Speed on the Bases


Trying to dope out—if you’ll pardon the expression—what’s going in the Jason Giambi drug opera is like trying to figure out the plot of Pirates of the Caribbean, particularly since each season seems to bring a new sequel. While we await some statement from Commissioner Bud Selig stemming from last week’s meeting with Giambi and MLB representatives, let’s review the facts that are not in dispute.

First, there is Giambi’s very intriguing comment to USA Today: “I’m probably tested more than anybody else [in baseball].” What, exactly, did he mean by that? According to the terms of baseball’s drug agreement with the Players Association, there are only two provisions for testing a player more than any other. The first case occurs if a player tests positive for steroid use—but if Giambi had recently tested positive for steroids, the revelation would be public, so that can’t be it. The second scenario occurs if a player tests positive for amphetamines (classified by the DEA as a “Schedule 2 drug,” considered less serious than steroids, which are Schedule 3.)

Giambi merely apologized for the use of “that stuff,” but never specified what stuff he was referring to. The New York Daily News reported that Giambi tested positive for amphetamines in the past year, but did not identify its sources. Their sources may well be nothing more than the Basic Agreement and an ability to put two and two together. If Giambi was given more than the random tests specified in the Agreement, and he had not been known to have tested positive for steroids, it could only have been amphetamines he was referring to.

This raises a larger question that so far has not been answered. Why would Giambi—who surely knew where his disclosure would lead—say this to USA Today? Under baseball’s policy, when a player tests positive for any banned substance, only five people are informed—the four-man team which comprises Major League Baseball’s Health Policy Advisory Committee (HPAC) and the player. Let’s make this as clear as possible: If Jason Giambi tested positive for amphetamine use, which appears to be the case, he would not have to tell his agent, his team, the commissioner, or even his own union. The connection between Giambi and amphetamines wasn’t leaked by the Yankees or by MLB; it wasn’t “leaked” at all. It was made by Giambi, in the form of an apology, in his comments to USA Today.

So why would Jason Giambi spill the beans (or the pills) on himself? It’s no secret that the Yankees have been trying to avoid paying the sizable remainder of Giambi’s contract. As’s Rob Neyer shrewdly observed, this has happened before. “In 2004,” Neyer wrote on his blog, “Giambi batted .208 and the Yankees tried to void his contract. In 2005 and 2006, he walloped the ball and nary a word about his contract was heard. In 2007, Giambi’s hit 5 homers in 37 games [as we go to press, six home runs in 40 games] and the Yankees are trying to void his contract again. You can’t blame them; considering Giambi’s performance this season, if he was on your roster, would you want to give him $26 million next year? Or $43 million over the next two years?”

No, we can’t blame the Yankees, but we also don’t think they have a legal leg to stand on. The only grounds for voiding Giambi’s contract would be steroid use after the drug policy went into effect in 2003, for which there is no evidence. Giambi’s contract may well contain clauses that specify other drug-related reasons for termination, including pre-2003 use, but as a source close to the Players Association points out, “It makes no difference what’s in [Giambi’s] contract if it violates what’s in the Basic Agreement.”

What then, is likely to happen? We don’t know, but an intriguing subplot may have emerged at precisely the moment the Los Angeles Angels came to town last weekend. Though he claims to have no knowledge of how the rumor of a Giambi-to-Angels trade got started, it’s obvious that no team would be a more perfect fit for Giambi. Since he’s a lousy fielder and must DH, Giambi would have to play in the American League. There are three American League teams on the West Coast, and Giambi is hugely unpopular with the fans of one of them: his old team, the Oakland A’s. This leaves the Seattle Mariners and the Angels, and the Angels have two big advantages: They’re a contender, currently leading the Western Division by four games; and they play their home games close to where Giambi grew up. And the West Coast is far enough away for a player who wants to escape the brutal scrutiny of the New York media.

Giambi has a no-trade clause in his contract and can steer a deal in any direction he wants. In other words, if the Yankees want to get rid of him badly enough, Giambi is in a position to force them to negotiate with the Angels. From the Yankees’ perspective, it wouldn’t be as good as terminating his contract, but at least in a trade they’d get something of value.

Would we be giving Jason Giambi too much credit for designing and executing a scenario that got him to the Los Angeles Angels? Perhaps, but let’s see what shakes out between now and the All-Star game.

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