Tearing Melky Cabrera apart is easy enough to do (and we will), even before word came out that he and his surrogates had attempted to use a phony website to explain away his elevated testosterone levels.
Instead, what I’d like to look at first is the reason why Cabrera might have made the decision to start juicing. Prior to the 2011 season, Cabrera had reached double digits in home runs and slugged over .400 exactly once (2009) in five big league seasons. He had batted as high as .280 once (2005), in his first big league season, and had two seasons where he batted .255 or less. Following his 2010 campaign with the Atlanta Braves, he took a $1.875 million pay cut to sign with the Kansas City Royals. This is not a knock on the Royals, but they’re not exactly a hot destination for players who have star potential. In the 16 seasons preceding his signing, the Royals had one (2003) winning season, which almost made his signing poetic. He was a middling MLBer signing with a middling MLB franchise, and no one, nowhere expected anything else from either the Royals or Cabrera.
The 2011 Kansas City Royals played out just about exactly the way the guys in Vegas predicted, and when the season ended there was another losing season on their ledger. Cabrera’s time in Kansas City would prove to be fruitful for him. He went from being an afterthought to a quasi-hot product as he set career highs in nearly every single significant offensive category including hits (201), batting average (.305), home runs (18), RBIs (87), SLG (.470), and OPS (.806.) His efforts were rewarded when he was sent to the 2010 World Series champion San Francisco Giants and also received a $4.125 million raise, which is pretty good no matter who you are.
At the point that he was suspended for elevated testosterone levels, Cabrera was on pace to meet or surpass many of those very career highs he set in 2011. Given that he was to be a free agent following the 2012 season, he would seemed to have built a very strong case for a highly lucrative contract. After all, he would still only be 28 years old for much of the 2013 campaign, and would be in a position to pick his destination. I think something along the lines of 5/$65 million would be a fairly conservative estimate for what he might expect to receive in the off-season, at minimum. For comparison’s sake, Jason Bay is earning $16 million this season, and is on the books for $17 million in 2013, to boot. So it’s safe to say that money is a big reason that Cabrera would have to start cheating, and given that professional athletes often equate paydays with respect, we can tack respect on as the second reason he would take up cheating. Most fans would agree that these are rather putrid reasons to cheat the game that they love, but for Cabrera it was likely a simple business decision.
However, if you consider that Victor Conte states that “maybe as much as half of baseball” is using some form of PEDs to be anywhere near correct, Cabrera’s decision to juice doesn’t seem nearly as nefarious. Perhaps he looked around and saw guys that he knew were juicing, saw the numbers they were putting up along with the checks they were cashing, and thought to himself “That should be me.” In the time that we know that he was cheating (the 2012 season), he would seem to have a pretty solid case. He is currently 2nd in MLB in hits (159), batting average (.346), and triples (10.) He is also 14th in OPS (.906) and checks in at #10 in the NL in slugging (.516), just a tick behind Cardinals’ slugger Matt Holliday. If Cabrera’s justification for cheating was that ‘everyone else was doing it’, then he has likely convinced himself that his pragmatic actions were correct. He was just as good as the next MLBer, if he was on an even keel with them to begin with.
By no means am I excusing Cabrera’s decision, which I believe would include his 2011 season in Kansas City. It seems highly unlikely to me that he ‘figured it out’ in Kansas City all on his own, and then turned to PEDs when he got to San Francisco. From this point going forward, I’ll always believe that he saw what was going on in the big leagues, and decided that if cheating is what it took to get ahead, he was going to do it.
The big problem is that it seems to me that MLB is not overly concerned with actually cracking down on PED abusers, because that could affect attendance and ratings, which in turn will affect how much MLB is able to garner for their content. I offered up a suggestion a few weeks back as to how MLB could look to deter cheating by punishing not only players, but their organizations as well. Cabrera is the second player on the Giants to receive a suspension this season (Guillermo Moto was suspended for 100 games back in May), and the Giants have previously employed the game’s biggest cheater, and currently employ Clay Hensley, who was suspended for doping while in the minor leagues. Outside of losing their cheating players, the Giants themselves face no consequences. They won’t lose any games in the standings, they won’t surrender draft picks or pay a fine, they’ll just go on and plug in another guy. Cabrera’s PED-influenced season has kept the Giants in the playoff hunt for this season, and allowed them to make moves (such as acquiring Hunter Pence) that they might not have made if Cabrera was having a pre-2011 type season. With Cabrera’s help, the Giants are only 1/2 game back of the Dodgers in the N.L. West, and 1 game behind the Pittsburgh Pirates for the second wild card spot.
Who makes the Pirates whole if they fall just short of a playoff berth because of Cabrera’s (and by proxy, the Giants’) actions this season? The Pirates have been the feel-good story of 2012, and are poised to make the playoffs for the first time in 20 years. If I was a fan in Pittsburgh, or LA I would be livid that my team (fingers crossed that no one on either squad turns up positive) might be sitting at home because MLB didn’t care enough to take care of its steroid problem when it had the chance. There’s no reason that MLB should not have demanded blood testing for HGH, nor is there a reason why MLB does not use the Carbon Isotope Ratio test as a primary testing tool instead of as a confirmation if an athlete has a 4-1 or above testosterone to epitestosterone ration. Conte argues that the only athletes that get caught are “dumb and dumber” as the synthetic testosterone is designed to clear a person’s system within 6-8 hours.
Bud Selig and MLB have sold their soul to increase their revenue, at the expense of MLB’s record book and every player who takes the field. Cabrera had two choices that he could have made if he believed that many players were cheating in MLB. Either he could have reported their actions to his team, or to MLB directly, or he could jump on the bandwagon and start juicing. Like many before him, and many yet to come, he chose the ‘easier’ path of cheating in an attempt to catch up with everyone else.
With each player that is caught, it becomes more clear to me that MLB is willing to sacrifice a player here or there in order to appear ‘tough’ on juicers, all the while protecting the vast majority of those who cheat. Until MLB accepts the responsibility they have to actually use every method that is available to them, it is merely lip service to fans when officials claim they are doing all they can to curb cheating. They are complicit in the actions of their players and member organizations until such time that they actually begin to crack down and penalize in a substantial way each and every player who cheats.
Do you care that players are cheating? Would it make a difference to you if your team sat home in October because a player on another team juiced?
Let me know: