Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A kinda, sorta suspension

Edinson Volquez, a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, was suspended for 50 games Tuesday after flunking a drug test.

Kind of suspended. Sort of suspended. He couldn't pitch this week, or next month, or even in July if he weren't suspended. He's recovering from Tommy John surgery.

For the record, as reported in the link above, the 2008 All-Star blames his positive test on fertility treatments. I'm in no position to judge the veracity of that statement.

But there's another possible reason, one that strikes at the value of this suspension.

Many of the players who have admitted using steroids, human growth hormone or other barred "performance enhancing drugs" say they did so in hopes of speeding and enhancing their recovery from injuries.

So ... you are a pitcher who has undergone ligament replacement surgery. You know you're not going to pitch for at least a year, maybe more. You believe that taking a banned substance will hasten that process. You also know that if you take it and test positive, the suspension will take effect while you're out of action.

True, baseball's drug suspensions, unlike its run-of-the-mill suspensions, are payless. (Players cannot be suspended without pay because in a bygone era owners would effectively cut players' pay with trumped-up suspensions.) Volquez will lose some $137,000 as a result of this suspension, and for most of us, that's significant money. On the other hand, if breaking the rule allows him to return with his considerable talent intact, he'll make that money back with interest.

So what has he lost by juicing? Nothing, really. A 50-game suspension is supposed to rip a role in a player's season, or even his career, but in this case the hole was already there.

There is a group of players I simply assume are or have been users on this basis. I won't identify the criteria for that group because I'm not interested in libeling anybody, and I don't know that the entire group has/does use. That some have is a matter of record.

For what it's worth, Volquez does not fit the criteria. But that a player with his injury used should not be surprising, in part because the penalties in place for violation aren't much of a deterrent.

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