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Sunday Baseball Notes

Baseball players still trying to beat the system

Bartolo Colon had a decent season in 2011 with the Yankees and had been the anchor of Oakland’s staff this season, going  3-1 with a 1.88 ERA in August.

AP/File

Bartolo Colon had a decent season in 2011 with the Yankees and had been the anchor of Oakland’s staff this season, going 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA in August.

They are not only testing positive for steroids, they are testing positive for stupid pills.

Really, how stupid can these players be?

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Melky Cabrera, 50 games for high ratios of testosterone? Ditto Bartolo Colon?

There seems to be a new wave of sneaky behavior, in which players are trying to beat the drug-testing program by taking low levels of testosterone through patches, creams, and gels instead of syringes, according to steroid expert Dr. Gary Wadler, an associate professor of medicine at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine who is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Prohibited List and Methods Subcommittee.

Baseball’s testing program for performance-enhancing drugs isn’t perfect, but it is very good and certainly better than it has ever been. You want to try to cheat the system? Ask Cabrera and Colon whether that’s a good idea.

Wadler acknowledges that Major League Baseball has made big strides in reducing anabolic steroid use, but he thinks it can go further. He advocates adopting the World Anti-Doping Agency code, which outlines a comprehensive method for stopping the use of steroids dead in its tracks. That would include more expensive carbon-isotope ratio testing, which can detect abnormalities when the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone is 4:1 or greater.

Wadler also thinks MLB needs to increase the penalty for a first offense, feeling 50 games is not stiff enough. In fact, he thinks MLB should get out of the business of testing and leave it to the WADA.

“That would bring independence, which I think is essential to moving forward,” Wadler said.

Of course, you can’t snap your fingers and have all of this stuff happen overnight.

MLB would likely love to turn it over to the WADA, but there are major reasons it doesn’t — one being that the players union would never go for a two-year ban for a first offense, which is the WADA penalty. Second, the appeals process is done somewhere in Europe, and third, MLB seems to be implementing many of WADA’s practices already, even giving the CIR test for players testing under the 4:1 ratio.

According to Wadler, players who take HGH can get away with taking lower levels of testosterone; in combination with HGH, the effect of the testosterone is enhanced but the player wouldn’t necessarily test positive.

“The players need to go further than to just apologize and say they accept the responsibility,” Wadler said.

Those players who are getting caught have somehow managed to mess up the use of the cream or patch or gel.

Wadler said with this new delivery system, “Players are trying to walk a tightrope with ratios and can very carefully control the amount of testosterone they’re getting into their body.

You can change it from day to day. The gurus who surround these players can give them a patch and a half and smear this amount and keep close control.”

Wadler said this new delivery system probably has a 100-hour shelf life “for half of it to disappear [in your body]. It doesn’t last long like the injectables — up to eight days or so.”

Wadler has been critical of MLB since he testified before Congress in 2005, but he acknowledges the progress it has made. Still, he said, the gold standard for testing is the WADA code.

“That’s what they need to do,” Wadler said. “They need to get out of the business of trying to be anti-doping experts. That’s not their forte. It’s a three-legged stool. You need independence, you need transparency, and you need accountability. You can’t sit stably on a two-legged stool. You need all three.”

It’s interesting that the two players caught recently play for teams in the Bay Area (Cabrera for the Giants and Colon for the A’s) — the home of BALCO. Colon, who pitched for the Red Sox in 2008, also had stem cell injections in his ailing elbow and shoulder in the Dominican Republic in 2010, when he sat out a year. He had a decent season in 2011 with the Yankees and had been the anchor of Oakland’s staff this season, going 3-1 with a 1.88 ERA in August.

One A’s teammate who was not sympathetic to Colon is former Red Sox outfielder Josh Reddick.

“I was brought up to never cheat the game,” Reddick said. “I don’t want to be that guy at the end of his career who has the asterisk sitting beside his name in all his stats. I want to know deep down inside that I’ve earned it within myself and not with any kind of help.”

Cabrera was having his breakout year. After hitting .305 with 18 homers and 87 RBIs with the Royals last season, he was at .346 with 11 homers and 60 RBIs this season. He was second in hitting in the National League.

Question is, how long was Cabrera using before he got caught?

