I would hope that baseball fans in general, and Nationals fans in particular, will cut Ryan Braun some slack when the Brewers come to town this year.
Braun’s 50-game suspension was overturned through arbitration, and the story of why that happened is still not crystal clear. What is clear, though, is that the confidentiality of baseball’s drug testing program has some obvious holes.
Braun had every reason to think that his positive test, showing an abnormally high level of synthetic testosterone, would be known only to him and his agent, along with MLB and the Brewers. When the story was leaked to ESPN, Braun - having just won the National League MVP Award - was branded a cheat by fans and journalists nationwide. Some even advocated stripping him of the award.
It later came out that Braun had been tested about two dozen times in his career prior to the positive result, and that results had been negative in each of those instances. Braun had requested a re-test after the positive result came back, and that test, too, was negative. What we don’t know is how much time passed between the latter two tests.
The story that’s out there now concerns the chain of custody of the sample that tested positive. The perception seems to be that because there was a delay in sending the sample to the lab in Montreal, arbitrator Shyam Das ruled in Braun’s favor, based on the sample sitting in someone’s refrigerator for 24-48 hours. However, we now know that something similar has occurred in previous instances involving other players where Das ruled in favor of MLB, so I suspect that’s not the actual reason this time.
Braun has declared himself “innocent,” but it’s not quite that simple. He may well be innocent, but there will likely be a cloud of doubt that may hover for quite some time. Braun’s 2011 stats are pretty much in line with what’s he’s done annually over his five-year career, so it’s difficult for me to see him as someone who needed an artificial performance boost of some kind.
One thing’s for sure: the Players’ Association is going to use this breech of confidentiality by MLB as a hammer to beat some changes into the testing program. The Brewers have to be absolutely giddy that their offense is back on track; losing both Prince Fielder and Braun simultaneously - even though Braun would’ve been back in June - would have been a tough hole to climb out of.
As for the Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman, I don’t believe for a second that a long-term contract extension with Zimmerman doesn’t get done before the weekend’s over. I know, I know, he says it has to be done before Saturday’s workout, but inasmuch as both sides know the dollars involved, it’s inconceivable that the no-trade clause Zimmerman is seeking will stop this thing in its tracks, especially given that they gave one to Jayson Werth last year.
With six full years already in the big leagues, and two years to go on his current contract, he only needs a no-trade clause for the first two years of a new deal, since after that he’d be a 10-and-5 man, with the right to veto any deal. Obviously, it’s adding no-trade protection to his current deal that’s holding things up, but it would be ludicrous to see the club not embrace its first homegrown star.
Zimmerman wants to join the short list of long career major leaguers who played for just a single team. Locally, Walter Johnson spent 21 years with Washington, and his teammate Ossie Bluege was a Nat for 18 seasons. Zimmerman’s the last of the 2005 Nats still with the club, and it would be fitting if he’s still holding that distinction in 2020 and beyond.