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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Does MLB have another Biogenesis on its hands, or are suspensions isolated incidents?

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ervin Santana throws batting

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ervin Santana throws batting practice at spring training in Fort Myers, Fla. on Tuesday March 3, 2015. Credit: AP / Tony Gutierrez

The return of Alex Rodriguez this season from a yearlong suspension brought some closure to the Biogenesis scandal, which stretched from a Miami strip mall to numerous MLB outposts.

But no one is naive enough to believe that the four-year sentence that Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch received for his role will be the end of such activities. And the sport's radar went back up this past week when Mets closer Jenrry Mejia, who is rehabbing from an inflamed elbow, became the fourth player suspended because of a positive test for Stanozolol, also known as Winstrol, a steroid that had virtually disappeared among major-league offenders.

MLB officials are never surprised when players are caught by the drug-testing program. That's what the system is designed to do. It did raise eyebrows, however, when it was Stanozolol, a PED that one source described as "Neanderthal" compared to higher-tech, more sophisticated performance-enhancers.

So what did happen? The four players, all pitchers, were Mejia, the Twins' Ervin Santana, the Mariners' David Rollins and the Braves' Arodys Vizcaino. Three have a link to the Dominican Republic, where steroids such as Stanozolol are more easily available, and the Commissioner's Office plans to speak with the suspended players, which is standard procedure in these cases.

Where it goes from there is the question. The players are interviewed, but this is not a criminal proceeding and they are not under oath in a court of law. So extracting useful information can be difficult.

With Biogenesis, the star witness was Bosch himself and a stolen list of names. In this case, MLB is investigating, a source said, but it's still early in the process.

"Other than the similarity of substance, I have no reason to believe right now that they're connected," commissioner Rob Manfred told The Associated Press last Monday. "Having said this, whenever we have a series of tests for a single substance, we undertake an investigative effort to determine whether there's a connection and what that connection might be.

"If you look back, the very beginning of Biogenesis was the fact that we had a series of testosterone positives that began our investigative process, so we'll follow that same model."

This may be Manfred's first year as commissioner, but he's hardly a rookie when it comes to sniffing out PED rackets. In his previous role as MLB's chief operating officer, Manfred was the Biogenesis point man for Bud Selig, whose 22-year reign was punctuated by those 13 suspensions -- along with the record ban and combative appeal process. He's well aware that finding PED cheats is an always-evolving process, and that's why MLB's policies can't remain static.

The testing methods constantly are upgraded, with MLB having the most strict program in professional sports. Beyond the tests, however, another critical element is information, which was the key to prosecuting the Biogenesis offenders. For these four players stained by Stanozolol, MLB isn't optimistic all the details will be uncovered.

Knowing those obstacles, one baseball executive wondered if it would be possible to bargain with the length of the suspensions -- essentially shave off games like a plea deal -- in order to trace the path of the PEDs in the more complicated cases. A good idea, but probably too flammable to negotiate for the next collective-bargaining agreement. The current CBA expires after the 2016 season.

In the meantime, MLB is faced with the words of players such as Mejia, who suggested in a statement -- released by the union -- that he essentially was blindsided by the positive test.

"I know the rules and I will accept my punishment," Mejia said, "but I can honestly say I have no idea how a banned substance ended up in my system."

He added, "I have been through a lot in my young career and missed time due to injury. I have worked way too hard to come back and get to where I am, so I would never knowingly put anything in my body that I thought could hold me out further."

Two baseball officials acknowledged that contaminated B-12 shots, or injections passing themselves off as the vitamin boosters, have been a reason for concern in the past. But they also expressed doubt that ignorance was the culprit in the recent cases.

As one explained, Stanozolol is relatively easy to get in the Dominican Republic and can be taken orally, which makes it more popular among minor-leaguers who don't have the money for the modern, top-shelf PEDs. But it also has a high rate of detection, and MLB's random tests -- including when players first arrive for spring training -- have been successful at screening for this particular steroid.

That's why MLB has been puzzled by the motivation in these cases. The cost-benefit analysis here doesn't seem to add up. Santana had just signed a four-year, $55-million contract with the Twins in December. The suspension will cost him $6.6 million. As for Mejia, he's losing $1.27 million of his $2.6 million for this season and is eligible for arbitration in 2016.

While there could be a connection in these recent cases, the link may be nothing more than the same desire to gain an illegal edge. None of these players chose to appeal his suspension, so they are not disputing the tests or what was found in their bodies. For MLB, that's the bottom line, and penalizing the PED users often is more productive than any investigation.

The drugs, and the people who distribute them, aren't going away. But MLB's focus remains on their potential customers, and on making such risky behavior a bad business decision.

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