Ryan “The Hebrew Hammer” Braun Wins by Split-Decision

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You’ll hear both sides debate the Ryan Braun drug test issue like the conservatives who think guilty is guilty regardless of how the evidence is gathered and liberals ranting and raving that the rights of the innocent are protected when the rights of the guilty are upheld.

Did Braun take a substance to help his performance or did he get caught using something else that wasn’t a PED, but was on the list?

It all goes back to the fine print of the rules and the clumsy, self-serving, stupid way this whole case was handled.

You can read it in detail here on NYTimes.com; briefly, here’s what it comes down to:

  • Braun took a urine test.
  • There was no nearby FedEx center open for the test administrator to drop the sample off, so he took it home and stored it in his fridge.
  • He shipped it on the next Monday.
  • There was no evidence of tampering on the sample, nor to the bag in which it had been placed.
  • Braun had elevated levels of testosterone and failed the test.
  • But then, the story was leaked.

The final bulletpoint is the key to the whole thing.

Braun had rights. Those rights were undermined. That fact has made this an important decision to stop the prevalent whispers that come out in what’s supposed to be a confidential process.

Baseball can proclaim that the revelation of the 2003 list of PED failures helped bring about a “cleaning up” of the game; that in the end, something good came out of the failure to adhere to the rights of the players who, in spite of their supposed guilt, shouldn’t have had their failed tests revealed in the first place.

The union should’ve destroyed the list and didn’t, so it’s their own fault.

But everyone—players, agents, union reps, front office people, owners and MLB executives—were either directly involved in the PED use or just let it go for their own ends.

Once the groundswell of protests at records being demolished and dwarfed, they reacted.

It’s pure marketing and pandering to customer desires: they wanted more scoring, they got more scoring; as people got angry at the overt manner of players bulking up and shattering records, baseball outlawed steroids and HGH and started testing for them.

It’s similar to the angry reactions to repeated stories on ESPN and other “sports news” outlets for continually talking about Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin regardless of whether the players warrant that level of coverage—it’s what the paying customers want.

Confronted with a public outcry and governmental intervention at activities that it both tacitly encouraged and turned a blind eye to, baseball enacted testing and levied harsh penalties for using a list of drugs that might or might not have been prototypical “performance enhancers”.

Is there a place for, “Well, he was guilty anyway so what’s the difference?”

In reality, yes, there is a place for that.

But in the legal system where Braun is part of a union and the union and regulating committee have entered into a binding agreement as to how it should be handled and Braun is vehemently voicing his innocence and won’t back down, there was no choice other than to exonerate him.

The rules of the treatment and testing program can be read here on a PDF file.

When would it end if innuendo, speculation and public response were the determinative factors in whether an individual saw his reputation and ability to make a living compromised by something that hadn’t been handled properly? If one link in the chain is corrupted, the whole thing has to be tossed out.

Braun and every player in the MLB Players Association have rights—rights that were negotiated and are legally binding.

He’s the reigning National League MVP and the validity and perception of his entire career up to now hinged on this decision. If there was any doubt as to its accuracy, he had to be found not guilty.

When the union agreed to the testing program in order to keep labor peace and “clean up” the game, there was no provision that a failed test would be out in the media five months in advance of his hearing so the player had to hide in his home and keep silent on an allegation that he denied.

Being innocent until proven guilty is relevant and if baseball is angry at someone, they should be angry at whomever decided it was a good idea to let the media know that Braun failed the test in the first place because since the other procedures—agreed to by the union—had been followed, the tipping point was that the public knew about Braun’s failed test before his appeal had been heard.

If it hadn’t been leaked, Braun would undoubtedly have lost his case.

It isn’t so much that Braun is “innocent”, it’s that people with knowledge need to keep their mouths shut. If there’s anyone to blame, it’s the person who leaked the story to begin with.

Don’t think that these dropped nuggets aren’t intentional and strategic in an attempt to preclude a player from winning a case such as this and it was the overthinking and attempts to be clever on the part of baseball that has again sabotaged their attempts to be aboveboard.

It was a circular circumstance that got Braun off.

It’s appropriate because there are few entities that are as adept at the circular firing squad as Major League Baseball.



