David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
CHICAGO - Everyone knew this day was coming, the day of reckoning for those ensnared by the Biogenesis investigation, a stained collection of 13 accused PED cheats scattered throughout the major leagues.
But not everyone prepared for it, and Monday's's announcement did more than just penalize the 12 dirty players who accepted their 50-game suspensions without protest. In cleaning up the game, Bud Selig also may have artificially changed the course of the playoff races.
With all the rubbernecking attention focused on Alex Rodriguez -- a walking, talking, six-car pileup of a superstar -- the rest of the world, at least outside of the Texas and Bay Area markets, has overlooked the impact of the Biogenesis scandal on the American League West.
The Rangers were blindsided Monday when Nelson Cruz, their leader in homers (27) and RBIs (76), chose to forgo an appeal of his 50-game suspension, immediately taking himself out of a tight race with the first-place A's, who lead Texas by two games.
With exactly 50 games left for the Rangers, that vaporizes Cruz and leaves a gaping hole in the middle of their lineup. Cruz apologized for what he said was an "error in judgment'' based on his concern that he needed something to help recover from losing 40 pounds because of a gastrointestinal infection last year.
Whatever the reason, Cruz could have stayed eligible on appeal, and given the relative timeline of the arbitration process, might have kept playing until mid-September before a decision was reached. Now the only way he'll be back is for the postseason, and Texas -- a half-game ahead of Cleveland and 11/2 games ahead of Baltimore in the battle for the second wild card -- is hardly a lock.
"I look forward to regaining the trust and respect of the Rangers organization, my teammates and the great Rangers fans,'' Cruz said in a statement, "and I am grateful for the opportunity to rejoin the team for the playoffs.''
Last year, the Giants refused to welcome back Melky Cabrera in October after his 50-game ban -- and won the World Series anyway. He was on his way to a batting title (.346) and would have qualified if he had not withdrawn his candidacy. Still, Cabrera -- his debt to baseball paid -- recovered enough to sign a two-year, $16-million deal with Toronto, and it appears Cruz also might have been motivated by his pending free agency.
By serving his sentence now, Cruz hurts the Rangers, but he can remain somewhat attractive to prospective teams -- PED history aside, of course -- because he won't have to sit out the start of the 2014 season. The Biogenesis label will cost him in the marketplace, just as Cabrera's positive test did, but maybe not as much as it could have.
Rangers GM Jon Daniels addressed losing Cruz Monday in a conference call.
"We knew Nelson had a tough decision that he's been weighing for a period of time, but last night was the first time that we had any sort of definitive direction on which way he was going,'' he said.
"It goes without saying that we're not going to replace Nelson's production with any one player . . . It's a challenge for us with Nelson's history of production and the year he's having, but this is a club that's never shied away from a challenge before.''
Daniels left open the possibility that Cruz could rejoin the team if it makes the playoffs: "Assuming that there is no other information that we're not yet aware of and if his teammates welcome him back and Nellie handles this well, which I expect that he probably will, then we're open to it.''
It was a great day for the A's, though. Texas not only lost Cruz, but Bartolo Colon skated on any new charges as MLB gave him time served after his 50-game suspension in 2012 for testing positive for testosterone, which the commissioner's office tied to Biogenesis. Colon, 40, is the A's best starter (14-3, 2.50 ERA).
And then there are the Tigers, who acted before the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline to take out an insurance policy on shortstop Jhonny Peralta. Unlike the Rangers, who chose not to secure a backup plan for Cruz such as Alfonso Soriano or Alex Rios, Detroit GM Dave Dombrowski made a deal with the Red Sox for young shortstop Jose Iglesias.
Dombrowski figured Peralta was a goner and didn't want to worry about whether he would appeal.
It did come at a cost, as the first-place Tigers had to part with a top prospect, 22-year-old outfielder Avisail Garcia.
But better safe than sorry, right?