Major League Baseball finds itself with a real dilemma in the Biogenesis scandal. It's not whether to suspend the 20-plus players who are implicated; it's when to drop the hammer and take the artificially enhanced players off the field.
An extended absence for Ryan Braun wouldn't have a major impact on the Brewers, other than to put them in the top three or four in the 2014 draft. But what about guys like Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta?
The Giants managed to win a World Series without Melky Cabrera last year, but it figures to make a huge difference to playoff races if the Biogenesis gang is hit with suspensions — at least 50 games, maybe 100 — during the season.
Different times during the season aren't equal, either, given the significance of the July 31 trade deadline. If discipline is going to be handed down — and it surely is — executives hope they have time to add players in place of the ones they lose.
It's anyone's guess how long this will play out. MLB officials say nothing is imminent, as they only recently received cooperation from Biogenesis head Tony Bosch and haven't interviewed many of the players who are targets. Players will have a chance to appeal suspensions, as always, and that could keep guys on the field.
But Biogenesis isn't going away, no matter how much guys like Alex Rodriguez and Braun wish it would.
MLB is confident in what it has. Not only does it expect Bosch to confirm and add to documents it already has collected, but sources say Bosch is not the only involved party who is cooperating.
The scandal almost surely will expand beyond the names that already have been reported, but here's a look at the teams that have the most to lose with what is known now:
1. Brewers: The ties between Braun and Mark Attanasio's franchise are tighter than ones between any other player and their club. He gained enduring icon status when he staked roots in Milwaukee rather than follow Prince Fielder, Zack Greinke and CC Sabathia out of town and was rewarded with a five-year extension when he already was signed for five years. He is the biggest reason the Brew Crew drew 2.8 million last season and all bets are off if fans turn on him, especially when the team is already down.
2. Rangers: Cruz's production (a team-leading 14 home runs and 40 RBIs) is more important than ever with Josh Hamilton in Anaheim. Manager Ron Washington has said the first option for replacing Cruz is to play Craig Gentry in center and Leonys Martin in right, but left fielder David Murphy, Gentry and Martin have combined for only 10 homers and 42 RBIs. General manager Jon Daniels would consider moving Ian Kinsler to the outfield to open a spot for 20-year-old Jurickson Profar, who through 13 games had a .793 OPS.
3. Tigers: Peralta, a free agent at season's end, is having a career year at the plate. Ramon Santiago is the top internal option to replace him, and he entered the weekend hitting .138 with one RBI in 94 at-bats since the All-Star break last season. Dave Dombrowski always is looking for options, but the middle-infield market is limited. If the White Sox would trade within the division, Alexei Ramirez could be in play.
4. Athletics: Bartolo Colon, who entered the weekend leading the A's with seven victories and 771/3 innings pitched, is on the list, as it seems he always is.
5. Yankees: They got lucky because of Rodriguez's hip surgery, replacing him with Kevin Youkilis in the offseason. They also could lose catcher Francisco Cervelli, who is currently out with a broken hand.
6. Padres: They're not going to the playoffs but have been trending upward in recent weeks, thanks in part to the play of shortstop Everth Cabrera and catcher Yasmani Grandal, both of whom have been tied to Biogenesis. Grandal just returned from a 50-game suspension, so like Melky Cabrera and Colon, he could argue he already has served his sentence. Everth Cabrera, who has started every game and leads the majors in stolen bases, is the bigger concern.
"I just want to play my game," Everth Cabrera said. "I don't want to worry about any of that."
No one does, really. But the Biogenesis cloud hangs over the 2013 season in ways that Barry Bonds' ties to BALCO never did. And unfortunately for a lot of players and the teams that employ them, Bosch is not Greg Anderson, the personal trainer who went to jail to avoid testifying against Bonds.
Lack of support: While the Rays pride themselves on starting pitching, manager Joe Maddon says the Tigers may have the best rotation in the American League.
"When we play Detroit, my concern is always that they have a chance to outpitch you,'' Maddon said. "We normally have it go the other way, but they're that good."
Yet the Tigers aren't running away with the American League Central. Their problem is they entered the weekend 24-15 when they have gotten a quality start, matching the Royals for the most losses in the AL with a quality start. Their bullpen hasn't done a great job, and they have been unable to manufacture late runs in tough games.
Starting pitching carries you a long way, however.