MLB, players boost penalties for drugs

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PHILADELPHIA -- Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association announced changes Friday to the Joint Drug Program, which simultaneously stiffened penalties for the use of performance-enhancing drugs and allowed for softer penalties in the case of inadvertent use.

The new policy, which is effective immediately, increased the penalties for a positive test. There will be an 80-game suspension for a first-time offender, a full 162-game season the second time and a ban from baseball after a third positive test. Previously, a first offense merited a 50-game suspension and a second offense 100 games.

Also, players who are suspended for performance-enhancing drugs will not be allowed to participate in the postseason or receive a full share of the players' pool of postseason revenue. In 2013, Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta returned to the team for the playoffs after serving suspensions for performance-enhancing drug use.

"This has been on the players' radar screen for some time," said MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, who noted on a conference call with reporters that conversations about tougher penalties went back to spring training in 2013. "In large part, where we ended up was driven by those concerns and those interests."

The changes come slightly more than a year after a media report in the Miami New Times implicated several players' involvement with the Biogenesis clinic, a now-closed anti-aging center that allegedly provided performance-enhancing drugs to professional ballplayers. That report and the investigation into the clinic eventually led to 50-game suspensions for nearly a dozen players, a 65-game ban for Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun and a 211-game suspension for New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez challenged the suspension in arbitration, where it was reduced to the 2014 season and playoffs.

"Just trying to crack down on it so it will make people think twice before they try and make a decision to do something that's against the game," Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen said of the stiffer penalties. "We're all for it. We want to move forward from there."

In addition, the new agreement increased the number of random, in-season urine tests from 1,400 to 3,200, and offseason urine tests from 250 to 350. Blood tests for human growth hormone will increase to 400 per season.

"Although we had the strongest [p]rogram in professional sports before these changes, I am committed to constantly finding ways to improve the [p]rogram in order to eradicate performance-enhancing drugs from the game and for MLB to serve as a model for other drug programs," commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement. "I want to express my appreciation to the [p]layers for being proactive and showing remarkable leadership in producing the new agreement."

As a result of the changes, a second-offense suspension not only covers the 162 games in a season and the playoffs but the 21 off days built into what is defined as the 183-day championship season. Players cannot be paid a pro-rated portion of their salaries for the off days, meaning Rodriguez will not collect the roughly $2.8 million that The Associated Press reported he we would have earned this season for the 21 days off in the Yankees schedule.

A subtle change in the language concerning testing players who are on the disabled list also helped ease players' concerns. Players on the DL are now subject to mandatory testing, Clark said, rather than merely "subject to" testing. Players have expressed disappointment with the loophole.

The revised agreement provides for the reduction of a suspension to no fewer than 40 games, and subsequent permission to compete in the playoffs, if a player can prove to an arbitration panel that he used the banned substance inadvertently. Players had hoped for such a provision after suspensions levied against Philadelphia Phillies infielder Freddy Galvis, who said a foot cream he used contained a banned substance, and reliever Guillermo Mota, who according to his agent used cough syrup containing a trace amount of Clenbuterol.

"I feel we're going in the right direction with all the things, moving forward," McCutchen said. "The Joint Drug Agreement and all that, we're all just trying to come together and make the game a clean game."

The arbitration panel cannot reduce a suspension if a player tests positive for certain substances, such as HGH, testosterone or Stanozolol -- substances no player would inadvertently take.

After a player who tests positive returns, he is subject to six additional urine tests and three additional blood tests for the remainder of his career.

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.


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