National League MVP Ryan Braun has tested positive for a banned substance and is appealing to avoid a 50-game suspension, according to people familiar with the case.
ESPN cited two sources Saturday in first reporting the result, saying the Milwaukee Brewers slugger tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone, adding that a later test by the World Anti-Doping Agency lab in Montreal determined the testosterone was synthetic.
A spokesman for Braun said in a statement issued to ESPN and The Associated Press that "there are highly unusual circumstances surrounding this case which will support Ryan's complete innocence."
"There was absolutely no intentional violation of the program," Matthew Hiltzik said in a statement sent by the four-time all-star left fielder's representatives.
"While Ryan has impeccable character and no previous history, unfortunately, because of the process we have to maintain confidentiality and are not able to discuss it any further, but we are confident that he will ultimately be exonerated," he said.
Major League Baseball does not announce positive tests and penalties in drug cases involving initial positives until all arbitration is concluded.
The case is still being appealed to an arbitrator under MLB's drug program, people familiar with the situation told the AP. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the appeal is still ongoing and said Braun and others involved in the appeals process have known about the positive test since late October.
Appeals usually are heard by arbitrator Shyam Das. One of the people said the appeals process is not likely to be concluded until January at the earliest. That person also told the AP that after being informed of the positive test, Braun asked to have another urine test taken, and that the second test was within normal range.
If suspended, Braun wouldn't be eligible to play for the NL Central champions until May 31 at Dodger Stadium, barring any postponements. He would miss the first 57 days of the major league season, losing about $1.87 million US of his $6 million salary.
Brewers owner Mark Attanasio praised Braun as "a model citizen in every sense of the word" and "a person of character and integrity."
"We are dealing with an incomplete set of facts and speculation. Before there is a rush to judgment, Ryan deserves the right to be heard. We are committed to supporting Ryan to get to the truth of what happened in this unfortunate situation." Attanasio said in a statement, adding the team had no information from Major League Baseball about the case.
The 28-year-old Braun, the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year, hit .312 with 33 homers and 111 RBIs last season and led Milwaukee to the NL championship series, where the Brewers lost to the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Braun already was signed through 2015 when the Brewers gave him a new deal running through 2020 that added $105 million and guaranteed him a total of $145.5 million over a decade.
With seven-time MVP Barry Bonds facing sentencing next week on an obstruction of justice conviction for giving an evasive answer to a grand jury investigating drug distribution, and Roger Clemens facing an April trial of charges he lied to a congressional committee when he denied using PEDs, focus on drugs in baseball won't go away.
Still, there have been just two suspensions this year for performance-enhancing substances under the major league drug program. Colorado catcher Eliezer Alfonzo was suspended for 100 games in September for his second violation. The annual report from the drug program's independent administrator identified the substance as methenolone, which is contained in steroids sold under the brand name Primobolan.
Tampa Bay outfielder Manny Ramirez, confronted with a second positive PED test, retired in April and missed the final 156 games of the season. Ramirez wants to play next year, and under an agreement this month between MLB and the players' association he will be suspended for the first 50 games of next season. Ramirez, then with the Los Angeles Dodgers, was suspended for 50 games in May 2009 for his initial violation.
In addition, Milwaukee pitcher Mark Rogers was suspended for 25 games in August for a positive test for a banned stimulant.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, the former Brewers owner, has repeatedly said the sport has cleaned up in the last few years, toughening its testing rules.
"It's the strongest program today in America sports," he said last month when management and players agreed to a new labour contract that includes for the first time blood testing for human growth hormone when players arrive for spring training next year.
"One of the things that really gives me great pride."