Apropos of nothing: The PED All-Star lineup

There are many reasons why I hate drug cheats but mainly because they fuel my scepticism of exceptional sporting performances. I don’t want to doubt the legitimacy of Shohei Ohtani‘s brilliance or Edwin Diaz‘s resurgence, or Aaron Judge‘s power surge, or Jacob deGrom‘s recovery.

I can’t for the life of me think what triggered my mind to create the Bat Flips & Nerds PED All-Star lineup, but something must have happened recently.

Catcher: Yasmani Grandal

There were plenty of options for behind the plate, but the White Sox catcher was the clear first choice. Whether you use wOBA or Fangraphs’ offensive WAR, Grandal was the most valuable offensive catcher in the game last season, and this despite the Royals’ Salvador Perez launching 48 home runs.

Yasmani Grandal93236062.40222.3
Salvador Perez1614888121.35921.1
Buster Posey113186856.37920.4
Will Smith130257176.36418.3

The former first-round pick was one of the youngest major leaguers ever to be suspended after testing positive for testosterone in 2012 while catcher for the San Diego Padres. I guess that infamy has now passed to another young Padre.

First base: Ji-Man Choi

Surprisingly, given the stereotypical view of a chemically-enhanced slugger, there were very few options to man first base. The South Korean is a 120 OPS+ player over his five seasons with Tampa Bay.

The 31-year-old received his suspension after testing positive for methandienone while with the Seattle Mariners Triple-A affiliate in Tacoma. Choi, who was hitting .391 at the time, claimed, “I do not know what I could have taken that caused me to test positive. I have not and never would knowingly use anything illegal to enhance my performance.”

Second base: Robinson Canó

Why is this guy still in demand? Despite a -1.5 WAR season, Canó has played for three MLB teams in 2022 (Mets, Padres, and Braves) and given that he will only cost around $200K, don’t count out the chance of a fourth.

Debuting in 2005, Canó became one of the finest players in the game, but was any of it real?

The 39-year-old tarnished his achievements and those of the Yankees and Mariners by being banned twice for using performance-enhancing drugs. Prior to failing his second test, Canó had enjoyed a stellar season with the Mets, finishing as the 13th-best 30-something hitter, just behind Paul Goldschmidt and George Springer. Nothing unusual there. In fact, there were only two players in the league older than Canó’s 37 years (min 150pa) – Albert Pujols and Nelson Cruz. More on Mr Cruz later.

Shortstop: Jorge Polanco

In 2018, when Jorge Polanco was banned for using the steroid Stanozolol. I had to check that Jorge wasn’t Spanish for druggy as my fantasy baseball team also lost Jorge Bonifacio for the same offence.

“To be clear, I did not intentionally consume this steroid… the substance that I requested from my athletic trainer in the Dominican Republic and consented to take was a combination of vitamin B12 and an iron supplement, something that is not unusual or illegal for professional athletes to take. Unfortunately, what I was given was not that supplement.”

Third base: Adalberto Mondesi

Back in 2016, the Royals’ top prospect was banned after Clenbuterol was found in his system. The initial 80-game ban was reduced to 50 games as the Royals demonstrated the banned substance was present in a cold medicine.

“I took an over-the-counter medication, which I bought in the Dominican Republic to treat cold and flu symptoms. I failed to read the labelling on the medication.”

In his two part-seasons of 2018 and 2019, Mondesi’s 162-game average equated to 96 runs, 21 home runs, 91 RBI and a staggering 69 stolen bases. He had all of the tools to be one of the game’s greats, except an ability to get on base. Over seven years in the majors, Mondesi has a .280 OBP. Only catchers can survive in the big leagues with that.

Outfielder: Cameron Maybin

The jewel of the package that Detroit sent to Miami in the Miguel Cabrera trade, Maybin recently retired after 1162 games in the majors. It was a fine 15-year career, and although it comprised 40-stolen bases campaigns, double-digit homers, and a total of 556 runs, Maybin never became an All-Star.

In 2014, while with the Padres, the former first-rounder tested positive for amphetamines in “a genuine effort to treat my condition [Attention Deficit Disorder] and I was not trying in any way to gain an advantage in my baseball career.”

