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Before you climb aboard the “we should void cheaters’ contracts!” express …

Jul 23, 2013, 2:02 PM EDT


Though the sea change we’re experiencing in Major League Baseball’s drug testing regime is undeniable, the “we should get tougher!” crowd easily has the loudest voice in the grand shouting match that is our current baseball discourse. And easily the most fashionable get-tough argument in that crowd is the one which goes “players should have their contracts voided if they test positive!”

Let’s unpack that, shall we?

It’s pretty easy to see the logic when the player involved is named Ryan Braun or Alex Rodriguez and they are owed hundreds of millions of dollars that they may not be worth. The price is paid for a cheater’s ill-gotten gains! He’s out his deal! The team is out from under the specter of his unholy presence! Everything is right with the world!

But what if the player is Andrew McCutchen? Or Matt Moore? Or Jered Weaver or Sal Perez? Or some other star who is on a team-friendly deal? We still happy voiding that contract then? I’m guessing the team’s owner and GM aren’t. They know that no player is 100% a creation of PEDs and that even if one of those guys took something he shouldn’t have, he’d still be more than worth the money on his contract once he serves his 50 games. And he certainly doesn’t want to lose him because a bunch of sportswriters decided back in 2013 that everyone needed to “get tough.”

Question: Are we good with punishing the team even more than the player?

Let’s take that to the next step. Say you’re Matt Moore. You’re having a lights-out season just as guys like Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw are raking in gigantic bucks on contract extensions. And here you are, like a yutz, making an average of $2.5 million over the next four years because you went for the security of the pre-arbitration deal. If contracts are voided upon a positive test, might you not at least consider taking a shot of testosterone, taking a very small 50 game suspension, getting your contract voided and then peddling your wares to the highest bidder? Sure, you might take a haircut from what Justin Verlander got because you’d be seen as something of a bad seed, but you’d make orders of magnitude over what you’re making now. Especially if you play the apology-come-clean game as well as Andy Pettitte did.

Question: Do we want that incentive there? And what does that mean for the pre-arb players who didn’t sign Moore-type deals? If Bryce Harper or Mike Trout tested positive tomorrow, what does their void look like? Are they free agents too? Or do the teams violate the 13th amendment and not pay them at all?

Oh, and then there’s the matter of the incentives some owners may have to slip a mickey to an overpaid player in an effort to get out from under. Now, I’m not saying an honorable and honest businessman like Arte Moreno would do such a thing to a nice, upstanding man like Albert Pujols. But then again, George Steinbrenner is gonna be in the Hall of Fame some day and he literally paid spies to dig up dirt on one of his overpaid players once, and it’s not insane to think that can’t happen again.

One response I anticipate is that we make the contract voiding an optional thing. At the team’s discretion. In this case the team will clearly choose to void Alex Rodriguez’s deal but not Moore’s. But why should teams get a choice here? Why should what is supposed to be punishment for wrongdoing for which we are supposed to have zero tolerance suddenly be transformed into a cost-benefit analysis for a team? Or a windfall?  Wouldn’t we then be saying “cheating is bad, mmm-kay, and you’re going to be punished severely. At least as long as you don’t have a team-friendly contract. If you do, well, we’re willing to let it slide a bit.”

That’s not what the drug testing program is supposed to look like and those odd incentives are probably a large part of the reason why the league and the union have never suggested actually doing it. Separate and apart from the fact that the union is not interested in doing anything to undermine the concept of guaranteed contracts in any way.

Maybe that’s the real thing to watch here, actually. What the league and the union say, not sanctimonious worrywarts who are looking for new ways to get tough.  If and when league or union sources start to chatter about contract voiding being on the table I’ll start to take it seriously.  For now it’s just bluster from people who don’t feel guys like Ryan Braun have suffered enough.

