As the baseball world awaits yet another PED suspension, as Outside the Lines reported this week, a potential explanation has emerged: The sport is conducting significantly more drug tests than ever before, particularly during the offseason.
Major League Baseball has handed down eight suspensions for performance-enhancing drugs to major league players this year. That's one more than it issued all of last year and six more than in 2014. Seven of the 2016 suspensions came as a result of tests conducted during the offseason and spring training, sources said.
MLB officials say there are several explanations for the recent wave of positive tests -- including better testing technology and a spike in the use of Turinabol -- but one reason is an increase in the frequency of testing. That increased frequency is a direct result of the 2013 Biogenesis investigation that led to the suspensions of Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and others.
That case led to a 2014 revision to the Joint Drug Agreement, negotiated by MLB and the players' union, which has allowed MLB officials to nearly double the number of offseason tests conducted while dramatically increasing the rate of in-season testing. The frequency of those offseason tests is likely to once again increase substantially in the next labor deal, which would take effect after this season.
Before the 2014 changes, baseball was conducting only 225 random urine tests in the offseason. That number increased to 350 in the 2014 revision, sources say. However, because of a separate agreement to allow random blood tests for HGH, the total number of tests was actually much higher.
In 2015, MLB conducted 140 offseason blood tests and 388 urine tests. That total of 528 was almost twice the number of offseason tests conducted in 2013 (273). The reason the number of urine tests exceeded the agreed-upon 350 is that the drug agreement permits follow-up testing for players who have been disciplined for previous PED offenses.
Figures for this past offseason are not yet available.
At the time the 2014 revision was announced, its stiffer penalties for offenders -- 80 games for a first offense, 162 games for a second, lifetime ban for a third -- received most of the attention. The increase in testing may be just as significant.
In addition to a rise in the rate of offseason testing, the two sides agreed to increase the number of random, in-season urine tests from 1,400 to 3,200 per season. Because of follow-up tests and blood testing, the total number of tests conducted has been much higher. That increase, along with the testing improvements, are thought to be the biggest reasons for the surge in early-season suspensions.