NEW YORK – Alex Rodriguez was suspended through 2014 and All-Stars Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and Everth Cabrera were banned 50 games apiece Monday when Major League Baseball disciplined 13 players in a drug case – the most sweeping punishment since the Black Sox scandal nearly a century ago.
Ryan Braun’s 65-game suspension last month and previous punishments bring to 18 the total number of players disciplined for their relationship to Biogenesis of America, a closed anti-aging clinic in Florida accused of distributing banned performing-enhancing drugs.
The harshest penalty was reserved for Rodriguez, a three-time Most Valuable Player and baseball’s highest-paid star. His suspension covers 211 games, starting Thursday, and he is expected to appeal. The New York Yankees slugger admitted four years ago that he used performance-enhancing drugs while with Texas from 2001-03 but has repeatedly denied using them since.
Others accepting the suspensions included Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli and outfielder Fernando Martinez; Philadelphia pitcher Antonio Bastardo; Seattle catcher Jesus Montero; New York Mets infielder Jordany Valdespin and outfielder Cesar Puello; Houston pitcher Sergio Escalona; San Diego pitcher Fautino De Los Santos; and free agent pitcher Jordan Norberto.
MLB informed the Yankees on Sunday that Rodriguez will be suspended for his links to the now-closed anti-aging clinic outside Miami, another person said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
The Yankees weren’t told the exact length of the suspension, though they were under the impression it will be through the 2014 season, the person said.
But the person also said A-Rod will be eligible to play while he appeals the penalty to an arbitrator.
Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun accepted a season-ending, 65-game suspension two weeks ago.
A total of 14 players – including Braun and Rodriguez – were targeted in the drug probe. MLB’s investigation was sparked in January when the Miami New Times published documents obtained from former Biogenesis associate Porter Fisher that linked several players to the clinic.
Cruz, a Texas outfielder, leads his team in home runs and RBIs. Peralta is a two-time All-Star shortstop with Detroit. Cabrera, the San Diego shortstop, leads the National League in stolen bases.
The 38-year-old Rodriguez was set to play his first game of the year for the Yankees on Monday night in Chicago, following his recovery from hip surgery in January and a strained quadriceps.
“He’s in there, and I’m going to play him,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Sunday.
The Yankees star and three-time AL MVP could get a shorter penalty if he agrees to give up the right to file a grievance and force the case before an arbitrator, the person familiar with that decision added. Barring an agreement, Rodriguez’s appeal would be heard by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz.
A suspension from Monday through 2014 would total 214 games, and an unsuccessful appeal could stretch serving the penalty into 2015.
In the era before players and owners agreed to a drug plan in late 2002, arbitrators often shortened drug suspensions – in the case of Yankees pitcher Steve Howe, his penalty was cut from a lifetime ban to 119 days.
Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson was excited A-Rod could play during an appeal.
“I want him back with us. This is arguably one of the best hitters of all time,” he said. “Having him in the lineup is obviously going to be very positive for us.”
New York is a season-high 9 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East and 4 1/2 out in the race for the second wild-card spot.
“We’re going to be happy to see him back in the lineup, especially the way we’ve been playing,” second baseman Robinson Cano said. “He can come up and help us win some games.”
Since spring training, the union has said it will consider stiffer penalties starting in 2014.
“The home runs that are hit because a guy’s on performance-enhancing substances, those ruin somebody’s ERA, which ruins their arbitration case, which ruins their salary,” Los Angeles Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson said. “So it’s a whole domino effect.”
Rodriguez completed his second minor league injury rehabilitation assignment on Saturday night, a two-day stay at Double-A Trenton. Rodriguez walked in all four plate appearances, a day after hitting a two-run homer.
Following Friday night’s game, Rodriguez all but said he thought MLB and the Yankees were conspiring to keep him from getting back to the big leagues.
“There is more than one party that benefits from me not ever stepping back on the field. And that’s not my teammates and it’s not the Yankee fans,” he said, adding: “When all this stuff is going on in the background and people are finding creative ways to cancel your contract and stuff like that, I think that’s concerning for me.”
He last played in October, going 3 for 25 (.120) with no RBIs in the playoffs. Rodriguez is owed $8,568,306 of his $28 million salary from Monday through the rest of the season and $86 million for the final four years of his contract with the Yankees.
Girardi didn’t think A-Rod’s arrival would create more turmoil than the Yankees already are used to.
“I don’t suspect it'll be awkward. Most of these guys know him as a teammate and have laughed a lot with Alex and been around Alex a lot,” he said. “I think it'll be business as usual. I’m sure there will be more media there, obviously, tomorrow, but I think that’s probably more for Alex to deal with than the rest of the guys. I don’t think it'll be a big deal.”
There have been 43 suspensions under the major league drug agreement since testing with penalties for first offenses started in 2005. The longest penalty served has been a 100-game suspension by San Francisco pitcher Guillermo Mota for a positive test for Clenbuterol, his second drug offense.
In addition, Tampa Bay outfielder Manny Ramirez retired two years ago rather than face a 100-game suspension. When he decided to return for 2012 the penalty was cut to 50 games because he already had sat out almost an entire season.
Colorado catcher Eliezer Alfonzo was suspended for 100 games in September 2011, but the penalty was rescinded the following May because of handling issues similar to the ones involving Braun’s urine sample.