What was a rather quiet news Thursday in terms of baseball news culminated with a bombshell, as the league announced at 1:17am Friday morning that reigning NL batting champion and two-time All-Star Dee Gordon has been suspended 80 games for the use of banned substances exogenous testosterone and clostebol. The news was clearly difficult to swallow not only for Gordon’s Marlins but also for the Dodgers, who suffered a four-game sweep at the hands of the Marlins due in no small part to Gordon’s game-tying hit in last night’s series finale. Gordon signed a five-year, $50MM contract extension this winter and is arguably the highest-profile player to be hit with a PED suspension since the 2013 Biogenesis scandal saw the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun serve penalties. This morning, Gordon issued the following statement, via press release:
“Though I did not do so knowingly, I have been informed that test results showed I ingested something that contained prohibited substances. The hardest part about this is feeling that I have let down my teammates, the organization, and the fans. I have been careful to avoid products that could contain something banned by MLB and the 20+ tests that I have taken and passed throughout my career prove this. I made a mistake and I accept the consequences.”
Here are some early reactions from around the game (though there surely will be more to follow over the weekend)…
- The Gordon suspension will fuel the fire for debates about greater penalties for first-time offenders, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Rosenthal penned a column just a week ago in which players such as Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Matt Holliday and Clayton Kershaw all voiced an openness, if not a desire for stronger testing within the game. With the current collective bargaining agreement slated to expire on Dec. 1, the question will arise from recent suspensions of Gordon, Chris Colabello (and, last season, Ervin Santana) is whether there are enough players that have reached their breaking point on PED usage to push the MLBPA to concede to more extreme punishment. Holliday suggested to Rosenthal a two-year ban, though Rosenthal himself wonders if at a certain point the MLBPA will cave and allow some or all of a player’s long-term contract to be voided by PED usage. That, of course, would create plenty of other potential controversy, particularly if, for instance, a player on a decidedly poor contract (from the club’s vantage point) were to test positive for PEDs and then claim to have never taken a banned substance.
- Asked about losing Gordon for 80 games following such a high point (sweeping the Dodgers in L.A.), manager Don Mattingly offered the following comments (video link via Andre Fernandez of the Miami Herald): “Obviously two different ends of the spectrum for us as a team. You would expect our guys to be in there, excited, and then we get this news, so not quite the feeling… but, from there, we’ll support Dee. These guys love Dee. I feel like he’s one of my kids, to be honest with you. I’ve known him for so long, and I love him, and we’re going to move forward. … Definitely shocked and surprised. From there, it just happened so fast, it’s one of those situations where you love your kids, and that’s Dee, for me. That’s one of mine. … As a ball club, it’s a different scene. The story is, we have to move forward. And that’s what happens in professional sports: stuff happens, and you move forward, and you’ve got to find a way to get around it.”
- Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes that Derek Dietrich is the most logical alternative for the Marlins with Gordon out for half the season. The club could consider moving Martin Prado back to second base and playing Chris Johnson (or Dietrich) at third base, and there’s an argument to go with the defensive-minded Miguel Rojas at second base as well. However, Dietrich has made nearly half of his Major League starts as a second baseman, and while he’s not a plus defender like Gordon or Rojas, he’s batted a very solid .263/.352/.471 in 321 plate appearances dating back to last season (albeit with the benefit of some fairly heavy platooning to shield him from left-handed pitching).
- Gordon’s suspension is a reminder that there’s no way to reasonably predict who could be using performance enhancing drugs, writes Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, referencing Gordon’s 171-pound frame. Passan also notes that continued suspensions even in the face of increased testing and stronger penalties for first-time offenders lead to collateral damage like Stephen A. Smith’s recent, baseless comments on Jake Arrieta, which can blame the irresponsible speculation on the mere fact that others in the game continue to cheat the system (or at least attempt to do so). Passan opines that regardless of how much pressure is placed on the MLBPA to consider allowing teams to void multi-year deals for PED offenders, the Players Association “understands that’s the sort of Pandora’s Box nobody dare open.”
- ESPN’s Buster Olney writes that Gordon’s suspension serves only as further proof that the potential reward for using PEDs far outweighs the risks. The Marlins don’t know if Gordon was using PEDs during his breakout 2014 with the Dodgers, nor do they know if banned substances contributed to Gordon’s brilliant followup in 2015, when he hit .333/.359/.418 to lead the league in hitting (and also led the NL with 58 steals). The team will owe Gordon roughly $48MM despite the suspension, which will cost him about $1.63MM worth of pay this season. The discrepancy between those two sums is only magnified when juxtaposed with Olney’s stories of his interactions with Gordon early in his career, when he was struggling simply to stay in the Major Leagues after being relegated to the bench and changing positions. That’s not to say that Gordon used PEDs during that time — we have no way of knowing that, and he’s passed dozens of tests prior to his recent transgression — but players in similar situations can certainly look to Gordon’s situation and see the temptation of banned substances.