Melky Cabrera and the Most Costly Failed Drug Test of All Time

Major League Baseball announced yesterday it would be suspending San Francisco Giants’ outfielder and All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera for 50 games following his testing positive for the performance-enhancing substance  testosterone. The news will be all over television screens, newspapers, and the minds of baseball reporters, fans, and executives—for a day or two at least. But with Cabrera in the midst of a career year and eligible for free agency this offseason, it could well haunt him for the rest of his life.

Cabrera is hitting .346 with 11 home runs, 60 RBI, 13 stolen bases, and a league-leading 159 hits for the Giants this season, his first in San Francisco. He came to the team from Kansas City after being traded for left-handed pitcher Jonathan Sanchez in November and quickly signed a one-year, $6 million deal to avoid arbitration. Cabrera enjoyed similar success playing for the Royals in 2011, hitting .305 with 18 home runs, 87 RBI, and 20 stolen bases. In the prime of his career at age 28 and coming off two great seasons at the dish, Cabrera was sure to receive a multi-year, big money contract this winter. The failed drug test and suspension will change that.

The statistical surge in his breakout season last year came in large part as a result of increased power numbers. Along with career highs in home runs (18) and OPS (.809), Cabrera hit 44 doubles, 16 more than his previous best. It’s impossible to measure what effect his use of testosterone had on those numbers, and even more difficult when it comes to its impact on his even more dramatic spike in batting average. It’s hard to argue that being bigger or stronger helps put the bat on the ball. Nonetheless, teams in need of a good hitter this offseason will be deservedly wary of giving a long-term contract to a player whose output may (or may not) have been significantly affected by his violating the sport’s drug policy.

Before this development, Cabrera might have been looking at a deal along the lines of those signed by (the arguably overpaid) Torii Hunter (five years, $90 million) or (the definitely overpaid) Aaron Rowand (five years, $60 million). But his current prospects will be closer to a few other outfielders on the list of players suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. Namely Mike Cameron, Jose Guillen, and Manny Ramirez. It’s important to note that none of the players on the list of PED suspensions has ever signed anything longer than a two-year contract after failing a drug test. Most had to play it one year at a time for the rest of their careers, as teams were unwilling to grant them anything long-term both for PR reasons and the aforementioned suspicion that their stats would shrink absent the drugs. By failing this drug test the Melk Man has gone from being a name close to the top of every team’s letter to Santa to one who will be lucky to have more than a team or two willing to take a short-term flyer on him in the hopes that he can sustain his production. When things are all said and done, this one failed drug test could end up costing Cabrera more than $60 to 70 million and a whole lot of the peace of mind that comes from knowing where your next paycheck’s coming from.

And hey, that’s just the effects it’ll have on Cabrera and his wallet. Let’s not forget that baseball is a team sport, and that the 50 game suspension comes at a time when the 64-54 Giants are just one game behind the Dodgers in the NL West and deep in the midst of a playoff (and maybe even pennant) run. But the team only has 44 games left in the season, meaning Cabrera will also miss the play-in game should the Giants capture a wild card spot and at least part of their division series (if they make it that far) regardless of the nature of their playoff berth. That is, assuming they get one at all without Cabrera, who has been a large, but ultimately indefinable part of the team’s success. One thing is certain, the San Francisco front office comes off looking like a bunch of future-telling baseball geniuses, as the team traded for Hunter Pence in July. Without Pence, the team would be left with an incredibly shallow outfield. I mean, they were already shallow back there in the grass, that’s why they were willing to let go of Tommy Joseph, one of their top two or three prospects to get Pence in the first place.

Before I sign off, I’d like to note one more thing. As soon as the report of his failed drug test was released, Cabrera released a statement through the players’ union to apologize and admit his mistake, saying, “My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used. I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and I will try to move on with my life. I am deeply sorry for my mistake and I apologize to my teammates, to the San Francisco Giants organization and to the fans for letting them down.” Whether his words and regret are genuine or not, at the very least, Melky didn’t make excuses or try to hide behind lawyers, his union, or an appeals process. For that at least, I give him credit.

Follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

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Brian Sabean has no excuse not to lock up Matt Cain long-term

San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Matt Cain celebrates after winning the 2010 World Series after defeating the Texas Rangers 3-1 in game 5 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas on November 1, 2010. The Giants won the series 4 games to 1. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

“But he won the Giants a World Series.”

That’s the response I get whenever I criticize San Francisco Giants general manager Brian Sabean. As if his one improbable World Series victory erases the blunders that the man has made before, after, and even during the Giants’ title season.

Yes, the Giants won a championship in 2010. But what does it say about Sabean when four of the top five players on his payroll were Barry Zito (who didn’t even make the postseason roster), Aaron Rowand (who shouldn’t have made the postseason roster), Edgar Renteria and Mark DeRosa (who didn’t make the postseason roster because of his wrist, which was held together by Elmer’s Glue when Sabean signed him in the offseason)? Sure, Renteria wound up being worth every penny of his $10,000,000 salary that year when he hit the eventual game-winning home run off Cliff Lee in Game 5 of the Series. But thanks to injuries and poor play, he was largely a non-factor in two seasons before that memorable home run.

