What’s next for Gio Gonzalez? (with spring training note)

When I woke up yesterday morning, my initial intention was to lead off my morning blog entry writing a couple lines about Nationals infield prospect Cutter Dykstra and former “The Sopranos” actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler getting engaged.

Then something slightly (just slightly) more important went down.

Yesterday’s news that six major leaguers had been linked to an anti-aging clinic called Biogenesis that was heavily involved in the dealing of performance-enhancing drugs shocked the baseball world. The news that Gio Gonzalez, the Nationals’ All-Star left-hander and the major league leader in wins last season, was one of those players involved shook up a growing Nationals’ fan base.

What we know so far is that Gonzalez’s name was listed five times in the notebooks of Anthony Bosch, the man who ran Biogenesis, according to the extensive report in the Miami New Times. The notebook lists three products in connection to Gonzalez - Zinc, MIC and Aminorip - none of which are on Major League Baseball’s list of banned substances.

That doesn’t mean that Gonzalez is out of the woods or that he should immediately be cleared of any wrongdoing. It just means that we need more information. The New Times put months of research into its story and is claiming that there are other players who might be involved, but wanted to only print the names of the players the publication felt confident had a true connection to Bosch and possible performance-enhancing drug use.

Max Gonzalez, Gio’s father, claimed in the New Times story that he was the one who had received products from Bosch in order to try to lose weight. He claims his son had never had any interaction with Bosch or Biogenesis and Gio Gonzalez backed up that claim in his statement released yesterday. Gonzalez firmly denied involvement with Biogenesis, which was nice to see, although we’ve seen firm denials from guys like Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro and others in the past.

So what’s the next step for Gonzalez and the Nationals? How will this affect the left-hander’s 2013 season and his team’s “World Series or bust” motto, which was bestowed upon it by manager Davey Johnson?

For now, Gonzalez and the Nationals will have to let Major League Baseball investigate the claims outlined in the New Times story. There’s nothing the team can do or say until the league office has found out more information on where things stand.

gonzalez  throw white sidebar.jpgA popular question among Nationals fans yesterday was whether Gonzalez could possibly be suspended for his involvement with Biogenesis. The answer, in short, is yes.

The league typically suspends players only after they have failed a drug test, which Gonzalez has not done. But commissioner Bug Selig does hold the right to suspend players if he believes he has “just cause,” or that there is firm evidence linking them to the possession or usage of performance-enhancers.

That’s what happened to Manny Ramirez in 2009, when the league found prescription records linking him to a female fertility drug. Selig suspended Ramirez for 50 games, which could be the same punishment players receive if the commissioner decides to penalize them for their involvement in this latest scandal.

In order to suspend Gonzalez, however, the league office would need to find more than just circumstantial evidence linking him to a clinic which has allegedly provided performance-enhancing drugs to some players. That evidence, to this point, has not been brought to the public’s attention.

Assuming nothing is resolved before Feb. 12, Gonzalez will report to Nationals spring training in Viera, Fla., and he’ll go about getting ready for the 2013 season. This story will certainly be a bit of a distraction, as the league will be investigating Gonzalez thoroughly and he could have that weighing on his mind. National reporters will be coming in and out of Viera with the intention of learning more about Gonzalez’s involvement with Biogenesis, and while the team’s PR staff can shield Gonzalez a bit, this attention won’t go completely unnoticed by the left-hander.

While general manager Mike Rizzo might start intensifying his search for another starter in the event Gonzalez does get suspended, I’d be surprised to see the Nats make any type of big move before they find out more information on this case. If they sit down with Gonzalez and buy his story that he never met Bosch or took performance-enhancers, they could just ride this thing out and hope for the best.

If the Nats feel a suspension is likely forthcoming, however, they might need to ramp up their efforts to bring in another arm. I would argue that the only area in which the Nationals are weak right now is starting pitching depth. Beyond the top five starters in their rotation, the Nats don’t have anyone truly capable of stepping in and giving strong innings at the major league level to begin the season.

There are still a handful of starters on the free agent market, most notably Kyle Lohse, Joe Saunders, Roy Oswalt, Chris Young, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Derek Lowe. Rizzo’s old buddy Chien-Ming Wang is also still out there.

But for now, all Gonzalez and the Nats can do is wait. Wait, and hope that Gonzalez’s name isn’t linked to any heavy charges which could lead to a suspension and throw the Nationals’ plans for 2013 off course.

Update: ESPN has announced that it will air the Nationals-Mets spring training game on Thursday, March 28. That game will start at 1 p.m.

Dave O’Brien, Aaron Boone, Rick Sutcliffe and Tim Kurkjian will be on the call from Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla.

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