For the first time in several years, Major League Baseball has a high-profile suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
Earlier today, Melky Cabrera of the San Francisco Giants was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for elevated testosterone, which is an indicator that he dabbled with steroids or another illegal PED. Cabrera is not denying this fact, and has accepted his suspension without complaint or appeal.
After taking a good look at the issue, five things immediately come to mind:
1. The Giants are in big trouble on offense.
To say that Melky Cabrera was having a career year does not do it justice. Cabrera has spent all season hitting either second or third in the Giants' lineup, batting .346 while leading the NL in both runs and hits and putting together an impressive .906 OPS. Cabrera is also hitting well at AT&T Park, which is a stadium that tends to heavily favor pitchers.
The Giants will likely put Nate Schierholtz in the starting lineup in place of Cabrera. There is a reason that Schierholtz has been a career platoon player: he cannot hit lefties to save his life. Cabrera, on the other hand, might be hitting lefties better than any player in baseball this season and is also hitting righties at a better clip than Schierholtz.
Yup... this is bad.
2. It is unclear if PEDs helped his game.
By no means am I saying that Cabrera is not deserving of a suspension when I say this. However, it is fair to wonder exactly how the extra testosterone helped. Cabrera's increase in batting average is not the result of increased contact or home runs (both of which are in line with his career rates), and he is not walking or striking out any more or less often than his normal rates. He is also not hitting a high number of line drives, and his flyball rate is actually down from past years.
The only thing out of the ordinary about Cabrera's rate stats is that he has an absurdly high .379 BABIP, which is an indicator that he is somehow finding holes in the defense. Or it could simply be luck.
3. Hurry back, Roger Kieschnick!
The nephew of former MLBer Brooks Kieschnick is arguably the top hitting prospect in the Giants farm system and was tearing up AAA Fresno before he suffered a shoulder fracture while running into a wall back in May. Kieschnick has not played since, but the fact that he did not need surgery to fix the problem brought up hopes that he could make it back for a September call-up.
With Cabrera out, Kieschnick suddenly has an opening in the Giants lineup.
4. Cabrera just ruined his free agency hopes.
Cabrera has long been considered a top baseball talent who just could not figure out how to put it all together. This season's performance, however, looked like an indication that he had finally figured things out just as he was hitting the normal prime years for baseball players. At age 28 and with the ability to hit from both sides of the plate, Cabrera would have been an attractive free agent who likely would have commanded a 5-7 year deal close to nine figures.
Those hopes are shot now. It would be a huge surprise if any team offered Cabrera more than two years, and even then it will only be for a fraction of what he had been looking at.
5. MLB's testing program is working.
Baseball took a lot of heat when Ryan Braun had a positive test overturned last offseason due to improper handling procedures, which many viewed as a technicality in the system. Others thought that perhaps MLB was playing favorites, as Braun had just been handed the MVP trophy earlier in the winter.
Cabrera's suspension, however, alleviates these concerns, as MLB did not hesitate to suspend a likely MVP candidate even when it could have a serious impact on the pennant race.
In other words, MLB's testing system is working exactly as intended.