115 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. 0fahrvergnugen - Jul 23, 2013 at 3:15 PM

    My name is Craig and I’m embarrassed another named Craig has such low standards. Expect more…… Demand more. Raise standards. Apologizing or standing for drug users, cheats, liars and thieves in baseball is grotesque. Half measures prolong the problem and continue to damage the sport. It’s obvious the penalties aren’t severe enough if another massive list of players are still using. And these are only the people they’ve caught. There are almost certainly others. I can almost guarantee you CC was a Lance Armstrong supporter right until he was officially exposed. Here’s to the true journalists and others who dig a little deeper and expose this scum. I live in NYC (from MI) and pay a shit-ton of $$ to watch a couple games each year and this is not what I want to see.

    And on another note it’s always great when you hear from the older athletes who get so upset by what’s happening…. BECAUSE THEY GET IT. I really believe CC doesn’t get it….. and it’s unfortunate because it is also part of the problem.

  2. myopinionisrighterthanyours - Jul 23, 2013 at 3:53 PM

    Okay, while I hate to say this, but I agree with Craig at some level, because this goes way too far, especially for a first offense (although I find his slippery slope arguement insulting, and the insinuation that a player might intentionally void a contract this way even more so). So how about this idea. Nobody should be able to take away these players right to earn a livelyhood. However, things like post season honors are exactly that … HONORS. Should you get caught, you void your priveledge of being recognized as the best pitcher, highest average, whatever. Maybe you can’t make an All-Star team for X years. Fool me twice, no HOF for you. Do things like that make sense?

  3. moshe - Jul 23, 2013 at 3:56 PM

    All that the fans need to do to express displeasure with all this idiocy in MLB is what I’ve done. Stiff MLB and the thuggish players union; Quit attending games, and quit buying their merchandise.

    You’ll have nothing to complain about then.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 23, 2013 at 4:08 PM

      thuggish players union

      thuggish? Would love to hear an explanation behind that, but it’ll never happen.

      • neoshweaty - Jul 23, 2013 at 4:13 PM

        Yeah, how dare they fight for worker’s rights?

      • Kevin S. - Jul 23, 2013 at 7:07 PM

        All unions are thuggish, didn’t you know that?

  4. eshine76 - Jul 23, 2013 at 4:18 PM

    I was with you until the last sentence: “For now it’s just bluster from people who don’t feel guys like Ryan Braun have suffered enough.” That statement implies that he is currently suffering. He’s engaged to a lingerie model and is still owed $117 million on a guaranteed contract. I think this week is going to suck, as will the 1st day of Spring Training, and the fans at some opposing parks next year. If that is “suffering” then sign me up.

    Braun is getting what he deserves – a suspension without pay and public ridicule. I don’t think he deserves more, but I’m not crying for the guy either.

    • ilovegspot - Jul 23, 2013 at 5:23 PM

      He will be heckeled for the rest of his career, if he has one without roids. He needs them to excel.

    • ilovegspot - Jul 23, 2013 at 5:23 PM

      He will be heckled for the rest of his career, if he has one without roids. He needs them to excel.

      • Old Gator - Jul 23, 2013 at 5:29 PM

        Do you need to repeat an idiotic comment to make it seem less idiotic, or to make it seem twice as idiotic?

      • stercuilus65 - Jul 23, 2013 at 7:59 PM

        Old Farters comments are so stupid they never need repeating…

      • ilovegspot - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:38 PM

        old gator needs to grow a brain

  5. wineman2u - Jul 23, 2013 at 4:44 PM

    A more just punishment and one that would almost assuredly have a greater deterrent effect would be if MLB had the right to levy contractual fines. Assuming an agreement could be reached between MLB and the Players Union, having a fine for a first PED offense of a certain number of games plus say a 25% reduction of the overall worth of one’s contract and say 50% for a second offense would protect the non-cheating players and would provide serious financial incentive for players not to cheat while protecting clubs from potential marketing revenue loses and overpaying for inflated production derived from illegal PED use.

    Currently, there is too much potential financial gain to dissuade a lot of players from not trying to beat the system. The only way to stop it is with dramatic financial penalties. Everyone involved says they’re serious about getting PEDs out of baseball. This is a serious proposal to a serious problem.

