I hate "the shrug." A problem comes along, and causes discomfort. Someone does something outside the rules, and most people shrug. Nothing you can do about it. While it's likely true there is nothing you can do about it, you are permitted to come up with ideas. As implemented ideas have made the world a better (automobiles, iPods) and worse (chemical weapons) place, ideas are important. My world is as much in the fabricated/imaginary world as the three-dimensional one. When something happens, I will often have an opinion. I like to try my opinions out on real people.
Earlier this year, the Biogenesis scandal began to rock baseball. Or, that was the assessment. A number of players were suspended 50 games. Alex Rodriguez' case is still ongoing, but most of the players took their 50 over the summer, including the Detroit Tigers' Jhonny Peralta. The Tigers were none-too-impressed with his suspension, and let him go after the season without making him a "Qualifying Offer". What that meant was any MLB team could sign Peralta without surrendering draft-pick compensation to Detroit.
Over the weekend, the St. Louis Cardinals did just that, inking Peralta to a four-year, $52 million deal, proving again that cheaters win and winners cheat. And the baseball world shrugs. Except, I hate shrugs.
People really don't understand how this works. We thought 50 games would be a deterrent. Obviously it's not. So we are working on it again.— Brad Ziegler (@BradZiegler) November 24, 2013
There are plenty of people in the business who care. These are the ones that play by the rules, and generally expect others to as well. When a guy who plays by the rules loses his job to a guy who doesn't, it hurts the game's image. To all the Cardinal fans who give you grief, be sure to congratulate them on signing a player who was suspended for cheating. $52 million worth. The same year he was suspended for cheating.
But pointing fingers alone does nothing but sound shrill and bitter. Obviously, I need to come up with an idea to try to encourage discussion and build a better punitive mousetrap. In my view, the punishment needs to be far more severe for the team.
If a player wants to do something to 'improve' himself to extend his career, provide for his family, win a ring, yeah, I get it. I don't have to like it, but I get it. The difference between the talents of a minor league player who just misses and an 8-to-10-year veteran aren't that much. The payoff for a 10-year career is massive. A player wanting to have enough stowed away to spend time with his family after he retires in his early 30s is enormous. That angle is beyond my scope to significantly limit.
However, the team gets massive benefits in signing cheaters. The Cardinals can now toss aside the need of playing Pete Kozma as their everyday shortstop. The wins Peralta will add didn't cost the Redbirds any valuable draft picks. Only two risks exist. One is if he is a bad player. Then, they will have made a bad investment. The other is if he is still a cheater, and gets caught again. To my understanding, the sole punishment is that he would face a lengthier suspension.
To which many would say, "Isn't that enough?"
To find an apt punishment, a dreamer has to come up with many options. Some will be far too harsh. Some will be nowhere near harsh enough. The goal in this exercise is to find a punishment that permits Peralta (and others) to continue to play, but makes all thirty front offices weigh if perhaps, just perhaps, the costs outstrip the benefits.
I have three ideas.
One is to cost the team a draft pick based on the player's status. If the player is a spare part, the pick ends up being in the fifth-round range. If he's an everyday starter, the team loses a first-round pick. Gone. Shuffle your draft boards everyone, you just moved up.
"But, that hurts the team too much," might be your reply.
That's kind of the point. You can shuffle the round penalty however you want. When a team starts getting severely punished for their players cheating, then they will take control of the problem. Not until then. Teams probably overvalue their picks right now. So if a player is guilty of cheating, liquidate their asset.
The next is to donate 100 percent of the cheating player's salary to a program to discourage said cheating. That way, the team doesn't recover any of the money the player loses in pay. Truth be told, I'm not sure where said money goes now. That said, if the money goes back to the team, they are benefiting from their player cheating. Which is a bad thing.
My first two ideas, I'm flexible with. Noodge it this way, tweak it that way, go right ahead. Whatever makes things appropriate. For my third idea, I refuse to budge. At all. As long as the player is suspended for cheating, they remain on the 40-man roster. Even if released.
"Who cares? It's just one guy. The 40th spot doesn't matter anyway," you might say.
I have two responses. The first is, yeah, it does kind of matter. Each team has a leeway of 15 between the 25- and 40-man rosters. Some of those guys aren't ready, and haven't even been called up yet. Some have been tried, and displayed they weren't ready yet. While teams usually have a guy or two that are "the next out" candidates, teams don't really want to be pushed there. Adding a disincentive where a guy on the 40-man is ineligible to be on the 25-man could force a team into some decisions they don't want to make. Especially if they have some injured players on the 40-man as well. A punishment of where a team has to trade or release a prospect they like because one of their veterans is a cheater would be justice served.
The other aspect? What if it isn't just one guy?
If a team has three or four guys caught as cheats, suddenly the 40-man roster is a 36-man roster, until the players are unsuspended. What if some of those are for a year (which would be the maximum penalty in my scenario)? That could cripple a team having to run short of players during a cheating scandal. Too bad, so sad.
I would love to see the club pay a severe price for employing cheaters. I get the need of a player to bend a rule. But as long as the club isn't humiliatingly embarrassed and professionally just-shy-of-tortured, Jhonny Peralta types in the future will continue to get contracts that tarnish the game.