As one baseball official pointed out, “Cabrera has cost himself a bundle, and Colon really had nothing to lose. He’s 39 and maybe he’s 40-something. He got himself a contract for $2 million, so he probably thinks it’s worth it.”

Cabrera stood to make a pretty decent killing as a free agent this offseason. Now it would be surprising to see any team commit long-term to him.

Players say the right thing.

David Ortiz, for instance, said, “I don’t know why guys are taking that chance. I can’t judge anyone, but MLB has a great program and they mean business and I think they’ve really cleaned things up.”

But do they do the right thing?

At a time when fans were beginning to believe in the purity of the game, these latest suspensions mean that if there is a spike in performance by an older player, you still have to wonder, don’t you?

Apropos of nothing

1. At the All-Star break, I wrote that we should watch to see whether Josh Reddick would decline in the second half. After hitting .268 with 20 homers, 43 RBIs, and an .880 OPS at the break, he entered the weekend hitting .210 with 5 homers, 20 RBIs, and a .633 OPS in the second half.

2. Can we now see what David Ortiz means to the Red Sox offense? Give the man a two-year deal.

3. Jose Iglesias is starting to get a reputation for being injury-prone. While he has made strides offensively to go along with his superb glove, he has had a lot of trouble staying healthy, which isn’t a good thing for a shortstop.

4. Are we being too quick to say, “Get rid of John Lackey”? Or could it be that for the last two seasons, Lackey was not himself because of his elbow issues? After Tommy John surgery, could he return to the form he showed with the Angels, when he was a money pitcher? We should find out, because Lackey probably isn’t going anywhere.

5. Derek Lowe and Livan Hernandez are the only active major leaguers with at least 14 years’ experience who have never been on the disabled list.

6. The Red Sox could have a nice arsenal of relievers next season if they re-sign Vicente Padilla to go along with Alfredo Aceves, Andrew Bailey, Mark Melancon, Daniel Bard, Craig Breslow, and Rich Hill (if he re-signs). The rotation could be Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Franklin Morales, Felix Doubront, and Lackey. I’m assuming another starting pitcher will be added to the mix.

7. Adrian Gonzalez’s comments to ESPNdeportes.com are laughable: “In Boston, there is always a novel — in here, they never talk about baseball; it’s always the same. That’s one of the reasons why I almost never talk to the press here. Very few times they ask me about baseball. But most of the time it’s about gossip, rumors, plots, well . . . a soap opera.” A soap opera created by whom? The media, or by you, Adrian, and your partners in crime?

Apropos of something

Who wasn’t curious to see Roger Clemens pitch Saturday night for the Sugar Land (Texas) Skeeters of the Atlantic League? There was so much curiosity that ESPN Classic carried the game live.

It’s unrealistic to think Clemens could make a comeback to the majors at 50, but the whole point was to see if he was going to move forward, keep pitching. Clemens has hinted in recent interviews that he may have something bigger to announce after this start.

It could be that he’ll get back in uniform with the Astros for a start before the end of the season. If he does, it will delay his appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot for five more years. Right now, he is due to be voted on in December. Given his association with PEDs, he would likely not garner a lot of support. He could be trying to buy time to repair his image.

Two people who have seen him throw — former Astros president Tal Smith and longtime scout Deacon Jones, both of whom work for Sugar Land — indicated that he threw the ball well. Clemens has said that he received a clean bill of health from Dr. James Andrews after having an MRI on his shoulder; he said Andrews told him his shoulder looks only 30 years old.

Astros owner Jim Crane and his staff have gutted the team, which moves to the American League next season. Attendance has gone from 3 million five years ago to 1.2 million this season. Crane told a Houston TV station that he and his staff are open to the idea of Clemens returning to the organization (Clemens still has a personal-services contract), but he doesn’t want it to be a publicity stunt and he would seek approval from Major League Baseball.

“If we did it, I want to try and take it and turn it into a positive, which would be Roger’s doing it for the good of baseball,’’ said Crane. “The extra proceeds on the game might go to the [Astros’] community charity deal to build [baseball] fields, do something positive out of it.

“I think the fans might like it. It might be fun and certainly get a few people in the ballpark. I don’t see anything negative about that, but the Astros wouldn’t want to do it for the money, the extra gate or anything like that.”

At the least, Crane would like to see Clemens work with his pitchers as early as next year.

