A.J. Ellis, Don Mattingly in favor of harsher penalties in MLB drug policy

Cameron Spencer

LOS ANGELES -- Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association on Friday announced major changes to the sport's joint drug agreement, with increased testing and penalties for offenders.

The main change is the punishment for performance-enhancing drugs, with an 80-game suspension for a first test, a 162-game suspension for a second violation, and lifetime banishment for a third strike, up from 50, 100, and 162 games. The changes take effect beginning Sunday.

"It's something the players wanted. We want this game clean, and we want the penalties harsh for the guys who violate the agreement," said catcher A.J. Ellis, who shares player representative duties with Clayton Kershaw. "It's a level playing field, the penalties should be stiff and should be severe and deter guys from taking a chance."

In-season random urine tests will increase from 1,400 to 3,200, and random hGH blood tests will increase to 400 in-season tests plus the 1,200 mandatory hGH tests during spring training.

"Experience proves that increased penalties alone are not sufficient; that's why the players pushed for a dramatic increase in the frequency and sophistication of our tests, as well as comprehensive changes in a number of other areas of the program that will serve as a deterrent," said MLBPA executive director Tony Clark. "Make no mistake, this agreement underscores the undisputed reality that the players put forward many of the most significant changes reached in these negotiations because they want a fair and clean game."

The A-Rod loophole was closed, in that a 162-game suspension now mean's losing a full year of pay, or 183 days. Alex Rodriguez, suspended for the 2014 season (and postseason) as part of the Biogenesis investigation, will still be paid $2,868,852 this season, or 21/183rds of his $25 million salary because the old policy only allowed for a 162-game suspension to dock 162 days of pay. Going forward, a full 183 days of salary will be forfeited.

"I like stronger penalties. It should be tougher for guys to get away with anything, so it evens the playing field for everyone. It protects players from players," said manager Don Mattingly. "It protects organizations from giving huge deals to guys who aren't doing it on their own."

In addition, any PED violation will make that player ineligible for playing in the postseason that year, and the violating player won't get an automatic share of the players pool of postseason money.

"I'm glad they eliminated the availability for postseason. That was always such an interesting issue at the end of the season. It put the teams in a tough position and put the teammates in a tough position as well. This guy has been gone for 50 games, and how tainted is our season? This kind of answered all those questions in one fell swoop," Ellis said. "It's great for the game, it's great for the fans, it's great for the guys in the clubhouse."

A key concession the players received was the ability to reduce their suspension via an arbitration panel, provided they can prove their positive test wasn't performance-enhancing.

"That was huge," Ellis said. "There have been guys who have been tested positive on things but they can prove that it wasn't performance-enhancing. That's the key. We make mistakes. We're going to take over the counter or household products where we're not sure what all the ingredients are. As athletes we live in this PED environment and we have to be aware of what we put in our bodies."

Ellis was asked if it was a challenge going to the local drug store to make sure some over-the-counter medication doesn't contain a banned substance.

"It shouldn't be a chore at all. Everything we need is in this clubhouse. The rule of thumb is 'get it from the clubhouse.' Our clubhouse has no product in there that you will get in trouble for, basically. If you're feeling sick, stock up here and make this your CVS," he explained. "If something really crazy happens you can make a call to find out what to take. There are a lot of people on our support staff, one of their jobs is to make us aware and to be a resource if we have questions."

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