What Will It Cost Them?
Now that the Biogenesis America suspensions have sunk in, talk is turning to what it will cost the players who got caught.
The biggest loser in terms of total dollar amount is likely Alex Rodriguez. If the 211 game suspension sticks, it will reportedly cost him $34.1 million of the roughly $100 million the Yankees still owe him. Add to that somewhere between $500,000 and $5 million in attorneys’ fees incurred since the Miami New Times broke the story last February through the end of the legal process to follow. Add also the likely settlement of the Yankees’ remaining contractual obligations to Rodriguez plus legal fees in that fight, all of which will probably cost ARod at least another $5 million. Plus lost endorsements.
That’s, of course, worst case scenario for Rodriguez. He’ll probably end up losing a lot less, because as I wrote earlier today and previously, I just don’t see a 211-game suspension sticking.
Even if Rodriguez were to lose $35-to-$50 million in contract payments, attorneys’ fees and endorsements he had at the time the story first broke, it still seems like chump change compared to the $446 million worth of contracts he signed for the years between 2001 and 2017.
While there’s no way of knowing how good Rodriguez would have been without steroids (some say he was a Hall of Fame talent without them; Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci relayed rumors today that ARod may have been ‘roiding since high school), it certainly seems that from a financial perspective there’s almost no way that ARod comes out a loser for having used steroids.
A player likely to take a much bigger hit in terms of what he has earned to date and what he is now likely to earn in the future is Nelson Cruz. He’s made a little more than $20 million in his professional career today, but he’s coming up on his free agency this off-season.
Cruz is already 33 years old, and he’s going to be hurt not only for his own actions but also for Melky Cabrera‘s awful 2013 season. As I’m sure you recall, Melky cost himself at least $60 million in guaranteed money by testing positive for PEDs about a year ago.
Melky ultimately signed a two-year $16 million deal with the Blue Jays, but without the steroids coursing through his veins, he’s returned to the hitter he was before 2011, when his status as a major league regular was on life support.
It seems clear now that Melky came out way ahead financially as a result of steroids. Given his age (26 and 27), it seems likely that 2011 and 2012 would have been the best years of his career even without steroids. However, it’s far from certain that he would have made the $22 million he made/will make between 2012 and 2014 using steroids and getting caught.
The rumors out of Texas are that the Rangers have already decided against bringing Nelson Cruz back. I’ll be surprised if any other team is willing to risk more than about $6 million for two years given what everyone now knows about Cruz and the drop in his performance reasonably likely in 2014.
Once again, there’s no way to know when Cruz started using PEDs and how well he would have performed without them. It’s quite possible that without steroids, Cruz never would have established himself as a major league regular.
Matt Schwartz, mlbtraderumors.com’s arbitration figure guru, calculates that his suspension will cost the Padres’ Everth Cabrera roughly $1 million in lost salary this year and in lower salary after arbitration for 2014. It will also cost him guaranteed money in a long-term deal, since the Padres are likely to go year-to-year with him until he reaches free agency at roughly age 30. Again, though, it’s hard to know what role steroids played in establishing Cabrera as a major league starter in the first place.
A number of the minor leaguers suspended have greatly reduced their chances of future big league success. For example, the Mets are reportedly likely to dump outfielder 25 year old outfielder Jordany Valdespin, who has a history of bad behavior preceding the steroids suspension. However, even at the worst, Valdespin has already received enough major league service time the last two seasons to earn a major league baseball pension, which I’m sure goes a long way in the Dominican Republic.
What I noticed about minor league pitchers Sergio Escalona, Fautino De Los Santos and Jordan Norberto is that all three appeared to be on the verge of breaking through as successful major leaguers but then quickly blew out their pitching arms. In 2011 at age 26, Escalona had a 2.93 ERA in 49 appearances as a left-handed short man for the Astros and then blew out his elbow tendon. De Los Santos at age 25 broke threw with a 4.32 ERA and good ratios in 34 appearances for the 2011 A’s; it then appears injuries derailed his career. Norberto at age 25 broke through with the A’s in 2012, posting a 2.77 ERA with great ratios in 39 appearances before blowing out his pitching elbow.
The recent careers of Escalona, De Los Santos and Norberto are certainly consistent with the reported effects of steroid use: possible increased arm strength, making them more effective pitchers in the short term but increasing their risk of joint, ligament and tendon damage. At any rate, there is certainly an argument to be made that none of the three would have enjoyed what little major league success they’ve had without PEDs. All three will at least get major league pensions (or larger major league pensions) due to the relative success they enjoyed in 2011 and 2012, the years they were most likely using steroids, even if they never pitch in the major leagues again.
It certainly seems like suspensions for first-time PEDs violations are going to have to get a lot steeper to disincentivize players as a group from using PEDs. As I wrote earlier today, I don’t think the players’ union will agree to raise the suspensions for first-time use to more than 75 or 80 games, at least not until suspensions of that length have been tried and many players still test positive or otherwise get caught using PEDs.
No union is in the business of helping management issue steep discipline to its membership. As such, increases in suspensions for first and second time offenders are likely to be gradual.
Perhaps a better solution, as some individual players have suggested in interviews today, would be not only to increase suspensions for first and second time violations but also to impose fines on some part of the guilty players’ remaining salary for the season(s) in which they are suspended, say 10% to 25% of the salary the players are to earn in the year after the suspension is imposed, with that money going to MLB’s/the players’ union’s favorite charities or the players’ health care plan.