Evidence That the Penalty for First-Time Steroids Use Isn’t High Enough
The Texas Rangers today made a qualifying offer of $14.1 million to Nelson Cruz in spite of the 50-game performance enhancing drug (“PED”) suspension that ended his regular season. Other players have got to see from this that the costs of getting caught for using PEDs the first time aren’t nearly as great as the potential benefits to be gained by juicing until you get caught.
Sure, Cruz would have gotten a better offer from the Rangers had he not tested positive for steroids. Also, while Cruz is expected to decline the qualifying offer, there is doubt anyone is going to make a better offer to a 33 year old outfielder with negative defensive value who’s coming off of a PEDs suspension. Teams certainly have to have noticed the drop-off in Melky Cabrera‘s 2013 performance (according to fangraphs.com, Melky’s value went from $16.8 million in 2011 and $20 million in 2012 to negative $4.3 million in 2013).
Even so, we can now be fairly certain that Cruz won’t make less than $14 million for the next season, no matter who he ends up signing with.
One also has to wonder whether PEDs weren’t the reason Cruz was able to establish himself as a major league star in the first place. Cruz didn’t establish himself as a major league player until about age 27, which is old as major league stars go. Was it steroids that enabled him to become something more than another low-paid 4-A player? We’ll never know for sure (absent a future confession from Cruz), but we’ll always suspect.
I’ve written before that I doubt the players’ union will agree to raise the penalty for a first-time positive test to more than a 75 or 80 game suspension the next time the issue is re-negotiated, simply based on the union’s institutional interest to limit the amount or degree to which MLB can discipline players for any reason to the absolute minimum necessary to discourage the improper conduct. However, I suspect that a significant number of players are going to continue to get caught for using PEDs at least until the penalty for a first-time positive test reaches roughly a full season (i.e., at least 150 games). As such, that’s probably where the penalty for a first-time positive test will end up.