Players who test positive for amphetamines are automatically given warnings the first time and subjected to subsequent testing; there is an automatic suspension if caught a second time. This was Maybin’s second positive test. Nothing like learning from one’s mistakes.

Outfielder: Ramón Laureano

The 28-year-old has enjoyed a productive stretch since claiming a spot in the Oakland outfield. Before his ban for nandrolone in August 2021, Laureano had posted 119 OPS+ in 313 games for the A’s.

“I have worked too hard and given too much to this sport to disrespect or cheat the game that I love. I take great care of my body and have an extremely regimented diet. Based on the minuscule amount that was briefly in my body, I’ve learned that it is likely that it was contamination of something I ingested.”

Laureano returned to the A’s lineup in May 2022, and over his last 50 games, he is hitting .211 with a dismal .286 OBP.

Outfielder: Starling Marte

In 2016, Starling Marte hit .311, played Gold Glove left field and swiped 47 bags. The 2017 season was just 13 games old when the Pirates’ best hitter received an 80-game suspension for nandrolone. Pittsburgh’s playoff aspirations vanished.

“Neglect and lack of knowledge have led me to this mistake with the high price to pay of being away from the field that I enjoy and love so much. With much embarrassment and helplessness, I ask for forgiveness for unintentionally disrespecting so many people.”

Arguably, Marte became a better hitter during the years after his suspension (.814 OPS) than before (.794 OPS). He certainly became a richer one.

I wonder how much money Marte owes outfielder, Adam Duvall. How much benefit would the accolade of winning the 2016 Gold Glove have given Duvall had it not been awarded to the soon-to-be-suspended Marte?

Designated Hitter: Nelson Cruz

On 1 July 2020, three weeks before the start of the COVID-delayed season, Nelson Cruz celebrated his 40th birthday. Ten weeks later and Cruz had produced a campaign that ranked him as the ninth-best hitter in the game. As Lance Armstrong famously said, “the cynics and the sceptics: I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry that you can’t dream big. I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.”

It was a black summer seven years earlier for MLB when they handed out bans to former MVPs Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, as well as All-Stars Jhonny Peralta, Everth Cabrera, and Nelson Cruz.

After admitting using hGH, a banned muscle growth substance, Cruz claimed, “I had lost 40 pounds just weeks before I was to report to spring training in 2012. I was unsure whether I would be physically able to play. Faced with this situation, I made an error in judgment… and my illness was no excuse.”

Starting pitcher: Frankie Montas

With a 3.70 ERA in 122 games for the Athletics, the right-hander was one of the prize arms available before the recent trade deadline. It was a shrewd move by the Yankees to acquire his talents.

In June 2019, Montas was suspended for 80 games after a positive test for Ostarine, a performance-enhancing drug that helps muscle growth while improving fitness. Let’s be honest, improving muscle growth and fitness without extra training sounds appealing.

“While I never intended to take any prohibited substance, I unfortunately and unknowingly ingested a contaminated supplement that I had purchased over-the-counter at a nutrition store here in the United States.”

Oakland was deprived of their best starter for the 2019 postseason. Three years later and Montas is going to the postseason with the Yankees.

Starting pitcher: Logan Webb

Only two starters (Sandy Alcantara and Aaron Nola) have pitched more innings than Logan Webb in 2022. The Giants ace has made 23 starts with a 3.17 ERA this season and is fresh off the back of a 3.03 ERA (2.74 FIP) campaign in 2021. He is one of the superstar pitchers in the game at the moment.

In May 2019, Webb tested positive for testosterone but was at a loss as to how it happened.

“For the past month and a half I have tried endlessly to find the answer to why the M4 metabolite was found in my urine sample,” Webb said in a statement he released. “I have done research, I have talked to people who know a lot more about it than I do, and I have sent in an endless amount of supplements and products for testing that I have used over the past couple years. Unfortunately, none of those things have helped me find that answer, and the time for me to find the reason that this has happened has run out. I know in my heart that something someday will be put into the world to prove my innocence.”