“What we’re interested in, we’ve talked to him about, is teaching our young pitchers,” said Crane, “not necessarily taking a full-time coach [role], but working with them consistently, the young guys.

“That’s what I’ve talked to him about at length, is starting next year, getting a lot of our young prospects and giving them the mentality and the work ethic and the training.

“There’s a double-edged sword. I think if we were able to let him [pitch], we’d want to blend that in.”

ETC.

Updates on 9

1. John Farrell, manager, Blue Jays — A trying year for Farrell, in many respects similar to what Bobby Valentine has gone through in Boston with injuries to key players as well as some with bad attitudes. The front office also didn’t give Farrell a lot to work with. He has a year left on his contract and will likely be back.

2. Andre Ethier, OF, Dodgers — At one point in the trade discussions, the Red Sox did bring up his name. The Sox have long admired Ethier, who could be an effective piece in right field in Boston. But the Dodgers want as big an arsenal as possible, and a lineup with Matt Kemp, Ethier, Hanley Ramirez, and Adrian Gonzalez is far more appealing than one without him.

3. Bryan LaHair, OF/1B, Cubs — The Worcester product may become someone the Red Sox are interested in dealing for this offseason. LaHair has lost the first base job in Chicago to Anthony Rizzo but would be a viable, low-cost alternative as the Sox search for a first baseman to replace Gonzalez.

4. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF, Red Sox — The discussion of Ellsbury’s future could become front and center. Ellsbury was placed on trade waivers Friday, so we should soon know whether any teams placed a claim on him. One bet would be Washington, which has long coveted him. As we wrote last week, the feeling that Ellsbury wants out has changed. Ellsbury likes it here now and wouldn’t mind staying. With the mass trade with the Dodgers, the Red Sox created some $87 million in luxury tax space for next season, so they could certainly afford to sign Ellsbury long-term this winter.

5. Nick Swisher, RF, Yankees — He is due to become a free agent and will likely be on Boston’s radar. He is a switch hitter who can play the outfield and first base and produce 20-25 homers and 90 RBIs. Swisher isn’t likely to break the bank and would be a solid addition to Boston’s lineup. We’ll see if the Sox make a run.

6. B.J. Upton, CF, Rays — Upton is finally a free agent after this season. The Rays always toyed with the idea of trading him, but now he can leave on his own. The Nationals have always had an affection for him. Boston? With Carl Crawford gone, the Sox may have a need. But would they go after another Tampa Bay guy?

7. Alex Gordon, LF, Kansas City — A lot of teams asked about him at the trade deadline, but the Royals didn’t move him for pitching. Would they reconsider this offseason? Gordon could be a suitable replacement for Crawford in left if the Sox went that route. He entered Saturday leading the league with 40 doubles, and had a .291 average with 10 outfield assists and a .365 OBP.

8. Mike Napoli, C/1B, Rangers — Another name to add to Boston’s possible candidates to play first base. Napoli has a nice Fenway swing from the right side and could also protect the Sox behind the plate. He has not had the best of seasons, hitting some 100 points lower than his 2011 average. Napoli has a career 1.107 OPS at Fenway with a .306 average, 7 homers, and 17 RBIs in 73 plate appearances.

9. Shin-Soo Choo, RF, Indians — Another outfielder who could very well be on Boston’s radar. You could definitely see a Choo-Justin Masterson type package discussed this offseason. Choo is an excellent outfielder who could handle Boston’s big right field. He has a good arm to play there as well.

Short hops

From the Bill Chuck Files: “Tampa Bay’s Fernando Rodney is attempting to become just the third closer with at least 30 saves, an ERA less than 1.00, and a WHIP less than 1.00. Through Wednesday, Rodney had 39 saves, a 0.77 ERA, and a 0.784 WHIP. In 2006, Jonathan Papelbon had 35 saves, a 0.92 ERA, and a 0.776 WHIP, and in 1990, Dennis Eckersley had 48 saves, a 0.61 ERA, and a 0.614 WHIP.” . . . Harvard baseball coach Joe Walsh, who died too soon at age 58, was a dear man and left a wife and four daughters. A memorial fund has been set up to help his family at rememberingjoewalsh2.com . . . Happy birthday to Charlie Zink (33), Brian Bark (44), Carlos Quintana (47), Jeff Richardson (47), and Fireball Fred Wenz (71).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.
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