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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.

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