Indians exercise Byrd option, not good judgment

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

By now, it is obvious that the folks who own and operate Major League Baseball franchises could not give a fat rat's behind about past use of performance-enhancing drugs. No matter what George Mitchell and his band of merry barristers uncover, it will not stop teams from pursuing those named and shamed and from throwing obscene amounts of money at them.

Because talent, artificial or not, counts more than any supposition of integrity.

Why, otherwise, would the Cleveland Indians have exercised the $7.5 million option on Paul Byrd on Tuesday? On the day of Game 7 of the American League championship series, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Byrd had bought nearly $25,000 worth of human growth hormone from a Florida anti-aging clinic. Byrd admitted to using the drug, claiming it was to treat a tumor, even though a dentist wrote the prescription. Byrd said the Indians and MLB officials had been apprised of his use of the drug, a claim both parties promptly denied. His excuse was as pathetic as it was untruthful, and to make matters worse, Cleveland got marauded that night by Boston.

Yet Byrd won 15 games during the regular season and two more in the playoffs, so it would have been foolish for the Indians not to pick up the option. Another team would have handed Byrd a two- or three-year deal, even though he will turn 37 in a month.

When it comes to performance-enhancing drugs, morality ends in Commissioner Bud Selig's office. He can play Big Bad Wolf and huff and puff all he wants, but until teams stop lavishing those tied to drug use with millions of dollars, players' incentive to stay clean is nil.

What, a 50-game suspension looms? Only two players, relief pitchers Guillermo Mota and Juan Salas, served them in the major leagues last season.

Two positives. Thousands of tests. Doesn't add up.

Mota and Salas were the only ones reckless enough to get caught, as was center fielder Mike Cameron, suspended this week for 25 games after testing positive twice for amphetamine use. Cameron, a free agent, undoubtedly will be another example of those rewarded in spite of illicit drug use.

Last season, the Mets gave Mota a two-year deal knowing he'd miss the first 50 games. Though MLB has considered suspending those named in the litany of reports linking players to drug use – Troy Glaus, Rick Ankiel, Gary Matthews Jr., Jerry Hairston Jr., Jay Gibbons, Scott Schoeneweis, Byrd and, on Tuesday, Jose Guillen – doing so would cause another headache. The players' association surely would challenge every suspension, what with hard evidence being in short supply.

Were it realistic for MLB to suspend the players, Cleveland might have entertained declining Byrd's option rather than dawdle its way through one-third of the season – and 10 starts – with a No. 5-or-worse-quality starter during Byrd's unpaid leave. Apparently, it's not a concern.

Watch Guillen this week. On Friday, Seattle declined its $9 million option on him, and Guillen said he would decline his $5 million option to stay with the team. He has until Wednesday to make that official, and even though the San Francisco Chronicle linked him to steroids and human growth hormone – drugs sent to Oakland's stadium, no less – he knows the open market is like a bountiful harvest and the $5 million is a patch of wilted green.

The idea of Mitchell releasing his report before free agency begins Nov. 13 to insulate teams from signing drug users is folly. Teams don't care. They bear the brunt of the initial public-relations hit – one that, as the number of users grows, becomes more a like a finger-tap – in order to bear fruit from the player's production.

Mitchell still is investigating, in fact. reported Tuesday that an active player has volunteered to speak with him. The story did not name the player and said that he had been a critic, not a user. Now, for sure, we know Mitchell has a player who says he never has imbibed, a player who did but already admitted all the gory details to a grand jury (Jason Giambi) and a former clubhouse attendant who was a steroid connection (Kirk Radomski).

The rest are a bunch of unknowns, as is Mitchell's sourcing, his threshold for validation, how much blame he's willing to throw at Selig, who gets to see the report and on and on and on.

Anyway, Mitchell's report will be more for the history books than the current state of the game. Nothing will change, other than the reputations of those named, to whom a stigma will attach itself.

Anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex knows there was, is and will be performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, and even so, the list of those who care is insignificant.

Because the teams want the players, clean or dirty.

And the players want the money, which the teams provide with a smile and a handshake.

It's just business, right?

What to Read Next