Here's the problem with Ryan Braun's camp mounting a full-bore, no-holds-barred, spin-it-like-a-tornado excusefest Sunday and for the foreseeable future as his positive test for a performance-enhancing drug goes through arbitration: He has absolutely nothing to gain from this vigorous defense.
Even if the ruling that would net Braun a 50-game suspension gets overturned – and not one arbitration case with a major league player has, according to two sources – what good comes of an overeager public accounting? The right to say told ya so? The placating of fans who want to believe he's not guilty and will with or without Braun's supporters saying so?
Certainly neither is worth the downside: Major League Baseball upholding Braun's suspension and turning him into yet another player who tried to cheat the system, got caught and lied about it. Despite the Braun camp's protestations otherwise, one source familiar with the case said the facts lean heavily toward such shaming of the National League MVP – and that the substance for which Braun tested positive is not, contrary to the thrust of his defense's claim, "highly unusual."
The urine sample taken from Braun during the playoffs showed signs of increased testosterone. The World Anti-Doping Association lab in Montreal conducted a second test of that sample using gas chromatography-combustion-isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GC-C-IRMS), an expensive and highly accurate test that affirmed the excessive testosterone and showed it was synthetic.
Upon the first report of Braun's positive test by ESPN on Saturday, he found himself in an awkward position. While admission and contrition is the best route to take with PED use, doing so would neuter his appeal, the one chance left at clearing his name. His choices were simple: stay silent and let the process come to its expected conclusion in January, or go on the offensive.
Leak, leak, leak, went Braun's people, to FoxSports.com and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the New York Daily News, little tidbits intermingled among Sunday's NFL action.
First came the news that Braun hadn't tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug but instead a banned substance, which was nothing more than semantics. Baseball suspends players 50 games only for drugs it deems performance enhancing.
Then landed the Daily News report, which dropped a bombshell – Braun's testosterone ratio allegedly was twice as high as any ever taken – but later said Braun did not expect to include that in his defense. Just that it was odd. The story also alluded to chain-of-custody issues – potential mishandling of the samples that can create doubt on the veracity of the results.
"People say a lot of things," said the source familiar with the case. "If this was unlike any other case ever and was so screwed up, do you think it would go to arbitration?"
Indeed, MLB had its chance to dump the Braun case. Part of its joint drug agreement with the players' union calls for a meeting after the confirmation of a positive from the second sample. If both parties agree there is no reason to proceed – whether because of a chain-of-custody problem or another circumstance – they can overturn the suspension.
And so after the best postseason in decades, and in the middle of a free-agency season ripe with interest, and on the same day Albert Pujols arrived in Los Angeles to sign the second-biggest contract in American sports history …
1. Ryan Braun went on the offensive to save his reputation. Between now and January, when two sources expect Braun's appeal to be heard and ruled on, he will stand alongside big-name free-agent transactions as the topic du jour in baseball. Did he do it? Did he not? Why would he? How could he?
The rationalizing for Braun reached ludicrous proportions hours after the ESPN report. How, after Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro – after reams of the ubertalented took PEDs – can anyone stake Braun's innocence on his talent not necessitating them? Seriously, he's too good to take them? That earns him the benefit of the doubt?
Yes, Braun is due his appeal. And should he emerge from that like the Daily News reported the 13 other appellants have – still suspended – the best he can hope for is that MLB sentences him under the previous collective-bargaining agreement. Because in the new CBA, a source said, the drug for which a player tested positive is revealed along with his suspension.
Baseball's movement toward further shaming steroid users – surely commissioner Bud Selig's attempt to make up for the sport's massive PED problem for the first decade of his tenure – is difficult to question. Though plenty of conspiracies continue to exist, from the railroading of players via false positives to the black helicopters …
2. Jimmy Rollins sees spinning above drug testing. Rollins caused a bit of a stir on Twitter over the weekend when he responded to a tweet about no positive test ever being overturned with the following:
"never been overturned is 'technically' correct. I know of a case that no one will hear about."
