Major League Baseball announced this afternoon that Athletics outfielder Ramón Laureano has been suspended for eighty games without pay after testing positive for Nandrolone, a banned performance-enhancing substance. He’ll miss the remainder of the season. The A’s have 53 games left in 2021, so Laureano’s suspension will carry over for the first 27 games of the 2022 campaign as well — minus any 2021 playoff games Oakland participates in, which are included as games served for suspension purposes.
Laureano released a statement via the MLB Players Association:
“I would never knowingly ingest any banned substance and put the game that I’ve loved all my life at risk. When I found out that I tested positive for Nandrolone, I was shocked. I take great care of my body and have an extremely regimented diet. Based on the minuscule amount that was briefly in my body, I’ve learned that it is likely that it was contamination of something I ingested. … I’d like to apologize for the distraction that this might cause my teammates, Billy Beane, David Forst, and the entire Oakland organization, community, and fan base. I am devastated. Anyone who truly knows me as a person knows how much I love the game and that I would never intentionally do something like this.”
It’s a devastating blow for the A’s, who trail the Astros by four games in the AL West. Oakland currently holds a 1.5 game lead over the Yankees for the American League’s final playoff spot, with the Blue Jays and Mariners also nipping at their heels. The A’s will need to hold onto their position in the standings (and make a potential postseason push) without one of their top players.
Laureano has been an average or better hitter in all four of his big league seasons. The 27-year-old has a quality .246/.317/.443 line (114 wRC+) across 378 plate appearances this season. Oakland’s starting center fielder all year, he’d recently kicked over to right field to accommodate trade deadline acquisition Starling Marte.
The A’s acquiring Marte from the Marlins looms particularly large now. (It’s not clear whether the Oakland front office was aware of Laureano’s positive test at the time, although today’s suspension announcement presumably comes after Laureano had exhausted the appeals process). Marte will continue to get everyday run in center, but the corner outfield is now a major question mark.
The A’s have given a decent amount of corner outfield playing time to each of Mark Canha, Seth Brown, Stephen Piscotty, Tony Kemp and Chad Pinder (currently on the injured list with a hamstring strain) this season. Canha will have one corner outfield spot locked down on a nightly basis, but it seems Oakland will have to mix and match in the other spot — as they had to do before acquiring Marte in the first place. Utilityman Josh Harrison is getting the start in left field (with Canha in right) this evening against the Rangers.
The timing of the suspension seems as if it could carry significant repercussions for Laureano as well. Players who violate the MLB – MLBPA Joint Drug Agreement are placed on the restricted list and do not receive MLB service time for the duration of their suspension. Laureano entered the season with 2.059 years of big league service. Before today’s suspension, he accrued an estimated 128 days of MLB service in 2021, pushing his career total to approximately 3.015 presently.
That’ll be more than enough for Laureano to reach arbitration as scheduled this winter, but he also won’t receive service time while he serves the remainder of the ban next season. Under the A’s 2022 schedule, Laureano would be eligible to return to the roster for Oakland’s April 30 game against the Guardians. Assuming he remains on the roster for the rest of the season (which runs through October 2), he’d tally 156 days of service.
By that estimate, he’d conclude the season at 3.171 years of MLB service, one day shy of the 3.172 threshold required to push him over four full seasons. In that scenario, Laureano’s path to free agency would be delayed by an entire year, as he’d be eligible for arbitration four times and wouldn’t reach the open market until after the 2025 season — instead of after the 2024 campaign as had been the expectation prior to today.
It’s worth noting that those estimates are unofficial, and there’s also the matter of the postseason to consider. If the A’s make a deep playoff run this year, that’d allow Laureano to return earlier than April 30, 2022. In that case, he’d be in position to accrue enough service time to surpass the four-year threshold next season, keeping him on pace for free agency during the 2024-25 offseason.
It’s a unique scenario that could have significant ramifications for Laureano and the A’s at some point down the road. In the nearer term, the bigger focus for the organization will be on continuing to hold onto a postseason spot without one of their best position players.