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Matt Calkins: Major League Baseball should install stiffer penalties for drug cheaters

Seattle’s Robinson Cano was the latest player suspended by Major League Baseball for violating the joint drug agreement with the union. (Carlos Osorio / AP)
Seattle’s Robinson Cano was the latest player suspended by Major League Baseball for violating the joint drug agreement with the union. (Carlos Osorio / AP)

SEATTLE – Eighty-game suspensions. Bans on postseason play. Ruined reputations, tarnished legacies and, of course, lighter wallets.

Getting popped for performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball means enduring some of the harshest discipline in professional sports. Thing is, though … it isn’t harsh enough.

When Mariners second baseman Robinson Cano was suspended Tuesday for taking a diuretic that serves as a masking agent, we learned that PED use has not yet left the yard. Even a (former) future Hall of Famer with $144 million left on his contract is a potential perpetrator.

Is there any way for baseball to eradicate this type of cheating permanently? Probably not. But the next time owners and the MLB Players Association negotiate a Collective Bargaining Agreement, they can implement changes that further deter it.

The first thing – don’t let teams keep the busted players’ money.

Cano’s 80-game suspension means he’ll lose half of the $24 million he was owed this year. In 2014, Alex Rodriguez lost more than $20 million when he was banned for an entire season.

It’s a right hook to the chin for any player who has to part ways with that much dough. For their teams, however, it is sometimes no more than a jab.

Nobody will dispute how valuable Cano has been for the Mariners. His absence might crush any chances Seattle had of reaching the postseason.

But the M’s still have a spare $12 million to spend if they want to make a trade to upgrade the roster. What if MLB denied them that right?

First off, there are some teams that could benefit from one of their players getting caught using PEDs. Shoot, the Angels might consider spiking Albert Pujols’ water with HGH.

Pujols will earn $27 million this year despite having a negative WAR last season and a 0.0 WAR this year. You don’t think his team would kill for an extra $13.5 million?

But imagine if that money were dispersed to the other 29 teams as a sort of PED tax. Suddenly teams would be losing a player and the cash they could spend on a replacement.

Surely that would urge organizations to more feverishly police what their players are putting in their bodies. And it might affect who they add to their rosters.

Nelson Cruz and Dee Gordon are All-Star talents who happen to be two of the friendliest players in the game. But they’ve also served lengthy suspensions for violating MLB’s joint-drug policy.

I wonder – would the M’s have been as speedy to sign them if they had to pay their salaries if they were busted again? Maybe, but it’s worth asking the question.

Of course, there is another way to go about this that would spare the teams but destroy the cheaters. It’s simple but brutal: You get caught using PEDs, your organization can void your contract.

Dwight Jaynes and Aaron Fentress of NBC Sports Northwest brought this up during their radio show Wednesday, and I think it’s a valid premise. I doubt the MLB Players Association would go for it, but it is a just penalty.

Nobody knows how a player will perform upon his return from a PED suspension. Cruz and Gordon have been great, but there’s a scroll-length list of others who were never the same.

Cheaters can dupe other teams into thinking they are far more valuable than they really are. Why should said teams have to follow through on a deal made under false pretenses?

The thought of suddenly being unemployed with no guaranteed money would scare the benzphetamine out of potential rule-breakers. The argument that an innocent mistake could cost someone his livelihood is absurd.

We aren’t in the fledgling years of drug testing anymore. Not knowing that what you’re ingesting is banned isn’t innocence – it’s ignorance.

I don’t think Cano’s suspension is recasting the dark cloud that hung over baseball during the steroid era. The game (I think) is exponentially cleaner, and the PED stigma exponentially wider.

But problems still persist. Attempts at shortcuts remain.

PED scandals in baseball will likely never disappear. But with a reasonable adjustment or two, they can become as rare as a perfect game.