Let's have a warm hand, ladies and gentlemen, for Jared Michael "Skip" Schumaker. He spoke the two words this week we never thought we'd hear a baseball player utter:
"Lifetime … ban."
Was it really enough, the Dodgers' utility dynamo wondered, for Ryan Braun to lose a mere $3.2 million, of a $150 million contract, for his crime against baseball? Was it really enough for him to sacrifice 65 games of an already lost season?
And the conclusion Skip Schumaker came to was no. No way.
So it's time, he said, to get tougher. It's time to go one-and-done. It's time for lifetime bans. It's even time, he said, to start voiding contracts.
"The players are in favor of stricter penalties. No doubt," Schumaker told Rumblings. "And they're also in favor of voiding contracts. Not that I can speak for everybody. I can't. But let's just say that a few of my good friends are high-profile players, and they're in favor of cleaning up the game."
What he knows now -- what the entire population of North America knows now -- is that 50-game suspensions apparently don't stand as a powerful enough force to clean up the game. So, increasingly, players are beginning to contemplate a concept that was once unthinkable:
Grabbing those guaranteed contracts -- no matter how long, no matter how large -- and making them disappear.
Who'd have thunk it?
Not so long ago, you'd have had a better chance of winning the Daytona 500 in a minivan than convincing players to void anybody's contract. But, apparently, the world has changed. Boy, has it changed.
We heard it from players all over the baseball map this week. We heard it from Max Scherzer, a union player rep in Detroit, who told USA Today he thought the Brewers should have the "ability to terminate Braun's contract." We heard it, off the record, from a slew of angry players.
And we heard it, most forcefully of all, from a self-described "normal guy" who has spent every season of his career sweating out life as one of the last players on the roster.
"I would guess that when we first went to [suspensions of] 50 games, 100 games and then life [for a third offense], 99 percent of the players thought that would be enough," Schumaker said. "And it has cleaned up the game a lot. It really has. But why are big-name guys still doing it? That's what's frustrating to me, as a player who's not very good, who knows it's been really tough for me to stay here, and as a dad. It's tough for me to accept."
Schumaker listens to the arguments that everyone deserves a second chance. And, in general, he believes "that's part of life."
"But I've got to admit," he said, "it gets me upset that a guy can just take it until he gets caught and then say, 'Oh, I'm sorry. I deserve a second chance.'"
So he said he and his teammates have sat around talking this week, wondering what sort of penalties would stop pretty much anybody from trying to beat this system. They decided there were actually just two options.
"There are only two ways to really turn players' heads," Schumaker said. "Either with a lifetime ban, or start taking wins away from their team. As soon as you start affecting players' contracts or team wins, players really are affected by that. I know it would be tough for someone to stand in front of the [locker] room and say, 'I just cost you 20 wins and now you have no chance of getting to the playoffs.'"
That, however, is a speech we can just about guarantee that no player will ever have to give. It's nearly impossible to start penalizing "cheaters" by stripping their teams of wins. Way too complicated. So let's just assume that won't be happening.
But what about lifetime bans and voiding contracts some day? What about a rule that would handle future Ryan Brauns the way baseball once handled Pete Rose: one strike and you're out -- but you can apply for reinstatement in a year?
Well, anything is possible, theoretically, if, like, 98 percent of the players demand it. But in reality? Not a prayer that's happening.
We ran this question past several players who work closely with the union. They all painted the same picture:
Are they in favor of tougher penalties? Yes. But voiding contracts for a first offense? "No chance," said one.
"The players have made it very clear," another player said. "If someone is cheating, we're not going to protect the guys who do that. The vast majority of players at union meetings are in favor of harsher penalties for cheaters. In fact, it's such a vast majority. I'm surprised by that."
But there's even a major obstacle in the way of players signing off on, say, a one-year ban for the first offense, let alone a lifetime ban. Before that can happen, players want the commissioner's office to acknowledge that not all positive tests are created equal.
Their prime example: One player (the Phillies' Freddy Galvis) actually tested positive last season because he used the wrong athlete's-foot cream. And that's not exactly the same thing, they say, as a player who tests positive because he uses stuff that's normally given to horses. Heck, we're guessing even Secretariat would testify to that if he were alive and still chomping oats today.
