Baseball players and management hope to reach a new drug agreement this week that would increase initial penalties for muscle-building steroids and allow a decrease of suspensions for some positive tests caused by unintentional use, people familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press.
For future suspensions, the deal also would eliminate the loophole allowing Alex Rodriguez to earn almost $3 million US during his season-long ban, the people said. They spoke on condition of anonymity in recent days because talks are ongoing.
The sides hope to reach an agreement by Sunday, when the Los Angeles Dodgers open the U.S. portion of the major league schedule at the San Diego Padres.
While the lengths have not been finalized, a person involved with the talks said Wednesday the most likely penalties would be about 80 games for an initial testing violation and a season-long ban for a second.
"It will be a significant deterrent because players will know they're not going to just easily walk back into a lineup," Travis Tygart, chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said in a telephone interview. "It probably is the best policy in professional sports."
'What we're all here for is to rid sports of the intentional cheats, those who are intending to defraud both fans and their fellow teammates, the integrity of competition.' - Travis Tygart, CEO of U.S. Anti-Doping Agency
For use of a limited group of substances, the sides were discussing giving the arbitration panel that hears appeals grievances the authority to reduce suspensions by as much as 50 per cent if the player proves the positive test was caused by unintentional use, the person said.
"What we're all here for is to rid sports of the intentional cheats, those who are intending to defraud both fans and their fellow teammates, the integrity of competition," Tygart said. "You want to have provisions in place that allow for whether there's an inadvertent or a truly non-intentional situation which may arise.”
Since the 2006 season, the Major League Baseball's drug agreement has called for a 50-game suspension for a first positive steroids test, a 100-game ban for a second and a lifetime penalty for a third. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig called for tougher penalties last March, and then-union head Michael Weiner said players would consider them for 2014.
Weiner died in November and was succeeded by former all-star Tony Clark, who has led the negotiations.
Major League Baseball's investigation of the Biogenesis of America anti-aging clinic led to 14 suspensions last summer, including a 65-game penalty for former National League MVP Ryan Braun of Milwaukee and a 211-game ban for Rodriguez, which was reduced to 162 games in January by an arbitrator.
The section covering violations not related to positive tests, which was used by Selig in the Biogenesis case, will be clarified but still will allow discipline for "just cause."
'We thought 50 games [for first-time offender] would be a deterrent. Obviously it's not. So we are working on it again.' - Diamondbacks pitcher Brad Ziegler
Many players have advocated stiffer penalties as a deterrent. Arizona pitcher Brad Ziegler spoke out after Jhonny Peralta, who served a 50-game suspension, agreed in November to a $53 million, four-year contract with St. Louis.
"We thought 50 games would be a deterrent. Obviously it's not. So we are working on it again," he tweeted then. "It pays to cheat... Thanks, owners, for encouraging PED use."
Some players said suspensions should lead to larger monetary losses. San Diego Padres outfielder Will Venable maintained last summer "somehow having to forfeit or void your contract that you're under is something that needs to be the main focus of the penalties."
But for the majority of players, that would go too far.
"I'd venture to guess that even though there are concerns on a number of levels, that we will never end up in a world where player contracts are voided as a result," Clark told the AP during a January interview.
Addressing positives caused by inadvertent use was a factor in the talks.
Philadelphia infielder Freddy Galvis was suspended for 50 games in June 2012 for a Clostebol Metabolite, which he later claimed was contained in a foot cream he used. Reliever Guillermo Mota, then with San Francisco, was suspended for 100 games in May 2012 after taking a cough syrup with Clenbuterol.
The new deal also will state that a player receives none of his salary during a season-long suspension. The current deal said a player loses as many days' pay as games he is suspended. Since players are paid over a 183-day season this year, arbitrator Fredric Horowitz ruled Rodriguez was entitled to 21-183rds of his $25 million salary, or $2,868,852.
"That's fantastic," Tygart said. "You hit them in the pocketbook, and that's really where the cheaters are most deterred from attempting to steal money from the other players."