Now who doesn't love a good conspiracy theory? Rollins wasn't inclined to reveal a name, naturally, but other reporters chimed in with stories of sources saying something similar – the odd reference here to a buried test, the offhanded remark there of something ignored.
And perhaps Rule 9(c)2 of the joint-drug agreement, in which the "[p]arties agree that the result is not a 'positive,' " has been used. But if MLB is willing to suspend a superstar like Manny Ramirez and willing to go after the reigning NL MVP who plays for the team the commissioner used to own and whom the commissioner repeatedly has held up as a bastion of the drug-free new generation – well, that's an awfully impressive standard for a league that suffers every time PED news surfaces.
MLB would prefer us to talk about how Rollins' options in free agency are running out, what with Milwaukee signing Alex Gonzalez and San Francisco crying poor. Of course, Rollins' agent is Dan Lozano, who turned Pujols' shallow market into a quarter-billion dollars, so it's not quite time to ship him back to Philadelphia, even if it makes sense for both parties. The perfect fit could've been St. Louis had …
3. John Mozeliak not signed Rafael Furcal to a two-year, $14 million deal Sunday to play shortstop. It was a hefty price for a 34-year-old who has reached 150 games once in the last five years, exceeded 100 just twice and underwent an appendectomy last week.
The signing capped a trying week for Mozeliak, the Cardinals' general manager. First Allen Craig underwent knee surgery that will sideline him through spring training. Then Mozeliak lost his scouting director, Jeff Luhnow, who left to join the Houston Astros as their new GM. The deathblow came when …
4. Albert Pujols heard the words $254 million and decided Angels red looked a whole lot better than Cardinal red. It remains, and will remain for quite a while, harrowing to see Pujols in another uniform, particularly one that shares colors with St. Louis'. Pujols – insular, understated, conservative, religious Pujols – moving to California is just downright off, even if Orange County is the closest thing to a Republican enclave the West Coast has to offer.
[ Related: Angels' owner Moreno has his moment in the sun ]
It's a reality, though, one facilitated by the Angels' new $150 million-a-year cash infusion from a local TV deal and owner Arte Moreno's willingness to put the largesse back into his ballclub. In one morning, Moreno went from Tea Party Arte to El Jefe, The Boss for a new generation and a new coast, while back east …
5. Brian Cashman signed Freddy Garcia to a one-year, $4 million deal.
The Boston Red Sox, meanwhile, have a new GM and a new manager but not a single new player.
Here we are, a month and more than $770 million into free agency, and the Yankees and Red Sox have spent a little more than one-half of 1 percent of the money. If you want to be exact, 0.52 percent.
Certainly there are holes to fill and both teams will fill them, but the likelihood of a budget-busting contract looks slim. Neither team makes much sense for Prince Fielder, the one marquee free agent still available. And while both could be sandbagging, they haven't shown great interest in …
6. Yu Darvish beyond the typical plaudits handed out to the Japanese right-hander. Darvish announced last week he would enter the posting system, and bids are due at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday. Just how high the bids go is the question, one that could influence whether Darvish plays in the major leagues next season.
If the posting fee comes in at a high number, a source close to the pitcher said, he will be far less likely to settle on a contract he believes fair. Darvish already believes the posting system to be an unfair fashion for the transference of players between Japan and MLB. The higher the fee, the less teams will be willing to spend to secure his services.
Team officials apprised of Darvish's tack wonder if it's a bluff to drive down the posting bids and maximize his contract value. Still, winning Darvish and being unable to sign him would be a massive disappointment to any team.