MLB’s New CBA, Free Agents and Arbitration

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The new collective bargaining agreement and immediate changes to the system will affect free agents and clubs more than the rule changes for the MLB Draft will.

You can read a simple explanation to the changes here on Baseball Nation. Here’s the clip relevant to free agency.

Starting with the 2012-2013 off-season, the entire Elias-Type A-Type B ranking system has been scrapped. Instead, teams that offer a contract with an annual average value of more than $12.4 million to a free agent from their team will receive a first-round draft pick as compensation if that free agent signs elsewhere. The $12.4 million figure is the average salary of the 125 highest-paid players in the league. That figure will rise yearly as salaries rise. A team that finishes in the bottom 15 in the majors cannot lose a first-round draft pick.

Type A and B rankings will remain in place for the current off-season, but certain players not considered “top” Type As will be reclassified as Type Bs — mostly relief pitchers. In addition, teams signing Type A relief pitchers will not forfeit draft picks, but the teams that lose the Type A relievers will receive a compensatory pick. This provision is not retroactive. As a result, the Philadelphia Phillies will forfeit a draft pick to the Boston Red Sox in compensation for signing closer Jonathan Papelbon. On the other hand, if the Red Sox sign another Type A reliever to replace Papelbon, the Red Sox will not forfeit a pick.

You can see the arbitration offers that have been made—so far—here along with the Type A or B status.

It seems convoluted, but if you go bit-by-bit and make sure you get it before moving onto the next aspect, it’s not that hard. (I don’t think.) MLB.com also explains it here.

What must be understood with some of the more surprising arbitration offers is that a team is not obligated to pay the player his award if they deem it to be too much money. Dan Wheeler of the Red Sox falls into the category of, “they offered him arbitration?”

On the surface he’s not a pitcher a front office that interprets value with money and production like the Red Sox would pay $3 million+ for, but there are benefits to the offer. Wheeler is a “Type B” free agent; he pitched serviceably enough when he was healthy and the Red Sox would know what they’re getting from him if they keep him. They can hope he rejects arbitration (he won’t); they can hope he leaves and take the supplemental draft pick; they can sign him to what they consider a fairer deal before arbitration; or they argue their case with him and, win or lose, can walk away from the award before the season and only have to pay a small fraction as termination pay.

The Brewers offered Francisco Rodriguez arbitration and it’s a tightrope for both sides, but well worth the risk. With Scott Boras as his agent, he’s unlikely to accept the offer to be a set-up man even if it’s for that lofty salary of $13.5 million +.

But if he’s pragmatic and puts ego aside, he might take the offer if he can’t get a longer term contract.

The Brewers can swing it financially and build their club on a superlative starting rotation and shut-down bullpen, mitigating the loss of Prince Fielder. It’s known that K-Rod can be a closer; if he’s willing to accept that he’s probably not going to accumulate the relatively meaningless save stat, pitches well, stays healthy as a set-up man and behaves as a good soldier, it will only benefit him going into 2013 free agency as the market won’t be flooded and in flux as it is now as teams are sifting through their situations, the new CBA and what’s currently available.

As I said in my posting about the draft, MLB players don’t care about amateurs’ bonuses and they’re definitely happy to be rid of the hovering onus of having their own options diminished by the possibility of a team losing a top draft pick for signing them. Clubs with money will be more willing to spend on what would be considered an “iffy” free agent if he’s not costing a first rounder.

It will take care of itself. The draft picks were referenced as a big reason Brian Cashman didn’t want Rafael Soriano last year, but Cashman didn’t want Soriano period. It wasn’t just the draft picks, it was the money and that he’s Rafael Soriano in reputation and performance. And Cashman was right.

There’s little risk in offering arbitration to players whom clubs don’t want back because they can always just walk away with no “handshake agreement” necessary with the player that he’ll refuse it. It’s not in the interests of a Raul Ibanez to take the offer of arbitration because he’s not going to be with the Phillies next season one way or the other and the number of teams willing to give him any noteworthy contract in the spring right before the season will be nonexistent.

The players and owners benefited from the new deal even if it’s going to hurt the amateurs; the attitude of disinterest in how a drafted player deals with not being handed a giant check for signing his name is totally acceptable on the part of the union and MLB.

In reality, why should they care?