Melky Cabrera was suspended not long ago for 50 games for testing positive for a banned substance, depriving the Giants of their second best hitter this season for the stretch run. How big a blow is this? Cabrera’s splits – .346/.390/.516 (all career highs) are astounding, and are one of the bright spots for the Giants in an otherwise supremely bland offense.
The Giants have excellent starting pitching, even with Tim Lincecum having the worst season of his professional life. Their offense is pretty meh, ranking 9th in the NL in runs scored, with an above average OBP, which is good, but second to last in home runs, which is bad.
Steroids are an annoying presence in baseball, and plenty has been written, with the general consensus falling in the ‘steroids are bad’ camp. No arguments here, but perhaps the best way to stop steroid abuse in baseball (and Bartolo Colon’s suspension shows Cabrera is hardly an isolated occurrence) is to penalize the teams as well as the player.
Cabrera’s Wins Above Replacement this season is an eye-popping 4.8, second on the team to Buster Posey, which basically means Cabrera has meant more than 3 additional victories for his team to this point in the season. The Giants currently lead the NL West by 3 games. Cabrera’s cheating ways helped the Giants, there’s no other way to see it. He was also the All Star Game MVP, which means he helped secure home field for the National League in the World Series, so his cheating ways will potentially have some small impact on the 2012 champion.
Cabrera is going to get hammered in free agency by testing positive, but if the Giants sneak into the postseason, why would teams ever discourage players from abusing substances to improve performance? The player suffers long term, sure, but the team benefits, especially if the player happens to be on a short-term contract, like Cabrera was with the Giants.
If teams are seriously penalized and not just players, then perhaps it will both minimize future abuse from players and, obviously, limit the benefit teams can gain from players who cheat. There’s a comparable situation in football with concussions. Players are penalized for illegal hits that can hurt opposing players, both during the game and with fines, but a $10,000 fine simply isn’t going to faze a player making 1.3 million dollars a season. If the team is penalized, say with the loss of draft picks, there would be a strong internal push to remove illegal play from the game, rather than the solely external one currently taking place.
You can’t ask people to do things that will hurt them, it’s never going to happen. You have to properly incentivize them to do the things that are good, like not abusing illegal substances in baseball, or penalize them for bad behavior, like helmet-to-helmet contact in football.
If baseball teams were fined a large amount, say $50,000, for every single game a player played between a negative and a positive drug test, one might expect some movement on this issue, and in doing so, create that level playing field we all want sports to be.