    • rpb1234 - Jul 23, 2013 at 6:52 PM

      In that case, the Yankees might be tempted to slip some thing in A-Rods protein shake. Could save them millions? The owners and the league aren’t blameless.

  6. norcalkingsfan - Jul 23, 2013 at 5:26 PM

    Start messing with their income and we will see the change everyone is crying for.

  7. hitdog042 - Jul 23, 2013 at 5:39 PM

    Craig why are you so pro ped? Zzzzzzz

  8. billybawl - Jul 23, 2013 at 5:40 PM

    If I am a MLB team and enter a contract with a player, I’m offering a salary based on my presumption the player’s past results aren’t aided by PEDs and that I’ll have the player’s services available, barring unforeseen injury. If the player breaks the rules and uses PEDs, why shouldn’t I have the ability to terminate the contract at my option? Forget the punishment angle — that’s addressed separately in the form of a suspension. This is about whether the player has fulfilled the terms of the contract and the team has received the benefit of its bargain. Most business contracts permit the non-breaching party to terminate (often after an opportunity to cure the breach, which doesn’t work here). Even employment contracts can be terminated for serious breaches. If the contract is terminated, the player becomes a free agent and can sign for what the market will pay him. In fact, you could argue that teams would be willing to pay players MORE if they were assured that a PED user could be terminated. A team signing, say, Chris Davis or even Robinson Cano, wouldn’t worry about PED allegations.

    In the past, whenever I’ve heard about teams thinking about whether to terminate a contract — e.g., when Jeff Kent breached his contract by popping wheelies on his motorcycle, then injuring himself — it seems the teams cool off after thinking about the deterrent effect it would have on other players signing with that team. Seems it would be less of a deterrent in the PED situation if it’s true that a majority of players are tired of PED users.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jul 23, 2013 at 6:43 PM

      While I can’t speak for the Kent example, another one would be Aaron Boone with the Yanks. However, language was specifically written into his contract that getting injured while playing basketball could result in termination of his contract. It specifically said that. Nothing in a player’s contract, today, mentions anything about terminating a contract for PED use.

      The first paragraph is doing an end run around a fraud issue, which would be almost impossible to prove. The team(s) would likely spend millions in litigation, and there’s a strong likelihood the team(s) would lose. Then you have a pissed off player, under your watch, who you have to continue paying for X number of years. You’d have to ask yourself if it’s worth all the trouble.

      • billybawl - Jul 23, 2013 at 6:55 PM

        Agreed, mostly. Termination for PEDs isn’t in contracts because it’s covered by the disciplinary provisions of the CBA. I’m assuming this could be written into contracts and that the union would be OK with that. And, yes, teams would have to weigh risks and decide if it was worth the trouble as does any party deciding to terminate a contract for breach. I think the Yankees might believe it was worth the trouble in at least one case. I assume teams would use this power to escape or renegotiate bad contracts when a player tests positive for PEDs, and use it as leverage in more difficult cases like Biogenesis.

      • CyclePower - Jul 25, 2013 at 10:18 AM

        Ultimately, however, it is a fraud issue, and though difficult to prove, may not be impossible. If I’m the CEO of, say, a smaller tech company that is negotiating its purchase by another larger company, and to facilitate the sale and increase the purchase price I completely doctor the fundamental financials of the company and hide losses, then, not only is it a contractual dispute, but it is often a criminal case.

        Fraud is fraud. Sometimes it is deemed in the public interest to use law enforcement resources to indict and prosecute, sometimes it is left to the defrauded party to pursue a claim through civil courts, sometimes it’s both. And though I agree that an individual team pursuing a fraud case through the civil system might ultimately find the process not worth the expense, time and energy – as well the negative effect it would have on the ability to sign other players – a case perhaps pursued by baseball collectively, or even a criminal indictment of individual players, would ultimately act as a deterrent which, really in the end, is the ultimate objective.

        If we can conclude that PEDs ultimately compromise the integrity of the game, that they hurt the fundamental basis of credibility and trust that the fan is watching a fair competition much the same way that betting on the outcome by its players and coaches hurts the credibility of the game, then baseball ought to use the appropriate deterrent to ensure the behavior stops.

