"It's a whole new territory we're looking into," a person with direct knowledge of the investigation told FanHouse. "Our information has led us to believe there are some [agents] worth going after."
The 50-game suspension of Manny Ramirez last week proves MLB's intention to rid the game of performance-enhancing drugs is expansive in its scope and aggressive in its tactics.
Now that nearly 30 players have been suspended for using PEDs since the penalty phase of testing began in 2004, the natural progression, say people familiar with baseball's Department of Investigations, is to target the suppliers, as well as users.
"We don't comment on our investigations," said league spokesman Pat Courtney.
The department, created in the wake of baseball's Mitchell Report, is made up of former police officers and FBI agents, some of whom have extensive experience in investigating the illegal drug trade. While MLB does not have the authority to directly punish or ban any player agent who is discovered to be trafficking in steroids or other banned substances, state and federal courts have upheld the authority of players' associations to regulate agents.
In other words, no matter what baseball investigators discover, it will be up to the union to punish rogue agents, and law enforcement agencies to prosecute them. Could there be the equivalent of a drug lord or cartel procuring and providing illegal PEDs to players so they might fatten their contracts and extend their careers, with the money trickling up to agents?
"Nothing would surprise us," said the source, who requested anonymity because of the nature of the investigations. "There are some very principled agents. There are some agents who don't have principles. Do I believe there are some agents who facilitate getting players PEDs? Absolutely."
Ramirez, the Dodger slugger, was not snared by a failed drug test. Rather, baseball investigators followed a trail of documentary evidence, including medical files, to prove he was using HCG, a fertility drug for women that men sometimes use to produce testosterone after they have cycled off steroids. Last spring, Jordan Schafer, a minor-league player in the Atlanta Braves system, was suspended 50 games for suspected use of human growth hormone.
Baseball investigators snared Schafer, now the Braves' center fielder, not because he didn't pass a drug test (baseball doesn't test for HGH), but because of the company he kept.
Neither Ramirez nor Schafer appealed their suspensions, though Schafer denies he ever used HGH. Both cases illustrate the creative, proactive means baseball is using to finally tackle the drug problem. Schafer, in fact, was caught because someone tattled on him via baseball's anonymous telephone hotline.
Agents are the logical next step. Investigators are listening to specific complaints against player representatives.
"Every agent has a disgruntled client," said the source. "You could get one agent trying to rat out another agent. There are agents who have signed hundreds of players who never made it or who washed out. There are different ways to look at this."
An agent could be directly providing clients with undetectable cutting edge drugs and foolproof masking agents. Or the agent's role could be as nebulous as pointing a player in the direction of a doctor or anti-aging clinic that dispenses PEDs.
According to the Mitchell Report, reliever Scott Schoeneweis received shipments of steroids from Signature Pharmacy, while pitcher-turned-outfielder Rick Ankiel was alleged to have received HGH from the same Internet pharmacy. Both are clients of uber-agent Scott Boras.
Boras has represented a slew of drug cheats, including Kevin Brown, the pitcher who used Boras' headquarters as a return address when he sent cash for PEDs to steroid supplier Kirk Radomski, as detailed in the Mitchell Report. Was Boras naive or complicit? Ramirez is a relatively new addition to the Boras group. Other Boras clients who were fingered as users in the Mitchell Report include former Dodgers, Rangers, Red Sox and Brewers reliever Eric Gagne and pitcher Ron Villone. Another Boras client, catcher Ivan Rodriguez, was tabbed as a steroid user in Jose Canseco's book Juiced.
The agent's crown jewel is, of course, Alex Rodriguez, who has admitted to using banned substances for three seasons. Barry Bonds, under investigation for lying to a California grand jury about steroids, and Gary Sheffield, who told the same grand jury he unknowingly used steroids, both are former clients of Boras.
Considered to be baseball's most powerful agent, Boras also has the largest stable of clients, so the law of statistics suggests he'd have more guys connected to PEDs. If Toyota Camry is the world's most stolen car, it's also likely to be the car that is purchased the most. One clause doesn't necessarily qualify (or disqualify) the other. While Boras' empire is more vast than the Sultan of Brunei's, it is entirely possible Boras' only connection with PEDs is circumstantial.
To his credit, as far as we know, Boras, who has a law degree and a Ph.D in industrial pharmacology, never asked a team to drop all references to steroids in a player's contract. That's what agent Arn Tellem did before Jason Giambi signed a free agent deal worth $120 million with the New York Yankees. The Yankees agreed to redact the word "steroid," and we all know how that worked out.
In an interview due to appear in the June issue of Playboy, Boras talks openly about his attention to detail with his clients. He counsels young players on using birth control and safe sex, warns them about unscrupulous groupies and gadflies. But he declines to say whether he knew about Rodriguez's drug use, deftly turning the conversation into an eloquent, albeit evasive, soliloquy about the game's fluctuating morals.
"The Hall of Fame is for players who distinguished themselves in their day," Boras tells Playboy. "Each era has distinctive features - from equipment and rules to pharmacology, surgical advancements, labor agreements, federal and state laws that impact performance. The game is always changing. The Hall's scroll of admission must be drafted with a fluid and broad pen. Only then can it recognize excellence from every age."
Baseball's rules are indeed changing. It's too easy to scream about how commissioner Bud Selig, the owners, players and media looked away for decades while illegal PEDs ravaged the sport. At least baseball is aggressively working to clean up the mess. The question now is, where else does the trail lead?
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Lucas Jackson, Reuters
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Don Wright, AP
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Petr Josek, Reuters