PED’s, or performance enhancing drugs, have been a major problem in professional sports for a long time. To the MLB’s credit, they have done a better job than most sports at making sure their players refrain from doping. Over the last decade the MLB has adopted a strict no tolerance policy: On the first offense of doping the player gets an immediate 80 game suspension, on the second offense they get a whole 162 game season, and third offense is an immediate ban from baseball. On the surface this seems like a great way to deter cheaters, but what the growing trend seems to be is that it actually encourages PED use.
Frankie Montas was having a breakout year for the Oakland A’s. He was 9-2 with a 2.70 ERA and 1.12 WHIP making him one of the top 30 best pitchers in baseball this year. That was until yesterday when he was slammed with an 80 game suspension for using a drug called Ostarine. Ostarine is a steroid type drug that has commonly come up in doping cases in fighting sports such as boxing and UFC. It doesn’t matter what it’s called, it’s cheating, and it gives athletes an unfair advantage due to letting them get bigger and stronger faster than regular strength and conditioning training would allow. The main problem lies in the fact that Frankie Montas’ career is far from over. This is not an obstacle for him to climb, but an elevator taking him to greater heights.
It is unknown how long Frankie Montas has been doping, but it would be fair to say that his recent success is the product of it. If I had to guess, he started doping around June 2018. According to Fangraphs, Montas started his career throwing in the high 90s and even reaching triple digits, but he was getting shelled. Then in the 2018 his velocity started to decline, but around late June early July his velocity went back up and has stayed consistently in the mid to high 90s. He started missing more bats and solidified himself as a player the A’s could confidently keep in their rotation, and 80 games from now he’ll slide right back into that rotation. What Montas is getting is essentially an 80 game vacation, he’s not going to get any worse, he’s at no risk of getting injured, and everything he gained from the PEDs is still in him.
This has become a growing trend in the MLB. Players have continued to use PEDs and take the 80 game suspension and come back to a better career than if they hadn’t taken the PEDs. It results in them having longer careers, putting up better numbers, and gaining bigger contracts. Since 2010 there have been 18 players that have been caught using PED’s and made an all star team. Of those 18, there have been five silver sluggers, and three have won MVPs in their careers: Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez, and Miguel Tejada. On top of that, at the end of this season there will most likely be two more all stars added to that list in Adalberto Mondesi and Jorge Polanco. As the MLB has shown with Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa, some of the greatest hitters of all time, if you use PED’s you will not be allowed in the Hall of Fame. Which for great players like Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun this should be the deterrent for using PED’s, and will ultimately result blemishing their otherwise legendary careers. Although, what about the 99 percent of players that have no shot at the Hall of Fame?
This is where the problem lies. If you’re a player in your late 20s to early 30s and you are barely on the roster, what’s stopping you from taking PEDs? You will gain an instant boost to your stats since you will be hitting the ball harder and getting fatigued less quickly. Depending on how soon you get tested you might be able to make yourself more valuable to your team, or even earn a starting spot before you’re hit with that suspension. You have already demonstrated your value and 80 games is nothing considering you just elongated your career by at least a couple seasons. Melky Cabrera is the perfect example of this.
In 2012, at 27 yeas old, Melky Cabrera had a career year. He made his one and only all star game and his splits were .346/.390/.516. The guy was mashing, but he was also cheating. In August of that season he was slapped with a 50 game suspension for using testosterone. Four contracts and five fantasy baseball relevant worthy seasons later, Melky is still in the MLB. No team is going to take the moral high ground when they can get a player that’s going to get a contract somewhere else anyways. When a team sees a player like Melky they don’t see a cheater they see a valuable middle of lineup guy. A guy that added more power and on-base potential by essentially forfeiting 50 games of his career. It was a terrific career move for Melky that netted him more money and a longer career. Melky is just one of a handful of players who’ve taken this route such as Dee Gordon, Starling Marte, Nelson Cruz, Cameron Maybin, Marlon Byrd, Ervin Santana, Wellington Castillo, Yasmani Grandal, and even Robinson Cano. All these guys have boosted their career using some form of PED, and seeing the success they’ve gained from it I would not be surprised to see that list grow exponentially in the coming years.
The MLB is littered with players that have decided to take the 80 suspension for a half season vacation, and an extra 3-4 years of relevance. That’s money and roster spots going to players that cheated for them. There are around 20-30 players occupying roster spots that have taken this loophole, and a few top prospects that are waiting to reap the benefits of it like Adalberto Mondesi has. Until the MLB decides to have stricter penalties, these players are going to continue using this system as a way to advance their careers further. It’s up to the players to decide if they want to be a morally better person, or be a better player, make more money, and play baseball longer. Baseball is a business, and for most players using PED’s, in this current MLB landscape, is nothing more than a smart business decision.
Source for all stats comes from baseball-refernece.com