Contrary to what Bud Selig would have you believe, Alex Rodriguez isn't the only baseball player who ever used performance enhancing drugs. Thirteen major and minor leaguers not called A-Rod were hit with suspensions of fifty games or more for infractions against MLB's joint drug agreement stemming from their connections to Anthony Bosch's shady Biogenesis clinic. Three more avoided punishment, having already served time for failing random screenings for drugs allegedly obtained from the facility.
Most of the Biogenesis players are hugely insignificant, at least in Yankeeland. Minor and fringe big leaguers Jordan Norberto, Jordany Valdespin, Sergio Escalona, Fernando Martinez, Cesar Puello and Fautino De Los Santos have no place on the Yankee radar. Francisco Cervelli is an in-house non-tender candidate and Jesus Montero is gone and mostly forgotten. Melky Cabrera is under contract with the Blue Jays another year and hard-throwing reliever Antonio Bastardo figures to go to arbitration with the Phillies. Up-and-coming Padres Everth Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal would both fill needs in the Bronx, but San Diego has no reason to consider trading either. Ryan Braun has a long-term, team-friendly contract with the Brewers and isn't going anywhere.
Three players are emerging from the Biogenesis affair as free agents: Bartolo Colon, Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta. All three are potential fits for the Yankees. It's hard to predict exactly what the scarlet letter "S" will do to any of their market values, but it certainly can't help. In the midst of a career season last year, Melky was in line for a much larger and longer deal before he was suspended and ultimately settled for two years and $16 million in Toronto. The fact that he was brutally awful (61 games played, 87 wRC+, -0.9 fWAR) in year one of that may scare teams off of his fellow Biogenesis culprits. A then 35-year-old Mike Cameron also managed a two-year, $16 million score while facing a 25-game illegal stimulant ban back in 2008. Besides those two, no player has received a contract of much significance after a PED suspension.
Here's a quick look at what the Biogenesis free agents could be worth and what each would bring to the Yankees:
Over the past two seasons with the Oakland Athletics, Colon has looked like a better version of the pitcher who started strong for the 2011 Yankees then simply ran out of gas after eclipsing the 100-inning plateau for the first time in six years. Even after a prolific fade that saw him pitch to a 4.96 ERA and allow a .358 wOBA against in the second half of that season, Colon managed above-average numbers overall - a 3.83 FIP, 2.8 fWAR and a solid 7.39 strikeout rate.
It's rare that a player improves as he approaches 40, but that's exactly what Colon has done since signing on with the A's in 2012. He was a borderline Cy Young candidate in 2013 with a 2.65 ERA over 190.1 innings and a miniscule 1.37 walk rate. His season was boosted, of course, by the pitcher-friendly O.co Coliseum, but he was strong on the road as well with a 3.40 FIP and 1.17 WHIP in opposing ballparks.
Colon is a pitcher the Yankees could look at as a backup option if they lose Hiroki Kuroda and are unsuccessful in their pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka. After paying him $3 million this year, it's unclear if Oakland can budget a qualifying offer for their hefty righty, meaning the Yankees could potentially land him on a one-year deal in the $12 to $13 million range without forfeiting their first round draft pick.
One element the Yankees sorely lacked in 2013 with A-Rod and Mark Teixeira mostly on the shelf was power from the right side of the plate. New York right-handed hitters posted a triple-slash line of .226/.291/.342 while hitting just 63 home runs. They failed to capitalize on lefty pitching, OPSing only .640 vs. southpaws.
Nelson Cruz would help change that. Before losing his final fifty games to suspension, the 33-year-old had 27 homers a wRC+ of 122 and a wOBA of .359. With the glove, he's bad, and the Yankees would have to live with that in right with Alfonso Soriano still in left, but the added punch Cruz would bring to the middle of the order could be worth suffering his defensive shortcomings.
Cruz earned $10.5 million in 2013 and it's uncertain if Texas will risk extending him a qualifying offer. If they don't, he could probably be had on a two or three year deal at an average annual value lower than what Curtis Granderson would cost. Torii Hunter money - two years and $26 million - could get it done, especially if the Yankees add on a third year option with a decent buyout.
Probably the most obvious fit of this group is Peralta, who has played both short and third base in his career and could step in for either A-Rod or Derek Jeter as needed. In particular, the 31-year-old would serve as a comforting insurance policy in case Jeter is relegated designated hitter duty or can't play at all.
Peralta, who's become an excellent defensive shortstop with a UZR/150 averaging 9.9 over the past three seasons, is also a plus with the bat. He's hit double digit home runs nine years running and managed wRC+'s better than 120 and OPS's better than .800 in two of the past three seasons. His connection to Biogenesis is really the only reason he can't count on a massive payday this winter. That's something the Yankees should use to their advantage.
Replacing Derek Jeter at short - especially with Jeter still on the team - is an unenviable task, and the Yankees will need to pay handily to get Peralta or someone else to take it on. For a player with Peralta's history, three years and $36-$39 million would be a more than fair price.
The argument will be put forth that the Yankees should avoid known PED users in free agency. From A-Rod to Cervelli, to Clemens and Pettitte the specter of steroids has been a black cloud for the organization over most of the past decade and many fans are sick of it. Still, the front office can't afford to sit on a moral high horse. The opportunity to sign high quality players to sub-market contracts is not one to scoff at - not when facing the challenge of building a winner for less than next year's $189 million budget.
Colon, Cruz and Peralta have served the penance agreed on by MLB and the union and there's no reason to believe all three won't remain productive going forward. Melky Cabrera's poor play this year may be a cautionary flag, but besides him, there's Marlon Byrd who had a career year in 2013 after being busted for steroid use in 2012. There's no way to know exactly when each player used and how much it helped him. If favorable deals are out there to be made, Brian Cashman must roll the dice.