Baseball's Biogenesis Armageddon, if it ever occurs, will probably play out like an independent film instead of a summer blockbuster. In place of cataclysmic explosions, or close to two dozen players vanishing from major league rosters in a single day, scattered details will drive this drama.
The only way that such a mass exodus could occur would be for MLB to suspend every one of its erstwhile Biogenesis clients simultaneously and have virtually all of them promptly accept the punishment, forgoing appeals that can delay the bans for close to a month and a half. The likelihood of that matches my chances of ever hitting a major league home run.
ESPN reported that MLB is expected to impose about 20 suspensions for Biogenesis-related PED use after next week's All-Star Game. But most of those bans would not be served immediately, and many of them might not be announced publicly.
Of the names connected to Biogenesis so far, only two active players appear to face an instant suspension, before any effort to appeal. Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon served 50 games each after testing positive for synthetic testosterone last year. As second-time offenders, they do not get the benefit of the doubt that yields a stay of their punishment through an appeal.
The same applies to Yasmani Grandal, the Padres' catcher whose name has been linked to Biogenesis and who served a first-offense suspension earlier this season. But he tore an anterior cruciate ligament last Tuesday night and should be out of the game for almost a year, so his role in the saga should be miniscule this summer.
Any other accused players should have the opportunity to delay punishment, including Ryan Braun, who is considered a first-time offender because he won an arbitration case over a failed drug test.
It's a shame none of these players will open his arbitration hearing to the public, as cyclist Floyd Landis requested for his doping case in 2007. Now that was a blockbuster. But a sequel became a lot less likely when the concept backfired on the accused: Not only did Landis lose the appeal, but ex-cyclist Greg LeMond testified that one of Landis' associates tried to keep him from taking the witness stand by threatening to disclose the sexual abuse LeMond endured as a child.
Still, even a glimpse of baseball's hearing docket could be intriguing, with a hint of mordant slapstick. If multiple cases stack up, would the players jockey for position at the end of the line, hoping for extra time to prove their cases and perhaps a logjam that pushes a possible suspension into next season? Will owners and general managers have a stake in it?
If there are really anything close to 20 cases, fitting so many arbitration hearings into the designated time frame with just one panel of arbiters assigned to the task could be very difficult. According to the drug policy, a hearing should take place within 20 days of a grievance being filed and a decision would be targeted to arrive within another 25 days. But these schedules are not absolute, and each Biogenesis case, in theory, should take much longer than any previous challenge to a PED suspension.
A typical hearing lasts about a day, maybe two, and involves challenges to a failed drug test. Any Biogenesis-related suspension would center on a "non-analytical positive,'' which means that the evidence is not laboratory analysis of a urine or blood sample. Witnesses would have to be examined and cross-examined, documents dissected, investigators' methods scrutinized. Picture Tony LaRussa micromanaging his bullpen, and you get the idea. This could go on awhile.
Lance Armstrong went down on an un-appealed "non-analytical" charge, and 1,000-plus pages of documentation were eventually released to back up the decision. But his prosecutors at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency operate with relative transparency compared to baseball. MLB and the Players Association built a higher wall of confidentiality into its drug agreement. The final written rulings have never been made public.
So expect a lot of uncertainty to remain as the credits rolls. If you didn't like "The Sopranos'' finale, you'll probably hate this. If MLB goes ahead with the accusations, there will be verdicts, but we may never hear the most detailed, pertinent answers to the questions haunting this case.
Does Tony Bosch, the former owner of the Biogenesis clinic, stand up to scrutiny, or does he come across as a guy who cut a deal because a $7.5 billion industry threatened to squash him if he didn't? Are there documents, possibly bank statements, confirming the handwritten information on pieces of paper such as those pictured within the Miami New Times' stories? Is there evidence the public can't even imagine?
The Joint Drug Agreement does offer some answers about the most perplexing points of this case, and we can lay them out here. Consider them subtitles to a film that may go straight to video.
• Does double jeopardy apply to any possible penalties against Cabrera, Grandal and Colon if the incriminating clinic information leads back to their failed 2012 drug tests? According to the Joint Drug Agreement, yes. They cannot be suspended again for information that matches what the drug test revealed.
But if the clinic produced evidence that they used a substance different from anything that appeared in the 2012 screening, they can be suspended again. The same is true if the evidence shows that they acquired a banned substance at a time when it could not have been responsible for the positive tests.
If Cabrera and Colon are suspended immediately and then later win an appeal, they will receive their lost pay.
• When can MLB reveal a player's suspension? Normally, the appeals process for first-time offenders has to be complete before the ban can be announced. But this confidentiality can be waived if the player's name has been linked in public to a violation by a source not connected to the commissioner's office or management of any of the clubs.
In this case, the Miami New Times published names based on documents handed over by a former Bosch associate. The original story named only six major leaguers, and since then, the New Times has not printed more than 14 major leaguers' names. It's possible, then, that either MLB will not be able to announce every suspension or that the estimate of nearly 20 will not hold up.
It is also possible that players will be suspended, appeal, win at arbitration and never have their names released, so we won't know how many faced discipline.
• What does this all mean to the two former MVPs, Braun and Alex Rodriguez, who have been named in Biogenesis reports? They can both be named as suspended players before a completed appeal, but neither can be suspended immediately if he chooses to file a grievance.
Several reports have said these two and other ballplayers might be charged with double violations, one for any doping revealed in the Biogenesis evidence and another for lying about their involvement with Bosch and PEDs to MLB investigators. The drug agreement grants the commissioner some discretion to make such charges, but the nature of it is quite murky.
The threat of 100-game suspensions may simply be an attempt to persuade players to accept a 50-game ban and not go to arbitration. To make that tactic work with Braun and Rodriguez, MLB would need evidence that the players consider unbeatable.
Anyone waiting to hear big news about these two next week might be disappointed. Although policy allows the commissioner's office to make certain suspensions public before an appeal, it also permits silence. That seems like a long shot, but we're probably still looking at Armageddon on low volume, without special effects.