Closer: Emmanuel Clase

The Guardians’ closer currently leads the AL with 26 saves. The 24-year-old with the triple-digit cutter is arguably the most dominant closer in the game, although it is unclear how much credit for his current success is due to his previous abuse of anabolic steroids.

Clase was the main prize in the deal that sent two-time Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber, to Texas in December 2019.

After testing positive for Boldenone, Clase has banned for the entirety of the COVID-shortened 2020 and the start of the 2021 season.

Gav’s rant

I have lots of problems with cheats in sport. I see little difference between diving in the penalty box, trash-can banging, or doping. If you are going to win at all costs, why stop there? You could throw a game, bribe an official or order an assault on your opponent.

I hate the way that drugs cheating has reduced some of the most exciting moments in sport to a sham: The 1988 Olympic 100M final, Sun Yang’s World Championship swimming gold, Floyd Landis’ 120km solo attack to Morzine.

And I hate how the cheats now make me question whenever there is an incredible sporting achievement: Was Janja Garnbret’s otherworldly climbing ability to win Olympic gold completely legit? Are Rafa Nadal’s 22 Grand Slam titles all above board? Did Paula Radcliffe, a white girl from Cheshire, really destroy the women’s marathon record?

I hate that Fernando Tatis, Jr. and every other drug cheat fuels my scepticism of Shohei Ohtani’s brilliance or Edwin Diaz’s resurgence, or Aaron Judge’s power surge, or Jacob deGrom’s recovery.

When cheats prosper, non-cheats suffer. Twice-banned Robinson Canó has earned $252 million. He is referred to as an “Eight-time All-Star” rather than a “disgraced cheat”. And his chemically enhanced statistics are compared to regular, non-doping players. Some of these players are desperate to get their chance for regular at-bats at The Show.

I don’t know much about Phil Gosselin but he got dumped because the Braves and their questionable ethics, wanted Canó’s prestige and experience in the lineup. Prestige and experience gained from a career of cheating.

And this wasn’t the first time Gosselin suffered from a drug cheat nicking his spot. He was optioned by the Pirates in 2017 when Pittsburgh activated Starling Marte after his 80-game PED suspension.

Gosselin is just one example of a player losing his place to a drug cheat, but there must be thousands of other cases where a player simply does not get the opportunity.

The second problem I have with drug cheats is that their bodies benefit from the drug abuse long after they have quit. The muscular developmental advantage obtained from PEDs and the advantage of quicker recovery from training/injury are understated. Would Montas and Webb have progressed as quickly had they not had the developmental advantage? Would Cruz and Canó secured their lucrative deals (and the benefits that come along with them) had they not bulked up as quickly? Would Grandal be a big league catcher now had he played partially banged up like his fellow minor league catchers?

And the third problem is that the teams benefit without any fear of repercussion. I mentioned earlier that Oakland entered the postseason 2019 without their best starter, Frankie Montas. The reality is that Oakland made the postseason thanks, in part, to the cheating of their best starter, Frankie Montas.

The fourth problem is that I suspect PED-cheating is far more widespread than the spattering of suspensions would have us suspect. Alex Rodriguez never failed a test; he admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs in a desire to boost his batting statistics, but he never tested positive. And don’t get me started about how few positive cases there are in football.

The fifth problem – see, I told you I had lots of problems with drug cheats – is that I am frustrated there is no appetite by MLB to stop the abuse of PEDs. Yes, the current suspension of Fernando Tatis, Jr. is about as high profile as you can get, but it isn’t a deterrent. The Padres benefited from 273 games of Tatis, Jr. The Padres will benefit when Tatis, Jr. returns. FTJ has a $300+ million contract. Youngsters everywhere want to emulate FTJ. While the win at any cost philosophy continues, players are not discouraged to cheat, as long as it is the player, and not the team, who bears the consequences.

If the threat of disqualification from the postseason was levelled at teams if a positive-testing player had been on their roster that season, I don’t think the Braves, Padres or Mets would have risked Canó potentially falling foul of the testers for a third time.

Rant over.

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Featured photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

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Gav is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips & Nerds. You can follow him on Twitter @GavTramps.

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