An interesting situation developed early in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft last Thursday evening. Word had leaked out that a top-five talent, 17-year-old Puerto Rican shortstop Delvin Perez, had tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance prior to the draft. What to do about arguably the top hitting prospect in this class created a PR quandary for drafting clubs.
The water is muddy. It is important to understand that while many prospective draftees are tested, there is no punitive process in place. After all, they are still amateurs. In fact, the results are intended to remain confidential, but probably because negative test results are shared with clubs, the news was leaked by someone to reporter Jon Heyman.
In other words, the public was not even supposed to know about the failed test – yet no one seems to care about Perez’ rights. After all, he is apparently guilty.
As the first round evolved Thursday night, Perez’ name was not called and not called – until the St. Louis Cardinals chose him with the 23rd overall selection.
On the MLB Network broadcast, commentator Harold Reynolds immediately criticized the pick, saying it was sending “a bad message for baseball”. Fellow fantasy industry writer Ray Guilfoyle of faketeams.com agreed, tweeting “Harold is right. Cardinals sending bad message by taking Perez in first rd.”
No one seemed to notice that the financial difference between the slot values for the 23rd and fifth picks is roughly half. In other words, by the time he fell to the Cardinals. Perez potentially had already lost over $2.1 million in bonus money.
To me, that seems like enough of a penalty.
Since I could not engage with Reynolds, I started a dialogue with Guilfoyle instead.
Many commenters rightly asserted that had the Cardinals not selected Reyes, another team surely would have.
While I agree, my reply was different in that I approached it from the rules perspective.
After all, baseball is a game filled with these crazy unwritten rules. When does the score make it ok to steal a base or the situation right to retaliate for a hit batter, for example?
In this case, Reynolds and Guilfoyle established their own unwritten rule – an amateur who fails a PED test should not be eligible to be taken in the first round.
OK, if that is what you want, then make it clear. I suggested to Ray that MLB should have just suspended Perez from the first round, then. That way, the penalty would be understood by all.
Of course, the entire concept is absurd, since as already noted, MLB has no enforcement capability over amateurs.
When Guilfoyle noted that MLB could not suspend Perez, I countered with this:
“So, because there is no formal penalty, you want some kind of collusion by all 30 teams vs. the player?”
That question was not answered. At that point, Ray shifted the discussion from teams to players, asserting that “Players want to clean up the game.”
My reply was especially timely, since the next Collective Bargaining Agreement between players and ownership is currently being negotiated.
“If players want to clean up the game, then they have the power at the bargaining table to change the rules,” I tweeted.
Guilfoyle responded, “I am sure they will.”
Again, I disagreed. “Don't be so sure. Minor leaguers have not been a priority for the players union in the past. Why change now?”
Guilfoyle responded, “was thinking MLB not Milb”.
The conversation ended right there when I pointed out that the “MLB Drug Program is different from MiLB and is irrelevant here.”
It is important to understand that the drug program for minor leaguers is not the same as for MLB players in a number of aspects. The Players' Association seems content to push the harsher penalties on the younger players, who aren’t even yet members of the MLBPA (and most never will be), while taking an easier route themselves.
For example, Major Leaguers can get stoned every night of the week if they choose without penalty, but if a minor leaguer tests positive a second time for marijuana use, he is suspended for 50 games – even if in Colorado or another state where it is legal.
In this case, a 17-year-old made a mistake with a banned PED, but there is no mechanism to formally punish him. Expecting some mandatory and magical unwritten penalty process to sprout up, just to make MLB look good, is a completely impractical and ridiculous idea.
Ben Badler of Baseball America put it best when he tweeted this:
“The Cardinals should take the best player for their organization. Worrying about PR for MLB should not be a factor in the decision.”
So, back to my original point, which at its core is the same mantra I repeat over and over in this column in its regular context – fantasy baseball rules. That is, if you don’t like the rules (or they don’t exist), don’t just complain; fix them.
If MLB wants to address this, they could make a ruling to affect the behavior of their clubs, but I won’t be holding my breath. I also doubt the players’ union is going to make this particular situation a priority; however, I am not sure they should. Young Mr. Perez' likely loss of over $2 million due to his bad decision should be enough.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.