In its most sweeping and forceful action yet against performance-enhancing-drug users in its game, Major League Baseball on Monday suspended 13 players, including three-time MVP Alex Rodriguez, for at least 50 games following a yearlong investigation into their ties to the South Florida anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis of America.
MLB suspended Rodriguez for 211 games with the ban beginning Thursday. He plans to appeal and will play, starting Monday night in Chicago against the White Sox, until an independent arbitrator hears his case, likely within three weeks. Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta, San Diego Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera, Seattle Mariners catcher Jesus Montero, New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Antonio Bastardo and New York Mets utilityman Jordany Valdespin began serving their suspensions Monday. Also among the suspended were minor-league players Fernando Martinez, Cesar Puello and Sergio Escalona. Free agents Jordan Norberto and Fautino de los Santos also were suspended. All but Rodriguez received 50-game suspensions.
In many cases, players exchanged their union-appointed rights to appeal for lighter suspensions. The suspensions were based on "non-analytic" findings, meaning none had tested positive for banned drugs, but were tied to those substances through other evidence. They will not be paid while serving their suspensions.
Two weeks ago Milwaukee Brewers outfielder and 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun was suspended for the remainder of the season – 65 games – because of evidence uncovered in Biogenesis records. Rodriguez, another alleged client of the clinic, was suspended through the 2014 season, amid speculation commissioner Bud Selig sought a lifetime ban.
Three others whose names appeared in clinic proprietor Tony Bosch's records – Toronto's Melky Cabrera, Oakland's Bartolo Colon and San Diego's Yasmani Grandal – tested positive last year under the guidelines of the Joint Drug Agreement and already have served suspensions.
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Monday's suspensions will have an impact on at least two division races. In the AL West, the Rangers lose Cruz, who leads the club in home runs and RBI.
The AL Central-leading Tigers will be without the veteran Peralta, who is batting over .300. In part to protect themselves against pending discipline, the Tigers traded for young Boston Red Sox shortstop Jose Iglesias at the trading deadline.
MLB began looking into Biogenesis last summer and by January had more than a dozen investigators attempting to unravel a tangle of rumors and evidence. A Miami New Times report into the clinic and its founder, Tony Bosch, established the existence of records that listed transactions, drugs and dosages, and in many cases attached the names of baseball players to them.
In March, MLB sued Biogenesis, Bosch and his associates for allegedly providing illegal and banned drugs to major-league players in violation of the players' contracts. The lawsuit sought unspecified damages. Through the suit, MLB would be able to subpoena what it considered to be key witnesses in its investigation. This week, a Florida judge denied a motion to dismiss the lawsuit.
In between, Bosch agreed to cooperate with MLB's investigation in exchange for being dropped from the lawsuit. MLB also agreed to assist him with his legal bills. Bosch then was in a position to confirm the information in his records and, presumably, provide greater insight and details.
Presented with the evidence against him, Braun chose to accept a 65-game suspension. He had successfully appealed a positive test 1½ years before, arguing a sample collector had not followed appropriate chain-of-custody procedures. The decision so rankled Selig that the arbitrator – Shyam Das – was fired.
With MLB given a second chance at Braun, and possessing what one source called "a mountain of evidence" against him, Braun admitted to "mistakes," accepted his punishment and his season was over.
Exactly two weeks later, most of the names tied to Biogenesis joined him on the suspended list.
Cruz, 33, is a two-time All-Star with 155 home runs in a nine-year career. He is eligible for free agency after the season. Nicknamed "Boomstick," Cruz purchased $4,000 worth of products from Biogenesis, according to documents. Through his attorneys, Cruz had denied the allegation.
In a statement he released Monday, Cruz said he was "seriously ill with a gastrointestinal infection" for three months from November 2011-January 2012 and made an "error in judgment" to help him recover and get ready for spring training.
"I should have handled the situation differently, and my illness was no excuse," Cruz said in the statement.
Peralta, 31, is a two-time All-Star, career .268 hitter with the Cleveland Indians and Tigers, and four times hit at least 20 home runs. According to reports, his name was among those in the Biogenesis records. Peralta issued a statement in February: "I have never used performance-enhancing drugs. Period. Anybody who says otherwise is lying."
Cabrera, 26, is batting .281 for the Padres. He led the NL with 44 stolen bases in 2012 and again leads with 37. In February, reports said Cabrera, along with teammate Fautino De Los Santos, had received performance-enhancing drugs, according to Biogenesis records. Cabrera told reporters he was "a little surprised" by those reports.
Cervelli, 27, has been on the disabled list for most of the season. Primarily a backup catcher, he has a career batting average of .271. Documents identified Cervelli as a client of the clinic. Cervelli claimed he had consulted with Biogenesis following an injury, but did not acquire or use performance-enhancing drugs.
Montero, 23, was considered one of the game's better prospects coming up with the Yankees, was traded to the Mariners before the 2012 season and has been unproductive or injured since. Montero's name reportedly was in Biogenesis records. "I have no clue what happened," Montero told reporters in February. "I feel like I'm caught in the middle of something and I don't know why."
Martinez, 24, has batted .206 over 282 major-league at-bats with the New York Mets and Houston Astros. He was traded to the Yankees in June and is playing for their Triple-A team. According to reports, his name appeared in Biogenesis documents. When asked about his alleged involvement with the clinic, Martinez declined comment.
Norberto, 26, last pitched in the major leagues in 2012, in that season making 39 appearances for the Oakland A's. His name was found in Biogenesis documents, according to reports. Norberto declined comment on them.
Puello, 22, is an outfielder in the Mets' organization. He is batting .333 with a .411 on-base percentage for Double-A Binghamton. He was linked to Biogenesis through clinic records, according to reports. In February, Puello referred all questions to the players' union.
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