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Scattered thoughts following Steven Wright’s suspension

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Bringing back the old format

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox

By now, most everyone likely knows that Steven Wright had failed a PED test over the offseason and was told this week that he’d be suspended for the first 80 games of the 2019 season. The news became public on Wednesday. The knuckleballer, expected to spend the entire season in Boston’s bullpen, isn’t one of the team’s stars but he was certainly pegged for an important role on a part of the roster surrounded by questions. It’s no small thing that he will miss the first half of the season, even if he’s far from the most important player they could have lost for such a big chunk of time. There’s a lot of ripple effects to this suspension and a lot of topics still rattling around my head, so I figured this is an appropriate time to bring back the ol’ “scattered thoughts” format to look at a number of different angles following this news.

  • The biggest question everyone seems to have immediately after learning of this suspension is simply: Why? When we think of PED suspensions, we think of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, etc. We think of players who rely on power. Of course, we know that’s not the only use for PEDs, and in fact I would probably guess most PED usage among professional athletes is less about pure strength and more about recovering more quickly from injury. We know Wright has been dealing with knee issues that will probably plague him the rest of his career, so it would make sense for him to turn to HGH. Note that this is not the same as defending him, but rather pointing out it’s not about getting extra mph’s on his knuckleball. I should also mention Wright has denied knowingly using the substance but, ya know, we’ve heard that a million times and players have lost the benefit of the doubt there, fair or not.
Seattle Mariners v Boston Red Sox Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images
  • Some, including former (and hopefully future) beat writer Evan Drellich, have wondered if sports leagues should make exceptions for injured players coming back from specific injuries or surgeries. I won’t pretend to have enough knowledge on PED usage and their effects, but it seems like something at least worth considering. I’d guess there’s probably too much of a chance of players exploiting these loopholes, but maybe someone smarter than myself could put together a workable set of rules. Either way, as much as I could understand why Wright would take HGH in his situation, being punished with the rules in place isn’t unjust.
  • One of the bigger nuggets that came out after the knuckleballer spoke to the media was that he actually found out about this news in the middle of the offseason, though the team didn’t find out until last week. He appealed the failed test when he first learned of it, but was under no obligation to tell the team. When I first heard this, my immediate reaction was annoyance, but that’s because I’m dumb. Obviously Wright shouldn’t tell the team until he has to. He was going through arbitration this winter and telling the team there’s a good chance he’s going to be suspended for 80 games will only cause him to lose money and potentially his job. That could still happen, of course — arbitration deals aren’t guaranteed until Opening Day — but it was in his best interest to keep this news to himself. That said, if the Red Sox had known this was coming earlier in the offseason, it’s fair to wonder if they would have gone harder after relief help. My guess would be that they would have targeted some of the cheaper options, and while they still could the depth available now is obviously much worse than it was even a month ago.
  • The difference in length between Wright’s suspension this year and his suspension following his arrest after domestic abuse charges last year is ridiculous. It’s 80 games versus 15 games. Now, I understand there is some nuance here. For one thing, both Wright and his wife through the family attorney had denied there was physical contact during the incident prior to the 2018 season, though even if that is true they still got in an altercation bad enough that she felt the need to call 911 and he tried to prevent that call. The league is obviously in a better position to hand out punishments for a positive PED test, which can tangibly affect the play on the field, than it is playing judge and jury on off-the-field matters. None of that makes the 65-game difference between the two suspensions easier to swallow, and it’s fair to question why the league can’t make the punishments more reflective of the seriousness of the infractions.
  • The big question here is how does this affect the roster? Wright was going to be in the bullpen all of this year, so guys like Brian Johnson and Hector Velázquez aren’t too affected. There is now an extra roster spot available which helps everyone, but in terms of role I don’t know if there’s much of an effect with the swingmen. The guys who are affected are the true relievers. I got the sense that the team felt Wright was most likely to be up with Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier in the late innings, and while I don’t think that was the case the team’s views matter more than mine. With Wright out, someone else needs to step up to join that group. That will put some pressure on guys like Tyler Thornburg, Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree to step up early in the year. If not, expect to see early appearances from guys like Colten Brewer, Travis Lakins, Bobby Poyner, Darwinzon Hernandez and even Durbin Feltman. The season is a marathon not a sprint, but there should be some urgency for the team to find the best combination of arms for the bullpen.
Boston Red Sox v Seattle Mariners Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images
  • The Red Sox now have two open 40-man roster spots, which could be interesting. They’ve been hoarding one spot pretty much all offseason, which I had assumed was for a free agent signing. That obviously hasn’t been the case. Now that there is two, they have a spot open for a potential signing or trade acquisition as well as adding someone to the roster who is not currently there, i.e. someone like Feltman.
  • This isn’t exactly a common opinion, but it’s something I’ve seen from enough people that it should be mentioned. John Farrell has nothing to do with this. I feel like I’m taking crazy pills every time I see his name. First of all, Wright injured his shoulder, not his knee, on that now-infamous pinch running play. Even putting that aside, blaming that decision for a 15-game suspension for the domestic incident and testing positive for a PED test is absurd. Just stop it, please.