It's possible that for the second year in a row, a team will win the World Series after a key lineup cog is suspended for performance-enhancing drugs. Melky Cabrera suddenly -- suspiciously! -- morphed into Tony Gwynn with a Bowflex, then was suspended after the trade deadline. It all worked out for the Giants. Now two other teams are hoping the same thing happens.
Nelson Cruz was a big part of the Rangers' lineup. Now they're going to make do with something jury-rigged, a combination of Engel Beltre or Joey Butler, maybe with some super-subbing Jurickson Profar somewhere. The Tigers got a glove-first shortstop hitting about 80 points higher than expected -- Bizarro Jhonny Peralta, in other words. Either of them might still get a World Series ring. This will be a story for the next couple of months.
Those aren't the players and teams that fascinate me, though. The Rangers are, somewhat hilariously, shocked that Cruz accepted the suspension, but he wasn't a part of their long-term plans, most likely. The Tigers might have re-signed Peralta, but with Jose Iglesias now in the fold, that's pretty unlikely. Both teams will lose a win or so in the next two months. These suspensions have everything to do with 2013, but little to do with 2014.
Jesus Montero and Everth Cabrera, though, have everything to do with 2015. And 2016. Possibly beyond. And now there are some big questions with both. Call them the Melky/Colon questions. Don't google that if your boss monitors your Internet activity. But here's the tale of two suspensions:
Bartolo Colon was suspended for performance-enhancing drugs, served his time, and came back even better. Which makes the PEDs seem superfluous at best. Why would a guy even mess around with the stuff if he can come back this strong? What sort of sugar water was he taking?
Melky Cabrera was suspended for PEDs, served his time, and came back a shell of the player he was in 2012. A lot of that has to do with injuries, but supposedly the PEDs can help players recover faster from physical problems like Cabrera's. If Colon was taking the equivalent of a sugar-water placebo, Cabrera was eating Popeye's cans of spinach. He needs those if he doesn't want Bluto to kill him. I think Bluto is played by John Lackey in this analogy.
One player didn't see a performance drop; one player saw a substantial performance drop. It's impossible not to wonder exactly how much (or how little) the PEDs helped.
The Padres thought they had something with Cabrera, a 26-year-old, team-controlled shortstop in the middle of his best season, who was only going to get better. Remember, Cabrera missed a lot of development time because of injuries and his Rule 5 status. He completely skipped Double-A, and got at-bats in Triple-A only after he was hurt in the majors. Maybe this breakout season should have been expected in some way.
Or maybe he's more of a Melky than a Colon. Maybe without the better living through chemistry, he's a faster Neifi Perez without the glove. The Padres thought they had something, and maybe they still do. But they're right to be a little suspicious.
And the Mariners have no idea what to expect from Jesus Montero now, not that they did in the first place. Was his dreadful production in the majors with the aid of this stuff? Because that would be awful. Or was his superlative production in the minors with the aid of PEDs, and the reason he's struggling in the majors is because he cleaned up after the Biogenesis story broke? Because that would be awful.
Or is he just awful? Because that would be awful. By definition.
Both teams need to proceed as if these young players are Melkys. Assume that the PEDs did work like cans of spinach, and be pleasantly surprised if they return from their suspensions and do the Colon. For the Padres, that means considering young shortstops in trade talks this offseason, and giving Cabrera a short leash if he struggles in early 2014. For the Mariners, that means writing Montero out of their DH plans until he hits his way back into them. Which they were probably about to do anyway. But it's a little easier to suggest right now.
Cruz and Peralta will get a lot of the focus because of the playoff races, but don't forget about the young players with promising futures. Their futures might be less promising than they were yesterday. Now it's up to the teams to figure out how much of a hit that promise took. If any.
How ironic that this happened to these natural, bitter rivals. Just adding another layer to the Padres/Mariners rivalry, everyone.