Jeff Francoeur: Players overwhelmingly want stiffer PED penalties

Atlanta Braves outfielder Jeff Francoeur estimated that 90 percent of Major League Baseball players are in favor of stronger penalties for performance-enhancing drug use. He also said changes to the game's drug testing agreement might be necessary as a disincentive to players who are "cheating the system.''

"The system is flawed,'' Francoeur told Buster Olney on ESPN's Baseball Tonight podcast Thursday. "There's no other way around it. Guys get docked 80 games (pay) or whatever it is. Yeah, that's a lot of money. But if you sign a $60 million deal and you're losing maybe $5 million, it's worth it for a lot of these guys. It stinks because there are buddies of mine who were basically battling these guys for jobs. It's just unfair.

"I know a lot of guys that have been busted, and they're good people. I like them a lot. But at the end of the day, they're cheating the system.''

Francoeur, a 12-year veteran with the Braves and six other teams, joins pitchers Justin Verlander and Jeremy Guthrie as the latest big leaguer to speak out against PED use and advocate for potential changes to the penalty phase. MLB's joint drug testing program calls for an 80-game ban for a first-time violation, a 162-game suspension for a second offense and a lifetime ban for a third offense.

Since January, 57 players have been suspended under baseball's minor league drug agreement, and an additional 12 have been banned under the major league portion. The 12 suspended big leaguers in 2016 are Cincinnati's Juan Duran, the New York Mets' Jenrry Mejia, Cleveland's Abraham Almonte and Marlon Byrd, Philadelphia's Daniel Stumpf and Alec Asher, Toronto's Chris Colabello, Miami's Dee Gordon, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Josh Ravin, Kansas City's Raul Mondesi, Seattle's Boog Powell and free agent Taylor Teagarden.

Gordon, the 2015 National League batting champion, received an 80-game suspension in late April after testing positive for the performance-enhancing substances exogenous testosterone and clostebol. He failed a test in spring training only weeks after signing a five-year, $50 million contract extension with the Marlins.

Although Francoeur declined to speculate on the possibility of baseball voiding contracts for players who test positive for PEDs, he expects drug testing to be a significant topic of conversation when MLB and the Players Association pick up the pace on labor talks after the All-Star break. The existing labor agreement expires Dec. 1.

"It's tough, because the union doesn't want to give the commissioner's office all this power,'' Francoeur said. "I completely understand that. But at the same time, the Players Association needs to understand the players want stiffer penalties.

"We stand our ground on a lot of issues, whether it's arbitration or free-agency rights. We fight hard for that as a union. But you're probably looking at 90 percent of players that want stiffer penalties on PEDs. I think we have to start listening to the majority of the players, and not the other way around.''

In recent months, Colabello, Stumpf and Powell are among the players who have responded to PED suspensions with statements that they took banned substances unknowingly. Francoeur said MLB has made enough resources available to players in recent years that ignorance can't be used as an excuse for failure to pass a drug test.

"For me, the only thing I'll drink is the protein shakes that MLB gives us,'' Francoeur said. "They tell us in spring training, 'Don't take it if it's not certified.' If you go to GNC and get some bogus stuff, how stupid can you be? That's your own fault. (I hear players say), 'I don't know how this got in me.' Well, watch what you put in your body."