Remember Cody Ross? Phillies fans sure do. Ross hit two home runs off of Roy Halladay in Game 1 of the 2010 NCLS and also hit a solo shot off Roy Oswalt in Game 2. If it weren’t for his bat, the Giants may not have reached the World Series that year, nevertheless won the whole shebang.

And Ross would have never made the postseason roster had Major League Baseball not conducted an investigation into Jose Guillen’s potential use of performance-enhancing drugs. Sabean acquired Ross that year in efforts to block any semi-productive player from going to the Padres, who at the time were leading the Giants in the NL West race. The fact that Ross wound up turning into “Ross the Boss” was more a product of luck than Sabean’s shrewd maneuvering. At one point, the Giants were thinking about putting Guillen (who ran like he had Oakland tied around his legs) on the postseason roster instead of Ross.

That spectacular pitching staff that the Giants currently boast wasn’t exactly all Sabean either. It was scouting director Dick Tidrow that gave such glowing reports on Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Madison Bumgarner. (Not to mention closer Brian Wilson and former top prospect Zach Wheeler, whom we’ll get to in a moment.) Granted, Sabean deserves praise for pulling the trigger on this players during the draft, but too often he receives credit for “finding” the talented arms that the Giants currently have in their starting rotation.

Which leads me back to Cain. It’s embarrassing to read some of the reports out of ‘Frisco these days about Cain’s contract situation. The 27-year-old right-hander is set to become a free agent after the 2012 season unless the Giants can hammer out a long-term deal, which apparently is more difficult than correctly picking every winner in the NCAA tournament. It was only recently that Cain suggested that he’s considering testing the market. Before then, he stated how he wanted to remain a Giant but Sebean has yet to come to terms with the soft-spoken starter, who has meant as much to the Giants as Lincecum. (Had Cain received more run support from that putrid thing Sabean calls a lineup every year, maybe he too would have challenged for a Cy Young by now.)

There’s simply no good reason for Sabean not to lock Cain up to a long-term deal. If the righty wants $100 million, then the Giants should oblige. I mean, why not? Sabean had no problem overpaying Zito, Rowand, DeRosa, Renteria and Miguel Tejada, but he’s going to balk at signing a productive player? Are you kidding me? If Cain doesn’t get $100 million from the Giants, he’ll find it on the open market next winter. Thus, if he truly wants to stay, then all Sabean needs to figure out is if he wants to see Cain in a Giants’ uniform next season, or in Yankee pinstripes. And while there’s plenty of time to hammer out a deal before now and November, players usually don’t like discussing their contract situation during the season. Thus, Sabean’s window to sign Cain is closing.

Let’s not forget that Sabean was also the professor who traded Wheeler to the Mets at the trade deadline last year for a two-month rental named Carlos Beltran. Then Sabean didn’t even attempt to re-sign Beltran this past winter, even though the Giants had the second-worst offense in terms of runs scored last season.

Granted, not every decision Sabean makes turns to sulfur and he does have to worry about surpasing Cain’s deal when Lincecum because a free agent after the 2013 season. But the philosophies behind some of his moves are absolutely mind-boggling. It’s almost like the guy wakes up and says, “What’s the least logical thing I can do today while running this baseball team? Trade Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser for one miserable year of A.J. Pierzynski? Yes. Yes that sounds good.”

If Sabean loses Cain in November after already dealing Wheeler for what amounted to nothing in return, then Lincecum turns around and heads to Seattle to play for his hometown Mariners (which is a distinct possibility), maybe then people will drop the whole “But he won the Giants a World Series” bit.

Because if Cain isn’t in a San Francisco uniform next season, there will only be one man to blame.

It wouldn’t be a Giants World Series without one of their players being accused of taking steroids

April 12, 2010: Kansas City Royals' Jose Guillen (6) during the MLB baseball game between the Kansas City Royals vs Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan.

The last time the Giants played in the Fall Classic was 2002, when Barry Bonds was at the height of his game and his name couldn’t be brought up without it being synonymous to steroids.

Now the G-Men are back in the World Series and things wouldn’t feel right if one of their players weren’t being accused of juicing. That’s where outfielder Jose Guillen (who isn’t even on their postseason roster) steps in.

From ESPN.com:

San Francisco Giants outfielder Jose Guillen, left off the team’s postseason roster, is linked to a federal investigation into shipments of performance-enhancing drugs, The New York Times reported on its website Thursday night.

The story, citing several unidentified lawyers, said federal authorities told Major League Baseball they were looking into shipments of human growth hormone, allegedly sent to Guillen’s wife in the Bay Area.

That was just before the postseason began, The Times said. Guillen was left off the Giants’ roster for all three rounds because of a nagging neck injury, according to manager Bruce Bochy. According to The Times, the Giants were told to leave Guillen off the roster by Major League Baseball.