So what do players want? They've told us repeatedly they want to negotiate a different set of penalties for offenses that are clearly unintentional. And if they can't, they're not prepared to vote for tougher sentences for the real "cheaters."
"The guys who should pay are the guys who are knowingly taking a substance," Schumaker said. "And, believe me, those guys know it. The union has done a great job of educating players. We know what we can and can't take. So the substances you know you can't take, these guys know it if they're taking it. … And if you're knowingly taking it, there should be a stiffer penalty."
But you know how MLB responds when players make that point? They say, "You're responsible for what you put in your body. Period."
You could probably understand the logic if you think it through. Making distinctions -- under any circumstances -- gets tricky. So MLB would rather keep it simple and not make those distinctions. No matter what.
But the players remain dug in on the other side. So even on an issue they believe is clear-cut, they've run into a major philosophical divide. Now try to imagine them ever reaching a point at which they could agree to lifetime bans and voided contracts for a first offense? You'd need a vivid imagination. That's for sure.
The players who have really looked into this just aren't ready to open that door. And, ultimately, they'll no doubt convince the other players -- even the guys who found themselves speaking out this week.
But that won't stop players from thinking about this issue in other creative ways.
"I think it's a problem that guys can take it, get suspended, serve their 50 games and then, the following year, get a nice contract," Schumaker said. "If they're still going to get paid, what, really, is the penalty?"
Another player suggested that maybe that answer is a tax on teams that sign a player who has previously been suspended. Seems like an odd proposal to come from the players' side, but here's the thinking:
"Players cheat because it doesn't hit them in their pocket," the player who proposed this said. "So if that guy comes back and then the team that wants to sign him has to pay a tax of 20 percent, his value goes down. And we think that's fair."
We have a long road to travel before ideas like that -- let alone voiding anybody's contract -- show up at a bargaining table near you. But the voices of players this week have been so loud and so powerful, it's clear that a harsher set of penalties is going to show up at that bargaining table. And sooner than you'd think.
That's the moral of this story, as much as anything else that emerged from this week.
"At some point, we have to get high school and college kids to stop taking steroids," Schumaker said. "And when are they going to stop? When the big leaguers all stop. So it's up to us as players to do everything we can do to make it stop."
Ready to Rumble
• Here's a question to ponder: If the Brewers set out to deal Ryan Braun, would any team trade for him?
"It would be almost impossible, because you don't know what you're buying," one NL executive said. "And Milwaukee doesn't know what it's selling. So how could you find a price?
"Think of any player who was knowingly taking PEDs and then took time off. Who were they when they came back? Think about Manny Ramirez, Melky Cabrera, guys in the Mitchell Report. Were they the same guy? Not even close. So if you acquire this guy, who are you acquiring? No one knows.
"And after the way other players came down on this guy," he went on, "what organization could take him? It would have to be a really short list."
But another NL exec we surveyed said: "I could see it happening. He'd need to do a better job of [owning up to] this. He'd have to come forward with a public apology. And you'd probably want some evidence of what kind of player he'd be going forward. But yeah, I could see it happening.
"But, having said that," the same exec added, "I think I'm a pretty tolerant guy. And I'd have a hard time recommending him to my ownership. My advice to my owners would be, 'I wouldn't want this [fill in colorful noun of your choice] on my team.'"
• Are the Braves suddenly more interested in the starting pitcher market than they were before Tim Hudson's injury? No doubt. But are they more likely to pay the going rates for Jake Peavy, Ervin Santana, Yovani Gallardo or Kyle Lohse? Don't bet your Chipper Jones jersey on it. According to an official of one team who spoke with the Braves, they'd be open to a modest deal similar to their trade for Paul Maholm last July, but they're "not going to trade Alex Wood for any of the guys on this market."
Kansas City Royals
• How available is Santana? Only for a huge payout, say clubs that have checked in. The Royals have openly told the shoppers they've talked to that the only way they'll move Santana is if they "win the deal." And by "winning," they mean they want a second baseman and/or right fielder who can start for them next season.
Even though Santana is heading for free agency and the Royals are seven games back of both the Tigers and the second wild-card spot, the Royals continue to tell other teams their biggest priority is to win as many games as possible this season, not cut payroll, Which is what happens when you've had one winning season in the past 19.
• Does it tell us anything that the Red Sox had three -- yep, three -- scouts watching Santana's most recent start Wednesday night? Well, it wasn't an accident. But here's our advice: Always beware of jumping to conclusions based on the occupants of the scout section on any given day.
