About a year ago, after the Twins signed Josh Donaldson, I wrote that the Twins had built the best roster in franchise history.
After the recent signings of Andrelton Simmons, Nelson Cruz and Alex Colome, the 2021 roster might be even better than the 2020 edition.
While researching these signings, I saw a tweet from former Twins reliever Casey Fien. It read:
"The Minnesota Twins and them paying players that have been suspended for steroids.
-Michael Pineda 2yr-20M (still has 39 games left on his suspension)
-Nelson Cruz 1yr-13M
-Jorge Polanco 5yr-25.75M
-Alex Colomé 1yr-6.25M
Wow-Whatever it takes I guess"
(Point of fact: Pineda's suspension is over, and he was suspended for taking a banned diuretic.)
Other tweets from Fien asked whether 80-game suspensions are fitting punishments for performance-enhancing drug users, and stated, "I hate when people benefit from cheating…"
I've heard similar sentiments from many former players. They say their unwillingness to take steroids or other PEDs hampered their ability to compete with those willing to cheat, damaging their teams, careers and earning potential. And they're right.
On Twitter, the most common responses to Fien seemed to be either "You're right" or "Get over it."
I understand both views. As someone who was covering the game during the rise of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, I also think there are no simple solutions to the PED problem, and that simple thoughts will get us nowhere.
Is Fien entitled to be offended by cheaters? Yes.
Should PEDs exist in baseball? Of course not.
Can PEDs be eliminated from the sport? Probably not, unless a perfect test is developed and baseball is willing to ban players for life if they test positive.
Here's another reason why Fien can be technically right about PEDs while also being wildly unrealistic: There has always been cheating in baseball, and there always will be cheating in baseball. It's just that sharpened spikes and spitballs don't offend as many fans as PEDs.
What's problematic about baseball's PED trends is that Latin American ballplayers test positive in greater numbers than white ballplayers, and some Latin American ballplayers have claimed they are targeted for testing more often.
In 2018, former Twin Carlos Gomez told Yahoo Sports that he was certain baseball testing targeted two demographics: Older players, and Latin Americans. That year FanGraphs.com noted that 65% of major league players suspended for PEDs were of Latin American descent, even though that demographic made up about 30% of big-league rosters.
Pineda, Cruz, Polanco and Colome are all Latin American players.
Are we to believe that Latin American players are more likely to cheat? (Ridiculous.)
Or that they are less effective at beating the tests? (That would be strange, given that they have access to the same agents, trainers and doctors as everyone else.)
There is no logical basis for believing that players of one demographic would cheat more frequently than another. There is reason to ask why more players from one demographic test positive.
Another question that guides us into gray areas: Should the Minnesota Twins eschew signing any player who ever tested positive?
That would be an admirable stand. It would also get the entire front office fired.
Imagine the Twins the past few years without Cruz, Polanco and Pineda.
They would have won fewer games. They would have been far less endearing and interesting.
Cruz, suspended for 50 games in 2013 in the Biogenesis drug case, is the Twins' best leader since Kirby Puckett. He has engaged in good works in Minnesota and is a tremendous ambassador for the game.
Polanco, penalized with an 80-game suspension for a positive test in 2018, has played hurt for much of the past two seasons.
Pineda's 60-game suspension ended last season and he remains one of the Twins' best-liked players.
A failed test led to a 50-game suspension for Colome when he was a rising prospect with Tampa in 2014. Now, he's exactly the kind of back-of-the-bullpen arm the Twins need.
If these players are available and have served their punishments, how could the Twins proceed with good-faith team-building while ignoring them?
I can't disagree with Fien's sentiments. But I have to disagree with his conclusions.
He's right that even the harshest current sanctions may not deter enough potential cheaters.
There is no simple solution to this problem.
If baseball is too lenient, cheating is encouraged. But unless you have confidence that your system of testing is infallible, can you impose draconian punishments while knowing that there is even a remote chance that you are punishing an innocent player?
So, I'm conflicted.
I hate baseball's cheaters.
I admire Nelson Cruz.
I'm glad he was punished.
I'm glad he plays for the Twins.
I don't see any solution to this problem. All baseball can do is refine its tests and punishments, hope to prevent the rise of another McGwire or Bonds, and stumble forward, understanding that cheaters often prosper.
Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org