        Pete Rose is still persona non grata. It may be harsh, but colluding with gamblers and throwing games has never really been a problem.

  9. grattanstanford - Jul 23, 2013 at 5:55 PM

    So dumb. It would be a lifetime ban along with voided contract. So if a good young player is on your team you MAKE SURE he isn’t on PEDs. It’s a very simple solution. Doesn’t matter anyway they’ll just develop another untestable drug

  10. nukeladouche - Jul 23, 2013 at 6:16 PM

    OK, so here’s my idea:

    First, if you are suspended for PEDs, the suspension you serve is without pay. Just like now.

    Second, you receive a 15% personal pay cut for the remainder of your contract. However, to avoid creating incentives for owners to slip a PEDs Mickey into Barry Zito’s beer in the final couple years of his albatross-like contract (thereby saving owners millions when they frame their own albatrosses), the owner still has to pay the full salary. The player gets 85% and then half of the remaining 15% goes into a fund to pay for MLBPA pensions, half goes towards some anti-steroid public service announcements designed to discourage HS-age kids from taking PEDs.

    Example: Player A is in the 2nd year of his 5 year contract when he tests positive. He was due to earn $10 mil in year 3, $11 mil in year 4 and $12 mil in year 5. Instead, he is paid $8.5 mil in year 3, $9.35 mil in year 4 and $10.2 mil in year 5. That’s a personal hit of nearly $5 mil over 3 years (that # would double for a $20-$24 mil player). That $5 mil still comes out of the owner’s pocket, but it goes towards something good – for the players in the form of pension padding and for society in general in the form of an anti-PED campaign. And, the player is hurt for years – i.e., by more than just the one-time suspension without pay – thus creating a bigger disincentive to cheat.

    I recognize that this would hurt players on long-term contracts more than those on short-term contracts, but that can be tweaked (for instance, the 15% haircut can come off the top of an existing contract and the next one, or for a term-certain, say 6 years). . . . And if 15% doesn’t seem like much of a disincentive, then up it to 20%. . . .

    Unlike voiding a contract or making them voidable (both of which come with drawbacks, as Craig points out), this does nothing to help the owner of a team with a caught cheater who is damaged when his team loses a star player. But maybe that will act as an incentive for owners to take PED abuse more seriously. . . .

  11. jtpercell - Jul 23, 2013 at 6:48 PM

    Contracts of PED users shouldn’t be voided. Instead, the contract’s remaining compensation should be reduced to league minimum.

    • dnc6 - Jul 23, 2013 at 7:03 PM

      The owners would like to commend you for saving them money. Just make sure to keep buying their $10 beers.

  12. myhawks1976 - Jul 23, 2013 at 7:49 PM

    wow Craig, while I disagree with your stance over the last two days on this issue, I have respected it. mostly. now you have just gone off the deep end.

    so, we shouldn’t void contracts because some of them are team friendly? no. no. no.

    the entire point of making their contracts voidable is to put a large enough deterrent on the table that they have to think twice. I don’t care whether the contract is player friendly or team friendly

    why would that ha e any significance.

  13. dlhouse18 - Jul 23, 2013 at 8:00 PM

    Cheating is bad.

  14. pipkin42 - Jul 23, 2013 at 8:55 PM

    As usual, Craig, you are spot on. One of the best in the business.

    • ilovegspot - Jul 24, 2013 at 3:38 PM

      craig is an idoit

  15. colv - Jul 24, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    I’m done with MLB-again! These cheats and liars are laughing all the way to the bank with our fan dollars and product endorsement dollars we pay extra for the products they are paid millions to make TV commercials for. Slap on the wrist for Braun. There is every incentive to cheat when you can get huge contracts from cheating, fraud stats get caught and lose only 65 games or 100 games then everything is ok for them to reap 15-18 million after the suspension. I loved the game that i played and that I grew up with in the 60-80s. I lost faith in the 90s on. I was just getting back to following the game watching upstart teams finally like Oakland, Tampa and now Baltimore competing against the rich big market teams.

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