It's been reported that the MLBPA and owners are close to an agreement on new, harsher penalties for players who test positive for PEDs, with an announcement possibly coming this week. Now Jon Heyman gives us numbers, reporting that players would face an 80-game suspension for a first offense, and 162 games—one full season—for a second violation.
That's a big increase from the current 50- and 100-game suspension, and I have one pretty big question to ask: Why? Why would any union willingly agree to more penalties for its members? Heyman, Olney, and all the rest report that it's the players themselves behind the push for greater penalties. From one financial standpoint, that's logical. With a limited amount of money to go around, players who chemically pad their stats are taking cash from their clean brethren. But, and maybe this is cynical, the union would be better served doing this three years from now.
The Joint Drug Agreement expires after the 2016 season, the same time as the Basic Agreement. CBA talks this time around are expected to be a war. (Yes, fans should be worried. Yes, the words "work stoppage" are already being bandied about.) We already know the owners are in favor of harsher PED penalties—especially the part, reported by the Associated Press, that would close a loophole allowing players to still receive a portion of their salaries during season-long suspensions. The MLBPA, which just elected Tony Clark as its executive director, could easily use PED penalties as a concession come 2016 and get something in return. Instead, this is a freebie for management.
One clue to the union's eagerness might be found in the AP's report of a new clause that would allow suspension lengths to be cut by up to half if an arbitrator rules that the PED use is inadvertent; for example, taking a tainted supplement. There is an important distinction that's not yet clear: Will the onus be on the players to prove their drug use was inadvertent, or will it be on MLB to prove it was intentional? Either one seems difficult to do, so if it's the latter, the vast majority of failed PED tests would result in the reduction—40 games instead of 50. This is all just speculation until the official details are announced, but that would be a very good reason for the MLBPA to alter the JDA as soon as possible.