"Obviously, there's not a big enough deterrent if it continues... Here it's just tied to the individual. I think we need much stronger ramifications for that type of activity. It just absolutely cannot be tolerated."
-- Kirk Gibson
In yesterday's GDT, I half-jokingly suggested the Giants should be docked the four wins Melky Cabrera has given them above his average, according to fWAR. But, as diamondhacks pointed out in the Cabrera thread, it might be a more effective punishment: He said, "Suspending or retroactively hissing at abusers doesn't really change baseball history and it certainly doesn't change the standings, unless and until tainted games are forfeit." Gibson also compared what happens in baseball, to the sanctions imposed on Penn State, where the college had all the wins that they achieved from 1998-2011, taken away.
So, should sanctions be applied to teams if their players are found guilty of PED use?
It would, certainly, be a radical step to make teams responsible for the actions of their players. But let's think about the possible effect of such a scenario where a plan was implemented. What it would immediately do is reduce the demand in free agency for players suspected of drug use. Right now, there is no deterrent for a team from signing a player, even if they know he's juicing. You can get all the benefit, in terms of wins, until he gets caught; then you get to keep those, and don't even have to pay the player while he's suspended [that's another aspect I'd suggest adjusting, with the team still paying the salary, but it being donated to charity].
There's no doubt that teams are aware, perhaps more so than you'd think. Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick has openly acknowledged as much, back in 2006 - while the interview became of franchise lore for his statement about "whispers" regarding Luis Gonzalez, they actually only came as a follow up to this section:
"We've had some suspicion in the past here with the Diamondbacks. There were some players that there was suspicion about that we very quietly moved on. We moved them out of our club because we thought there may be some reality to the suspicions that we were getting."
-- Ken Kendrick
So I think it is absolute pretense to say that teams "don't know". Or, at least, don't have a clue. And this goes back to another point, which I read quite a lot about when writing up the recent piece on the Chicago Black Sox scandal, and how Kennesaw Mountain Landis cleared up the game from gambling It was largely through adopting a scorched-earth policy: if you knew about a fix and didn't report it, you were deemed just as guilty as those who were active participants, and got the same punishment, even if you declined the offer. It'd certainly make for a tougher environment if the same applied to PED use, and if teams hear whispers, you know players hear a lot more.
The evidence from testing also suggests that PED use is more prevalent on certain teams. I mean, what are the odds half the major leaguers to tail a test this season played for the Giants (Guillermo Mota before Melky Cabrera, the former a second offender). If you look at the list of players suspended for performance-enhancing drugs since the new policy came in to effect at the beginning of the 2005 season, there are some widespread disparities. The Giants have seven players; the Diamondbacks only one, Jason Grimsley - and he never actually failed a test. Just like Barry Bonds....
This isn't to claim Arizona are impeccably pure, but it's still interesting to speculate on the reasons for the difference. Is it the legacy of Bonds? Certainly, fans in San Francisco showed a great deal of tolerance for Bonds, even as the evidence against him mounted, and that still seemed to reflect in their reaction to the Cabrera ban. Is it the local presence of BALCO - which, in case you'd forgotten, stood for Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative? Or if BALCO's founder, Victor Conte was right when he said. "The only people that get caught are the dumb, and the dumber," maybe Giants are just...less intelligent than D-backs. I am comfortable with that possibility...
But, regardless of the reason, if the test results are considered a credible sample, than it would imply that some teams are benefiting more from PEDs than others. If that is the case, then it makes a certain degree of judicial sense to punish them as a result, to try and restore a level playing-field. Of course, there is absolutely no chance of the owners agreeing to this. And one suspects the player's union, would likely object too - simply on principle, because they had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to this point in proceedings, with a testing policy that's badly flawed e.g. no random testing for HGH in season.
However, the "best interests of baseball" clause does give the commissioner almost unlimited authority in terms of actions, as we saw when Bud Selig invoked it to take the Dodgers from the hands of the McCourts. Section 3 of the Major League Agreement imposes limits on the punishments which he can impose. While I am not a legal expert, nor do I play one on TV, it appears then basically to throw the limits out of the window with the final clause.
In the case of conduct by Major League Clubs, owners, officers, employees or players that is deemed by the Commissioner not to be in the best interests of Baseball, punitive action by the Commissioner for each offense may include any one or more of the following:
(a) a reprimand;
(b) deprivation of a Major League Club of representation in Major League Meetings;
(c) suspension or removal of any owner, officer or employee of a Major League Club;
(d) temporary or permanent ineligibility of a player;
(e) a fine, not to exceed $2,000,000 in the case of a Major League Club, not to exceed $500,000 in the case of an owner, officer or employee, and in an amount consistent with the then-current Basic Agreement with the Major League Baseball Players Association, in the case of a player;
(f) loss of the benefit of any or all of the Major League Rules, including but not limited to the denial or transfer of player selection rights provided by Major League Rules 4 and 5;
and (g) such other actions as the Commissioner may deem appropriate.
There doesn't seem much doubt that the current suspensions are not an effective deterrent, as Gibson noted. I'd be in favor of a policy more in line with what we saw during the recent Olympics, where a failed drug test can result in a two-year ban, depending on your sport. That's the level of punishment which would make even someone like Cabrera think twice before cheerfully flouting the rules in such a cavalier manner. However, as with the prospect of team penalties, it seems very unlikely the unions would agree to such stringent measures, and Selig hasn't shown much evidence of a backbone here, when he should have invoked "best interests" to impose tougher penalties.