I wrote about Jhonny Peralta a few days ago. I ignored the elephant. Brad Ziegler didn't. Here's Ken Rosenthal:
That’s it. The Jhonny Peralta contract will be a tipping point, leading to harsher penalties for players who are suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs.
Prior to Peralta striking it rich, $16 million for two years seemed to be the standard free-agent deal for a position player coming off a PED suspension.
That’s what Melky Cabrera got last offseason. That’s what Marlon Byrd got this offseason. But Peralta, in his new deal with the St. Louis Cardinals, will earn more than three times that sum.
The Cardinals are in agreement with Peralta on a four-year, $53 million contract, according to major-league sources. And while some fans are outraged, they hardly are the only ones disgusted.
"It pays to cheat," Arizona Diamondbacks reliever and player representative Brad Ziegler tweeted Sunday. "Thanks, owners, for encouraging PED use."
Ziegler followed up that tweet with this one:
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
and a bit later, this one:
People think if they curse at me, call me names, & say my opin doesn't matter that it will affect me. I've pitched in SF, NY, etc #tuneitout— Brad Ziegler (@BradZiegler) November 24, 2013
I wish I were as thick-skinned as Brad Ziegler. Just another reminder that most of us don't have what it takes, physically or emotionally, to thrive on the big stage. Anyway, getting back to Ziegler's point ... I don't think it's true that 50 games isn't a deterrent. I'm nearly sure that it's a deterrant; I'm sure that with a smaller penalty, more players would flout the rules. What Ziegler means is that's not enough deterrent.
Which is obviously a matter of opinion. But now we're now mixing our arguments, right? I'm not sure what's supposed to bother us more ... That the prospect of a 50-game suspension wasn't enough to deter Peralta, or that his cheating was actually rewarded with a $53 million contract? The first is a practical matter, the second a question of morality and justice.
It's okay if both things bother you. Both bother me some.
What worries me about a 100-game suspension for a first offense -- or a year-long suspension, or whatever -- is that an innocent man will someday get busted, and those punishments seem particularly unfair. It seems we are heading that direction, though. Maybe we'll just have to accept that the system, whatever it is, will occasionally be terribly unfair. We certainly accept that in our criminal-justice system; in fact, we know that innocent people have been executed, and that many, many innocent people have been incarcerated for decades. So, yay for us.
Still, as I said, steeper punishments are probably coming. Because the tide has turned, and Brad Ziegler is hardly alone. However, I would not change the suspension periods. I would rather see a more creative measure. Oh, for example something like this:
45 second fix on PED FA's. You fail a test you can't get more than 1 year deal that off season at same salary. Free & clear after that.— CJ Nitkowski (@CJNitkowski) November 26, 2013
That seems perfectly fair to me. Peralta served his suspension and he'll forever wear the stain of that suspension. That seems just. But appearances do matter, and it doesn't look good for a player to jump straight from a 50-game suspension to a lucrative new contract. I do not want to take anyone's livelihood away; I'm glad that Peralta resumed his career, and figures to play well into his 30s.
But Jhonny Peralta earned $6 million in 2013. Well, actually quite a bit less because he didn't draw his salary while serving his suspension. But if the Nitkowski Rule's in place, Peralta can play for $6 million in 2014. That's enough to live on, while he rebuilds his reputation as a good player who doesn't fail drug tests.
Mark Cuban recently suggested that athletes should be permitted to use HGH, and he might well have a point there. Maybe athletes should be using whatever can make them stronger and healthier, as long as it's permitted by the applicable local, state, and federal regulations. Maybe we've got our priorities all screwed up.
But right now, there are players who are following the rules, and they really shouldn't have to compete against players who are cheating. Maybe the deterrents need some work, and maybe the apparent justice can use some work, too.
Or maybe Jhonny Peralta will just donate $9.5 million of next year's salary to Mark McGwire's charity. I hear they're doing incredible things with bed-wetting these days.