"All I know," laughed one scout, "is that 12 teams were in Milwaukee to see K-Rod [Francisco Rodriguez] -- and the team that traded for him [Baltimore] wasn't one of them."
• Clubs that are in on Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez are giving off the vibe that the Red Sox are the favorite, because, more and more, they like the idea of spending the money on a guy they believe is big league-ready more than overpaying in prospects for just about any pitcher on the trade market. "This guy should pitch in the big leagues by September and take a regular turn in the rotation next year," one exec said. "Very impressive guy."
San Diego Padres
• An executive who speaks frequently with the Phillies' brass says the Phillies and Padres have "talked a lot" about a potential deal that could send reliever Luke Gregerson and an outfielder to Philadelphia for a package of young players. But the Phillies appear to be poking around for deals that wouldn't require them to give up any of their most advanced prospects.
While the outside world continues to portray the Phillies as trapped between buying and selling, execs of two clubs they've spoken to say they're mostly trying to position their team for the future without giving up on this season.
"They've never said they felt like they had no chance this year," one exec said. "But they're more focused on building their team for next year and beyond. They've never shown a lot of interest in players who can be free agents after this season."
• The Pirates might not be as focused on Alex Rios in their big-bat shopping spree as they've been portrayed. For one thing, Rios' contract -- which would increase his base pay to $13 million next season if he's traded -- doesn't fit into their projected payroll. And other scouts say Pirates scouts have grumbled that Rios doesn't always play hard.
Here's a name to file away: Justin Morneau. Even though the Pirates would prefer a right-handed bat who could play right field, they could slide Garrett Jones back to right (where he's played 265 games) if they deal for a first baseman. And we've heard they've inquired with the Twins about Morneau.
• The good news for the Tigers is Joaquin Benoit has been so good in the ninth inning, they're now looking for a reliever who could pitch the seventh or eighth instead of for a closer. The bad news is, with Francisco Rodriguez off the board and their interest in Jonathan Papelbon now nonexistent, the Tigers are thin on options that appeal to them.
According to clubs that have spoken with the Tigers, they've been shot down on the likes of K-Rod, Steve Cishek, Glen Perkins and even Oliver Perez. So Gregerson now appears to be at the top of their list.
But the Padres aren't in traditional "sell" mode. They control Gregerson for next season, and they've told multiple clubs they're only interested in making trades that position them to contend next season. So for any team to pull off a deal for Gregerson, a noted dominator of right-handed hitters (.170/.198/.284), it's going to take at least one big league-ready young player who projects as an immediate contributor.
• Finally, we keep waiting for the Astros to deal Bud Norris. But how do we know they won't move him this winter instead of trading him now?
Three clubs that have had various levels of interest tell Rumblings the price on Norris is so high (i.e., two elite prospects), it reminds them of how the Rays used to gauge interest in the likes of Matt Garza and James Shields in July so they could focus on those teams' systems before dealing them the following winter.
One exec's description of the gap between how his club valued Norris and what the Astros asked for: "We weren't in the same street, the same neighborhood, the same town or the same ZIP code. I'm not going to say we needed a passport, but you could say we were definitely a few states apart."
Astounding Facts of the Week
• The Yankees led the major leagues in home runs last season, with 245. This season? Not their thing. They've now gone more than a week and a half (since July 14) since their last home run by anybody. And then there's this:
HR by Yankees right-handed hitters since May 23 -- two
HR by right-handed hitters on the other 29 teams since May 23 -- 858*
Incredibly, we are not making this up.
• Meanwhile, Justin Upton led the major leagues in home runs in April with 12. Since then:
Upton -- four HRs
Cubs pitchers – four HRs
If we haven't observed this lately, let's say it again. This is one crazy sport. Isn't it?
Tweets of the Week
• From legendary Late Show quipster @EricStangel:
Do you think A-Rod will not go into the Hall Of Fame as a Mariner, Ranger or Yankee? #MLB
— Eric Stangel (@EricStangel) July 25, 2013
• And from always amusing retired third-base witticist @MorganEnsberg:
News Flash: ARod being evaluated by the Swedish Chef. Quote"He has white on so he must be a dr."
— Morgan Ensberg (@MorganEnsberg) July 25, 2013