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Dee Gordon’s Suspension and a PED Solution: Cancelled Contracts

May 2nd, 2016 · No Comments · Abu Dhabi, Baseball, Dodgers, Drugs

Miami Marlins shortstop Dee Gordon, the National League batting champion, last week was suspended 80 games by Major League Baseball for failing a drug test.

This came only a few weeks after outfielder Chris Colabello of the Toronto Blue Jays also was hit with an 80-game ban. (And also expressed puzzlement how he failed a test.)

Baseball does not appear to be winning the battle against PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) because any risk-reward analysis shows it is in the player’s favor to pursue better statistics through chemistry.

Gordon, 28, is in the first year of a five-year contract worth $50 million. You read that right — $50 million … for a guy the Los Angeles Dodgers had given up on after the 2014 season.

And how big a hit does that contract take from his missing 80 games?

Only $1.65 million, from the $3 million due Gordon in Year 1 of his deal.

He is still guaranteed $48.35 million as long as he doesn’t fail another test. Even if he comes back and is useless and is out of baseball a year from now.

Guaranteed money is too big a temptation to cheat, as a “friend” of Gordon told USA Today.

So how can baseball defeat this?

Insert language in all contracts that allow clubs to abrogate that contract in the event of a failed drug test.

The Players Union would fight this tweak to the Basic Agreement, but a change in policy would benefit the game — and, therefore, the players — in the long run.

We’re not talking about clubs being able to end a contract whenever they want — which is how the National Football League generally operates. (Only a fraction of contracts are guaranteed, generally, in the NFL.)

A ballplayer gets hurt, he still gets paid. He suddenly is not competitive, he still gets paid. He is waived out of baseball, he still gets paid.

Only if he fails a drug test would the club have the option to cancel the contract and return to the bargaining table.

Now that would be incentive to make sure that illegal drugs don’t get into a player’s system.

Everyone around that player would be on the same page. Agent, family, friends. “For God’s sake, don’t let Dee put anything in his body that we don’t know about.” It could mean the difference between $50 million and a fraction of that.

The USA Today story notes that Gordon had been a marginal big-leaguer for the first several years of his career, with the Dodgers. It was thought he would not hit enough to be a truly productive player.

Them he went to Miami, ahead of the 2015 season, and he got 205 hits and batted .333 and scored 88 runs and played a solid second base and had a healthy “wins above replacement” (WAR) stat of 4.9 games … and the Marlins decided five years of Gordon was worth $50 million.

I do not know Gordon. When he first hit the bigs, in 2011, I was in Abu Dhabi. But I keep hearing and reading about what a good guy he is and how people tended to root for him for a variety of reasons, one of them because he had ongoing problems keeping on weight, often slipping below 170 pounds over the course of the long MLB season.

In his four seasons with the Dodgers, he made around $2 million, combined. In his first season in Miami, that went up to $2.5 million for 2015.

And then, after that “career” year, the jackpot. A contract that should leave him set for life. Three million this season, rising to $14 million in 2021, with signing bonus, worth $50 million en toto.

As his friend asked the USA Today reporter, “Why wouldn’t he cheat?”

In a statement, Gordon denied “knowingly” using PEDs.

Some might say it makes no sense for a scrawny infielder to attempt to bulk up, which usually is a target of testosterone, in particular.

But as baseball people have noted, keeping on weight to survive a grinding, 162-game season, is temptation enough. And others will fail to resist that temptation, especially when, upon serving their suspension, they go right back to being paid under the terms of the pre-drug-bust contract.

The only way to beat this is to allow clubs to get out of contracts if a player fails a drug test. I doubt, extremely, it will happen, but it ought to.

Fans would like to think that the players they are watching are performing on a level playing field. That isn’t too much to ask.


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