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Should Arizona sign PED cheats?

The topic of what should happen to those found guilty of PED abuse has raised its head again, with the Cardinals' apparent rush to sign Jhonny Peralta to an extremely lucrative long-term contract, despite his recent suspension for involvement with Biogenesis.

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It's a tricky question, and one where I can see both sides.On the one hand, you have the Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, who said of Peralta, "He admitted what he did, he took responsibility for it. I feel like he has paid for his mistakes," which is fair enough. But, on the other hand, Mozeliak then washed his hands - just as the teams did during the steroid era - by proclaiming, "I don't think it's the Cardinals responsibility necessarily to be the morality police on potentially future employment." To which the obvious response would be: if that's not the team's responsibility, then whose should it be?

There is some precedent for such moral policing. In the winter of 2007-08, there was a free-agent who had been an All-Star the previous season, putting up a 1.045 OPS and 3.4 bWAR. But so poisonous was the player's reputation, that there was not even a minor-league contract with an invite to spring training: it was, of course, Barry Bonds. So, it is possible. The danger is that it takes an absolutely solid front from owners for it to have effect. It only takes one team to break ranks - say, one which had come very close to winning the World Series, despite a regular season OPS+ of 54 from its everyday shortstop - and the practice is useless.

Certainly, it's hard to take seriously Mozeliak's pious claim that "Character and makeup are something we weigh into our decision-making," especially when a large part of my concern is that Peralta basically appears to have been rewarded by St. Louis for his dubious actions. His last contract was $16.75 million over three years, so his new, $53 million for four seasons represents a nice 137% boost in yearly salary for Peralta. It also shatters the previous free-agent record for a PED suspendee, of $16 million over two years, set by Marlon Byrd and Melky Cabrera. As pitcher David Aardsma put it, "Nothing pisses me off more than guys that cheat and get raises for doing so."

As far as the Diamondbacks go, they seem to be quite happy being the morality police - albeit, not exactly with a zero-tolerance policy. Nick Piecoro wrote about the team's stance in the Republic earlier this week, saying "Their hardline stance appears to be spearheaded by Ken Kendrick, the club’s managing general partner and a longtime critic of PED users... Team sources say Kendrick continues to discourage the acquisition of players, or even the hiring of coaches, who have ties to PEDs." Of course, the obvious name that crops up is Matt Williams, and squaring the team's long-term employment of him, does take some moral gymnastics.

The question would be, what - if anything - can be done? And, a somewhat separate question, what should be done? Diamondbacks' pitcher Brad Ziegler is another who was apparently peeved at Peralta hitting the PED jackpot, Tweeting:

He's right. It's not sufficient deterrent. What Peralta's suspension cost him in lost salary (about $1.85 million), he'll earn in less than a month of the new contract. The problem is, some of the ways which have been suggested, while increasing the impact on the player e.g. delaying their entry to free-agency, would actually benefit the teams who have signed them. Anything which reduces or caps a player's free-agent cost has the same problem. It's also hard to come up with an idea which will penalize repeat offenders, while acknowledging that others will learn from their first mistake and not offend again.

Right now, as Mozeliak says, teams have no interest in acting as "morality police," and I think that's a bad thing. There needs to be an greater incentive for them to consider character. I'm just spit-balling here, but perhaps, if you sign someone who has failed a drugs test, if they are suspended again, you don't get to replace them on your roster - you have to play a man short for the duration of their absence. [It's always seemed strange to me that this isn't the case for first-timers too: in soccer football, if you get a man sent off, you don't get to replace him] Additionally, any ban should automatically apply in the post-season too, even if (as with Peralta), it expired during the season.

But should the Diamondbacks continue to stay away from convicted PED users, even if they might help the team? Or should completing their suspension wipe the slate clean?