Robinson Cano was already on the 10-day disabled list with a broken right hand. But now, he faces an 80-game suspension for a first-time violation of MLB's drug policy.
Somewhere in Philadelphia on Tuesday afternoon, Robinson Cano sat in a plush hotel room awaiting an upcoming surgery on his fractured right hand, 2,000 miles away from the chaos he had created for the Mariners.
While center fielder Dee Gordon took ground balls in anticipation for a three-month return to second base, Nelson Cruz answered questions about his close friend’s mistake and general manager Jerry Dipoto tried, as always, to put a positive spin on a situation without one, Cano was absent and unavailable on the day he was suspended for 80 games for violating Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
It was a stunning and crushing blow for the Mariners in what has been a better-than-expected start to the 2018 season.
“Disappointment,” Dipoto said of his reaction. “We are all disappointed. We just lost one of our best players. It’s a hit. It’s a hit to Robbie. It’s a hit to our club, to the franchise in general and to baseball. This is one of the great players in the game. It’s important to know that it’s hurtful to our fans. It’s one of those things that really leaves an impression. I felt that disappointment.”
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Cano’s suspension is effective immediately, despite being on the disabled list. He is eligible to return in the 121st game of the season, which is August 14 in Oakland. While suspended, he will be allowed to rehab his hand injury with the Mariners medical staff at Safeco Field, but will not be allowed there for any other aspect pertaining to the team. He will eventually be allowed to go to the Mariners’ complex in Peoria, Arizona to work out, but there is a limited time frame on that. He will lose 80 games worth of pay, just under $12 million.
The positive test came in the offseason, according to sources. He didn’t test positive for performance enhancing drug, but a diuretic — Furosemide — that’s often used a masking agent for performance enhancing drug use.
Per the joint drug testing, a player isn’t automatically suspended when testing positive for a diuretic. The language from Section 3, paragraph F reads: “The presence of a Diuretic or Masking Agent in a Player’s urine specimen shall result in the Player being re-tested. The presence of a Diuretic or Masking Agent in a Player’s urine specimen shall be treated as a positive test result if the [Independent Program Administrator] determines that the Player intended to avoid detection of his use of another Prohibited Substance.”
The independent investigator determined that Cano’s usage of the diuretic was as a masking agent. A similar investigation by MLB yielded the same ruling.
Cano filed an appeal, but decided to drop the appeal last week, even though it wasn’t announced until Tuesday, before a scheduled meeting with an arbitrator. The decision to drop the appeal came before Cano suffered the broken fifth metacarpal on Sunday.
He released the following statement:
“Recently I learned that I tested positive for a substance called Furosemide, which is not a Performance Enhancing Substance. Furosemide is used to treat various medical conditions in the United States and the Dominican Republic. This substance was given to me by a licensed doctor in the Dominican Republic to treat a medical ailment. While I did not realize at the time that I was given a medication that was banned, I obviously now wish that I had been more careful.
For more than fifteen years, playing professional baseball has been the greatest honor and privilege of my life. I would never do anything to cheat the rules of the game that I love, and after undergoing dozens of drug tests over more than a decade, I have never tested positive for a Performance Enhancing Substance for the simple reason that I have never taken one.
Today I decided to accept MLB’s suspension. This was the most difficult decision I have ever made in my life, but ultimately the right decision given that I do not dispute that I was given this substance. I apologize to my family, friends, fans, teammates and the Mariners organization. I am extremely grateful for the support I have received during this process, and I look forward to rejoining my teammates later this season.”
Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported that a source — most likely from Cano’s camp — said that Cano was taking the medication because of high blood pressure and that he had tested cleanly before and after the positive test.
Still, the players’ union and most MLB clubs go out of their way to educate players on the testing process and provide information on what players can take.
“The lists are out there,” Dipoto said. “They’re available. It’s a matter of what you are interested in looking at. We’ve all had the opportunity to take a look behind the curtain. Some choose to, some choose not to. I think that’s what Robbie said. In his world, he wishes he would have done things differently or been more careful. I think that’s what he was alluding to. Clearly he knows now that he’s done something wrong, but he didn’t know that going in. If he had to do it over again, he’d read the fine print.”
Dipoto, Mariners chairman John Stanton and CEO Kevin Mather were informed about the positive test and acceptance of the suspension by Cano’s representatives at Roc Nation on Monday afternoon. Dipoto later spoke with Cano over the phone.
“He was very apologetic and he realized he made a mistake and he wanted me to convey to the team that this is – he feels terrible that he let his teammates down and that he did not use performance-enhancing drugs,” Dipoto said. “It’s a diuretic and unfortunately it’s the same as if it was. He’ll be suspended for 80 games. We support him in this in the meantime. In this particular instance we’re going to be without one of our best players and got to find a way to bridge the gap.”
Manager Scott Servais and the rest of the team were informed on Tuesday.
“Obviously it’s disappointing,” Servais said. “Everybody knows what Robinson Cano means to our ball club and what a big part he is in our lineup and certainly our clubhouse every day, but the focus going forward is we got off to a good start this season, we’ve certainly got plenty of talent in that clubhouse and on the ball club that can keep it rolling here. That’s the goal.”
Results of positive tests are not released to the team because of privacy issues. A player and his representatives will inform the team when they accept the suspension. Since Cano was fighting the results of the test, he chose not to inform the Mariners.
“With the (joint drug agreement) and rightfully so, there’s confidentiality with it,” Dipoto said.
Cano hadn’t even told his close friend Nelson Cruz, who served a 50-game suspension for being linked to the Biogenesis scandal in 2013, about the positive test in the offseason.
“It’s really tough,” Cruz said. “It’s definitely a sad day for everybody. It’s a shame.”
So where do the Mariners go from here?
Gordon, once an All-Star and Gold Glove winner at second base with the Marlins, will move back to his old position until Cano returns. That transition began before Tuesday’s game. The Mariners will give him a few days to practice there before putting him into games.
For Cano, his reputation is forever tarnished. While players like Cruz and Gordon have bounced back in popularity despite PED suspensions, Cano was building a hall of fame resume, including the chance to reach 3,000 hits. But this test will almost certainly hinder or crush his candidacy.
Major League Baseball-Major League Baseball Players Union joint drug testing policy: