Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander has long been a hardliner on performance enhancing drugs. Just last season when Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon was handed an 80-game suspension for failing a PED test, Verlander railed against the fact that Gordon was allowed to play while appealing the ruling. He reiterated that stance in comments to Jon Heyman of Fan Rag Sports recently. In the interview, Verlander again praised the quality of MLB’s drug testing protocol, but called for much greater frequency of tests for players.
In Verlander’s opinion, the fact that players are still being caught is proof that more should be done to keep PEDs out of baseball. He was quick to praise his fellow players and the league for pushing for better, more stringent testing, but said he’d be happier if players were tested every day.
“This is a great game. I love the challenge of it. But you like to know it’s fair.”
“If you come in every day knowing you’ll be peeing into a cup, that should deter people,” he said.
Heyman cites people in the players’ union as saying that Verlander is perhaps the most outspoken advocate of increased testing in the game. The veteran right-hander served as the Tigers’ player representative to the union as recently as 2016.
His former partner in the Tigers rotation, Max Scherzer, has also been quite outspoken about PEDs and his desire to see them fully purged from baseball. Back in 2013, after Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta was suspended for 50 games for a first failed test, Scherzer expressed his disappointment in his teammate.
"It’s pretty apparent how I feel towards cheaters," Scherzer said. "With Jhonny, it’s disappointing. It really is."
According to Baseball Almanac, nine players were suspended for failing a PED test in 2016, Gordon the most notable among them. Abraham Almonte and Marlon Byrd, both of the Cleveland Indians at the time, served 80 game suspensions last season for failed tests. Raul Mondesi, an infielder with the Kansas City Royals, was the other AL Central offender to be popped in 2016. New York Mets reliever Jenrry Mejia was permanently banned from the major leagues after his third failed test.
Daniel Stumpf, the Tigers’ Rule 5 draft pick this offseason, also served an 80-game suspension after being busted with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2016. He was caught using dehydrochlormethyltestosterone last April. Stumpf is in camp trying to earn a spot in the Tigers’ bullpen this spring. Perhaps that fact has the subject in the forefront of Verlander’s mind.
The question for Verlander is how to stay ahead of the curve with new drugs and new methods regularly coming on line, as he said last spring.
"The problem is the quality of the stuff guys are taking is better than the quality of our tests. They're always a step ahead," Verlander said. "But I think more [testing] and harsher penalties. And I think that's a general consensus among players, and I'm sure that's ... I think that's what everyone wants. MLB needs to address it."
Major League Baseball last updated their testing in 2014 in the wake of the Biogenesis scandal. Provisions were made to have each player have at least one sample subject to more advanced carbon isotope mass spectrometer testing, which allows detection several weeks out from a player’s use of a PED. The normal urinalysis screenings typically can only illustrate use within a short period of time, generally no more than a day or two. Making those tests far more regular, as Verlander wants, would likely make things tougher on those using PEDs.
Thus far, there hasn’t been a player busted for PEDs in 2017. Presumably that won’t last, as the temptation still proves too great for players desperate to make it to the show, or to secure a large free agent contract.