Oh, fun. More of this Buster Olney-driven madness, dredging up the ol’ PED issue with respect to Melky Cabrera.
So here’s what’s what:
On Tuesday morning at ESPN.com, Buster Olney decided to contemplate the potential of Cabrera being an all-star — particularly with respect to his PED suspension two years ago. He benevolently gave fans his permission to either care or not care about this — to “take his performance at face value and prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt,” or to be supremely suspicious of his history and of the fact that this seeming return to form *WINK* is coming in a *COUGH* contract year, with numbers that “very closely resemble those he put up the summer he was suspended.”
Other players hate PED cheats, he explains, and they especially hate guys getting rich off cheating, so the suggestion is made that Cabrera won’t be voted to the all-star game by the fans, may not be voted by his fellow players, and may end up being left off the roster entirely by manager John Farrell as well. “If Cabrera makes the team, he will have earned his selection through his production,” we’re told. “If Cabrera is left off the team, he will have earned that, too.”
This is a sentiment that, of course, can fuck right off. Is Cabrera more likely to be cheating now than anybody else, just because he was caught once before? Even though he’s under more scrutiny, faces more severe punishment, and is tested more often? Even though his 2013 dip in form and this year’s subsequent return are far more easily attributable to the goddamn tumour he had removed from his spine?
Ugh. No, of course he’s not. Of course he deserves the benefit of the doubt.
So Jose Bautista responded to this, as did Richard Griffin in a piece from the Toronto Star.
Bautista expressed concern for Melky’s ability to negotiate should comments like these get blown up into something bigger, and summed up the rational position quite perfectly: “It’s not my place to say what is right or wrong. I can tell you what my opinion is, not the general opinion of the (other MLB) players. I think if you did something wrong and you were caught and you pay your dues, that should be it. (Failing once) doesn’t mean that you’re always going to be doing something that’s illegal or not allowed.”
Griffin zeroed in on Olney’s stuff about it being a contract year, explaining that “Cabrera is the wrong guy to pick on in trying to make a case that cheating is worthwhile. Down the road, with that suspension in his background, he will likely never get the huge deal he might have expected if the stats were clean. See Nelson Cruz with the O’s.”
He’s right, but I’d add that no player is really the right guy to pick on here. The CBA allows what it allows. If you’re upset about that, your issue is with it and with the two sides who agreed on it.
But evidently the money thing really sticks in Olney’s craw, as he addressed it — and the comments from Griffin and Bautista — a second time, in today’s column at ESPN.com (Insider Olney):
If any player takes PEDs and gains an unfair advantage over his union brethren, that means he’s holding a position somebody else should hold, and making money somebody else should make. Just because somebody doesn’t make as much as Ryan Braun doesn’t mean cheating isn’t worthwhile, and it’s hardly a stretch to suggest that Cabrera made extra cash through his past transgression.
In fact, it’s almost certainly a lock that he already has benefitted from cheating. He made $3.1 million as an extra outfielder with the Braves in 2010 and had such a mediocre season that he was cut free; the Braves agreed with the Yankees’ assessment that he was essentially an extra outfielder. He signed with the Royals for $1.25 million in 2011 and became a star, at a time when he reportedly became a client of Biogenesis. He was suspended in 2012 while playing for the San Francisco Giants, and the Blue Jays then signed him to a two-year, $16 million deal before anybody knew about Tony Bosch and Biogenesis.
And if all that information impacts the market assessment of Cabrera, well, too bad. These are all plain, simple facts, and while Cabrera served his suspension, that doesn’t mean his history is whitewashed.
We seem to see from this insanity the lone track that Olney’s mind is on when it comes to Cabrera. In his world, because prior to this year Melky has only supposedly been good in seasons in which there is evidence of PED use, the fact that he’s playing well now must be highly suspicious. Forget how little we know about how much whatever he was taking — he only tested positive for high levels of testosterone, let’s not forget — actually impacts performance. Forget that, by many accounts, he was out of shape with the Braves and his play improved when his conditioning improved. Forget that he may well have blown the theory apart last year if he had played like this, which he couldn’t because of the goddamn tumour he had removed from his spine. Forget that his breakout year in Kansas City came in his age-26 season — an age at which you might entirely expect a player to really start putting it together as he heads towards his peak years. Forget that, though he certainly did have some intervening down years, he was a talented enough hitter to get a full season’s worth of at-bats for the New York Yankees as a twenty-two-year-old, and put up a .360 on-base in the process!
Nope, it’s just correlation, causation, couching the whole thing with bogus insistence that you’re just exploring different possible opinions here and not really taking a side (sprinkled with garbled nonsense like “almost certainly a lock”), then light a cigar and put your feet up.
Worst of all is how this is evidently only relevant now that he’s playing well. Because, y’know, why acknowledge the fact that there are all kinds of guys who we know took PEDs that still entirely sucked? Do that — acknowledge that these substances aren’t magic elixirs turning ordinary men into baseball gods — and we might be able to take the first step towards actually having a real, adult conversation about the stuff. Trouble is, the whole subject is murky as fuck, and the difficulty we have in wrapping our heads around it — around the arbitrary moralities, the lines drawn in the sand, the problems of the CBA and of the testing, the science behind the drugs and how they impact performance, the influence of all kinds of other variables that impact performance, and the near impossibility of coherently grappling with all the strands that lead in and out of each of these murky spheres of the topic – makes it awful easy for writers to reduce the issue to a dull-headed question of whether you’re for or against “cheating.”
Emphasis on awful.