, at which time, the science for cheaters will have evolved further.

    Tell me how this makes sense toward discouraging youth from pursuing a similar route. How does this protect the integrity of the game? Those wins, while he was juiced, still stand.

    I’m not sure how any ‘normal person’ would interpret a half-’year’ vacation and then a return to work with a giant raise (even if it is less than previously expected) to be a bad thing. He made 7.25 million over the past two seasons. He’ll make 16 million over the next two. If i could increase my earnings similarly by cheating and deceiving my industry…. Well, if only.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 16, 2012 at 4:04 PM

      Melky wouldn’t have taken the PEDs if he didn’t believe they were improving his game. THAT is first-person ‘evidence’ of the performance advantage

      Plenty of people do things because they believe in them regardless of how often it’s been proven false. Those necklaces/bracelets athletes wear, acupuncture, praying, etc. Cabrera might have believed it would help, but that doesn’t mean it actually did.

      • johnchesterny - Nov 16, 2012 at 5:31 PM

        “Those necklaces/bracelets athletes wear, acupuncture, praying, etc.”

        None of those things are illegal and runs the risk of suspension.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 16, 2012 at 6:25 PM

        None of those things are illegal and runs the risk of suspension.

        And that’s relevant how? The line i quoted said that he obviously thought they would help which is why he took them. What does [il]legality have to do with anything?

      • johnchesterny - Nov 16, 2012 at 7:20 PM

        “And that’s relevant how?”

        It’s relevant because this whole argument is about risk/reward and the first-person argument about whether PEDs work or not. There is something to be said about doing something that risks suspension. The only people who really know whether or not PEDs have an affect are the players that do them. And there seems to be a reason they STILL do them after all these suspensions and the risk of suspension hanging over them.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 16, 2012 at 8:36 PM

        It’s relevant because this whole argument is about risk/reward

        I agree to use/not use PEDs is about risk/reward, except that’s not what I was talking about or what you responded to me about. I responded specifically, note the blockquote, that the reason Cabrera took them is he thought they would work.

        The only people who really know whether or not PEDs have an affect are the players that do them.

        I must getting trolled here. Do you really think only players know whether PEDs have an affect or not?

        And there seems to be a reason they STILL do them after all these suspensions and the risk of suspension hanging over them.

        Yes, because if they get away with it, they can make a fortune and be set for life. Or even if they get caught, if it’s after the fact, they are still set for life but have to deal with public scrutiny.

    • bougin89 - Nov 16, 2012 at 4:07 PM

      I agree. I lean towards the argument that Melky made more money because he used PED’s. I doubt he gets a 2 yr $16million contract if he doesn’t use. The only reason he was possibly going to get a huge, long term deal was because he was on PED’s in the first place.

      • natslady - Nov 16, 2012 at 4:14 PM

        Bingo.

  10. paint771 - Nov 16, 2012 at 3:55 PM

    Regression my ass. Between PEDs, the guy in the white shirt, and Dwayne Murphy, I am projecting Melky for a .415/86/210 avg/hr/rbi hitter.

    • nbjays - Nov 16, 2012 at 9:46 PM

      Don’t forget hitting in front of Joey Bats… that ought to be good for another .010 of BA and 5 or 6 homers all by itself.

  11. bbk1000 - Nov 16, 2012 at 3:55 PM

    Melky, Braun…everybody knows what they are…..Barry and Lance? Barry did fail a test…..

  12. fuddpucker - Nov 16, 2012 at 4:21 PM

    I agree, we all know baseball is a CHEATING CULTURE and the players get rewarded no matter what. I guess that’s the way baseball wants it. It overwhelmingly obvious Melky achieved ASTRONOMICAL SUCCESS through the use of many, many steroids/PED’s..and he not only lied when he got caught he went to GREAT LENGTHS to COVER UP his CHEATING.

    To those of you out there who might want to know, when Melky was in KC BOTH HE and JEFF FRANCEOUR produced AMAZING NUMBERS OUT OF THE FREAKING BLUE. The difference was that Frenchy got his big contract and Melky was shipped out to S.F.

    Soooo, what happened to Frenchy and his ASTRONOMICAL NUMBERS once he signed his big contract?
    Yep, you guessed it. Frenchy went from being one of the best right fielders in the MLB to immediately become THE ABSOLUTE WORST RIGHT FIELDER IN ALL OF BASEBALL!!

    The roids work and they do allow baseball players to get these huge contracts worth tens of millions of dollars.

    All right by me because that’s the way baseball wants it.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Nov 16, 2012 at 6:29 PM

      [comic book guy's voice]
      Worst
      Mad-Libs
      Ever
      [/comic book guy's voice]

  13. johnchesterny - Nov 16, 2012 at 5:24 PM

    This serves as a case of the reward being greater than the risk and further incentivizes PED use. The next mediocre guy has to ask himself “If I take PEDs and get away with it, I stand to make 40M+. If I get caught, I get 16M.” Win/Win. I often wonder how close Melky came to getting away with it. What if the guy decided to stash his samples in the fridge over the weekend? Then Melky would probably have his 40M+.

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