The source said Darvish's preference is to play for a team on the West Coast, and one source pegged the Mariners as a darkhorse candidate, especially if they worry the price for Fielder will become prohibitive. Just how high Darvish's total contract goes will be fascinating to watch – and the archetypal case in the cost of free agency compared to developing and keeping your own talent like when Tampa Bay signed …
7. Matt Moore to what could be an eight-year deal – the first five of which are guaranteed at $14 million. It is a brilliant contract for the Rays no matter what. If Moore stays healthy, they could have one of the best pitchers in baseball at pennies on the dollar. Like, literally. A great pitcher can make $14 million in one year of arbitration alone. The Rays get three options for a total of $25.75 million. As a 33-year-old free agent, Cliff Lee signed a contract worth $24 million a year for five years.
Even if Moore's elbow blows out, it sinks a year, maybe two, of a contract that is so eminently reasonable he can easily earn those lost years with one decent season. That's all it takes.
And it's why as much credit as the Rays get, they deserve more. Moore didn't have to sign. He could've waited a year and got more. Or two years and way more. Or three years and Monopoly-money more. And yet with all of 17 days' service time, Moore agreed to spend almost a decade with Tampa Bay in exchange for the guarantee of life-changing money.
This is how Tampa Bay stays competitive: by being aggressive, taking risks (albeit not big ones) and growing a young rotation whose depth the Arizona Diamondbacks are mimicking with …
8. Trevor Cahill, Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson now, with Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs on the way. Along with reliever Craig Breslow, the Diamondbacks this week acquired Cahill for another young pitcher, Jarrod Parker, outfielder Colin Cowgill and reliever Ryan Cook.
The Diamondbacks see the terrain of the NL West and are playing aggressive. The Giants are hamstrung by payroll. The Dodgers' ownership situation remains in flux. Colorado's starting-pitching troubles are palpable. San Diego is rebuilding.
And so once Bauer and Skaggs arrive – it could be early and should be by midseason – the Diamondbacks could feature almost certainly the youngest pitching quartet in the game and perhaps one of the youngest ever. Kennedy will be 27, Hudson 25, Cahill 24, Bauer and Skaggs 21. Until then, the D-backs can tide themselves over with Josh Collmenter (26) and may bring back Joe Saunders, who, at 30, ought apply for social security.
Arizona surged to a surprising NL West title this year and almost advanced to the NL Championship Series were it not for the pesky …
9. Prince Fielder-led Brewers. And indeed they were Fielder's Brewers, which makes his potential departure all the more difficult. If Nyjer Morgan was the personality of the Brewers this year and Craig Counsell and Mark Kotsay the conscience in the corner, Fielder was unquestionably their leader – vocal, emotional, social, you name it.
Teams do appreciate that side of Fielder. Not enough to give him $254 million, but it will be interesting to see just how much the 27-year-old will receive now that Pujols so drastically reset the market. One agent this week opined Scott Boras would get Fielder an eight-year, $200 million pact. That may be a stretch, though the Pujols contract did more or less destroy any chance of Fielder returning to Milwaukee on a sweetheart deal. Even if he did, 2012 would be a lost year on account of …
[ Related: Passan's ultimate free-agent tracker ]
10. Ryan Braun likely watching the first 50 games from his couch – unless David Cornwell, king of the legal gray area, can work his magic on Braun's appeal as he has for football players.
MLB expects Braun to dispatch a dream team of attorneys to find every loophole possible, some of which showed up Sunday via leaks, others of which Cornwell could be keeping in his pocket until the case. Either way, his charge is to make Braun innocent by legal standards, to save his season and bring life support to a reputation that has taken a hellacious beating.
No matter the outcome, never will Braun fully recover from this. Even if he's out there opening day, an NLCS rematch against the Cardinals, the pall of the offseason will hang over him for those who can't shake the initial feeling of disgust when reading these six words:
Ryan Braun tested positive for PEDs.
Highly unusual? The arbitration case will decide that.
Highly shocking? Like Pujols in an Angels uniform and like the Yankees and Red Sox not spending.
Highly unlikely, though? By now, we should know better.
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- Ryan Braun