WASHINGTON -- The reaction in the Nationals' clubhouse was largely positive on Monday, a few hours after Major League Baseball announced discipline for the players linked to the Florida anti-aging clinic Biogenesis who violated the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
Not only were the Nats relieved that pitcher Gio Gonzalez was cleared of wrongdoing, but they expressed approval that the league was taking significant steps toward cleaning up the sport. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, playing his ninth season in the big leagues, called it "good for the sport."
"For a guy who doesn't do anything, and for 95 percent of the guys who don't do anything, it's a tough game to play every day, and it's not fair for other guys to have an advantage like that," Zimmerman said. "I think our sport has done a really good job of getting tougher and tougher testing. Where we were 10 or 15 years ago is a long ways away from where we are now."
MLB on Monday suspended 13 players as a result of the league's Biogenesis investigation. Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez received the stiffest penalty -- a 211-game ban without pay through the end of the 2014 regular season. Rodriguez, 38, has appealed the suspension, which is to begin Thursday. His case will be heard by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz. Rodriguez's discipline, MLB said in its written announcement, is based on his use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including testosterone and human growth hormone, over the course of multiple years. Rodriguez's discipline under the Basic Agreement is for attempting to cover up his violations of the program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to "obstruct and frustrate" the investigation.
The other players who were handed 50-game suspensions include Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta, Mariners catcher Jesus Montero, Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera, Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, Phillies reliever Antonio Bastardo and recently demoted Mets utility man Jordany Valdespin. Minor Leaguers Fernando Martinez, Jordan Norberto, Fautino de los Santos, Cesar Puello and Sergio Escalona were also suspended.
For players such as Zimmerman, it came down to an issue of fairness. While Zimmerman is a firmly established star, he sympathizes mostly for any marginal players who might have lost jobs to others who used performance-enhancing drugs.
"They play the game the right way and fight to try to make the big leagues," Zimmerman said, "and maybe some other guys that made it, the last two or three guys on the roster, used those kinds of things. Those are the guys I really, really feel bad for. They tried to do it the right way.
"Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, those guys are unbelievable talents, and they were going to be good baseball players anyways, and it's unfortunate they had to use those things or for whatever reason they thought they needed to use those things. But to have some closure and suspend and punish some guys that are that high up in this league, it shows nobody's safe."
Reliever Tyler Clippard took another angle on the fairness issue. He remembered blowing a save last season thanks to a big hit from a player who was suspended on Monday. Indeed, last July 17 Clippard allowed a go-ahead three-run homer to Valdespin in the ninth inning of a game the Nationals eventually won.
"Those guys are doing stuff that's affecting my career, and they're not playing the game the right way," Clippard said. "So that's frustrating. I think anyone can relate to that. If they're not doing things the right way and they're beating you, that leaves a sour taste in your mouth. That's why this is so important."
Asked whether he believes 50-game suspensions are sufficient for a first offense, Clippard suggested he would like to see a system that takes into account a player's career and contract status.
"If you've got a guy who's a month into the big leagues and gets suspended for cheating, yeah, 50 games is a lot," he said. "He's trying to get his career started. But if you've got a guy who's got a seven-year contract worth $140 million and he misses 50 games, that's probably not enough. So that's the fine line, and maybe because of all this down the road, it can get worked out where something else is put in place."
On the other hand, manager Davey Johnson said he had no issue with the length of the suspensions. The longtime big league skipper and former player was highly supportive of MLB's efforts in the case.
"I think the Commissioner's Office has done a great job with it," Johnson said. "This is what's best for the game, and I'm glad it's over with. Our program now probably matches the Olympic testing. I'm happy. It's better for the health of the game, better for the health of the players, better all the way around. Finally glad it's gotten to this point, where it's over."
But not everybody with the Nats felt strongly about Monday's news. Veteran first baseman Adam LaRoche didn't express an opinion either way.
"I'm so over it," he said. "I don't care anymore. Literally don't care."