MLBPA: Drug bans likely not served this year

NEW YORK — The baseball players’ association says any suspensions resulting from the sport’s latest drug investigation likely won’t be served until next year if the discipline is challenged before an arbitrator.

Union head Michael Weiner expects Major League Baseball will notify the union of its plans for penalties in the next month, and the association will maintain any discipline should not be announced until after a grievance hearing, and then only if arbitrator Fredric Horowitz upholds a ban.

“We’re going to have a discussion with them. That discussion will include whether or not names of suspended players will be announced publicly,” Weiner said Tuesday during a meeting with the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Former MVPs Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun are among the more than a dozen players under investigation for ties to Biogenesis, a closed anti-aging clinic in Florida linked with the distribution of performance-enhancing drugs. MLB officials have been interviewing players, who have been represented by the union and their own lawyers.

A provision in baseball’s drug agreement says discipline for first offenders can be announced before a hearing if the penalty results from an allegation that became public other than through MLB or a team. Miami New Times published allegations in January, but the union could argue that a penalty results from evidence baseball has gathered rather than the newspaper account.

After MLB and the union decide how to process grievances, hearings will be scheduled before Horowitz — but not before September and possibly later. Each player is entitled to a separate hearing, and Weiner said the union wants Horowitz to hear all cases.

“When all the interviews are done, we will meet with the commissioner’s office and we’ll try to work something out,” Weiner said. “Our players that deserve the suspensions, we’ll try to cope with their suspensions. Our players that don’t deserve suspensions, we will argue that they don’t deserve a suspension. And I hope we have success. We may not have success on every single player, but I hope we have a fair amount of success.”

MLB Executive Vice President Rob Manfred declined comment.

Weiner spoke from a wheelchair and said symptoms have increased in the last month from a brain tumor he was diagnosed with last summer. He currently can’t move his right side or right arm and must use a wheelchair.

Weiner said the union will appoint a deputy executive director within a week or two.

Most of his talk was dominated by the drug investigation.

While most suspensions have been for positive tests since the joint drug agreement was reached in 2002, players also can be penalized for “just cause,” based on other evidence.

“In theory, they could be suspended for five games or 500 games,” Weiner said. “We could then choose to challenge or not, but the commissioner’s office is not bound by the 50-100-life scale.”

If multiple players are disciplined, management and the union would have to decide the order of the grievance hearings.

“They’ve got to prove all those cases. I like Dan Halem, a lot, but he’s going to be running around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off,” Weiner said, referring to an MLB senior vice president. “If that’s the circumstance, we’ll just have to schedule them and get them done as quickly as we reasonably can. And if we have the number that you suggest, it’s going to take a while.”

Weiner said the union has taken the position that players can’t be penalized for refusing to answer MLB’s questions in the investigation. Arbitrator Raymond Goetz overturned Bowie Kuhn’s suspension of Ferguson Jenkins in 1980, ruling the pitcher couldn’t be penalized for refusing to answer questions while criminal charges were pending in Canada.

“Obviously we have looked at Jenkins in connection with this matter and whether or not it would apply, and our conclusion is that it clearly does,” Weiner said.

Speaking before Weiner in a separate session, baseball Commissioner Bud Selig repeated his call to toughen penalties in the drug agreement for 2014.

“We’ve heard from a lot of players that increased penalties are called for. We’ve heard from a lot of other players that don’t think increased penalties are called for,” Weiner said. “And I imagine we will work it out at or near in early December and then have a negotiation with them over that very subject.”

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