The conspiracy theorist will be quick to say that the Giants left Guillen off their postseason roster because they knew he would eventually be caught with steroids. But Guillen was also dealing with a neck injury weeks before the playoffs began and the Giants were deep in the outfield so they went with healthier options (i.e. Cody Ross, who was the NLCS MVP).

Or maybe they did know and if that’s the case, they were smart to tell him to go home. They obviously don’t need the distraction and it’s not like he was hitting before the playoffs started anyway. If he’s going to be busted for HGH, then it’s better that he’s caught when he’s not affiliated with the team.

Nevertheless, this isn’t good for Guillen’s career. The Giants picked him up off waivers from the Royals and even before this news broke, the emergence of Ross has made Guillen expendable next season. He won’t be in a Giants uniform next season and if he’s suspended, he may not be in any uniform in 2011. It’s not like the guy has a good track record of being a team player and at his age, he’s not an attractive option right now. It says something when the Royals don’t even want you.

Breaking down the 2010 National League Wild Card race

St. Louis Cardinals Albert Pujols receives high fives in the dugout after hitting his second two run home run of the night in the fifth inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on June 29, 2010. UPI/Bill Greenblatt Photo via Newscom

Before their sweep of the Braves this week, I would have said that the National League Wild Card is a three-team race. But now that the Rockies are putting together a very Rockie-like charge, this is definitely now a four-horse competition in the NL.

Let’s break down the contenders and make a prediction.

(Side Note: I’m fully aware that the Phillies and Cardinals still have a great chance of catching the Braves and Reds in their respective divisions, but I’m going by the standings as of Thursday, August 26. In a couple of weeks, I’ll update this list so for now, let’s just call this Version 1.0.)

Philadelphia Phillies
Games Remaining: 36
Games Back: 0
What I Like About Their Chances: I like the Phillies because quite frankly, they’ve been here before. They know what it takes to play good baseball in the month of September and their roster is chockfull of veteran players. Even though they haven’t shown it of late, the Phils also still have the best lineup 1-8 of any of the four Wild Card contenders and a three-headed monster in Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt (who has been outstanding in the month of August) and Cole Hamels. This is, by far, the most talented team of the four listed…

What I Don’t Like: …that said, this club isn’t playing very good baseball right now. In their last seven games, they’ve won only two and they were just swept at home by the Astros. Also, despite all of their offensive firepower, they’ve managed to score just 16 runs in those seven outings. They also have six more games against the Braves, who they are just 5-7 against this season. This is a club that seemingly can’t put it all together this season and you just get the sense that something’s missing.

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Giants’ Sabean throws all logic out the window, acquires Jose Guillen

April 12, 2010: Kansas City Royals' Jose Guillen (6) during the MLB baseball game between the Kansas City Royals vs Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan.

Jose Guillen can’t play defense, can’t get on base and he can’t hit for average.

So naturally Giants’ GM Brian Sabean had to have him.

On Friday, the Giants acquired the 34-year-old former Royal, who is well known for having a poor clubhouse reputation. That’s something the close-nit Giants don’t need right now heading into a huge weekend series with the first place Padres (the team the Giants are trailing by 2.5 games in the NL West).

Clearly hypnotized by his 16 homers this season, Sabean felt the need to add the outfielder despite the fact that Guillen is more useless than a chair with only two legs. Plus, his acquisition means that Aaron Rowand, Travis Ishikawa (assuming Aubrey Huff moves back to first base) and Nate Schierholtz will receive less playing time than they already are, which is befuddling when you consider that Guillen isn’t a better option than any of them.

If I punch myself in the side of the head enough times and squint hard enough, I might see the need for Guillen as a pinch hitter. But there’s no way that the Giants actually believe this schmuck is a starter. Do you know how much ground there is to cover in right field at AT&T Park? Guillen would be an absolute train wreck and for what? A couple of home runs down the stretch? I thought that’s what Pat Burrell was for? Didn’t Sabean already acquire Pat Burrell already? I’m confused.

The worst part is, Sabean traded away two capable outfielders earlier this season in Fred Lewis and John Bower – two homegrown players that were better defensively than Guillen and who came with zero baggage. How does trading Lewis and Bowker and trading for Guillen make any sense? Tell me what the difference is between those players, or how Guillen makes the Giants better than Lewis and Bowker? And what happens to Schierholtz? The kid entered spring training as the favorite to start in right field and after a poor couple of weeks at the plate, he became Lewis’d, Bowker’d and Kevin Frandsen’d in the blink of an eye. If I were a Giants’ farm player, I’d want to be dealt immediately because Sabean will eventually block my position with a crusty old vet. It’s only a matter of time.

Sabean doesn’t have the slightest clue what it takes to build an offense. For every Burrell, Huff and Juan Uribe, there’s a Rowand, Edgar Renteria and Mark DeRosa (who clearly wasn’t healthy when Sabean decided to hand him a two-year deal this past offseason). For every Bengie Molina trade, there’s a Guillen, Ryan Garko and Freddy Sanchez deal right around the corner.

I’ve never see a man make so many stupid decisions and yet retain his job for 14 years. If Brian Sabean were the President of the United States, half the nation would be underwater right now.

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