THE 'ROID VOID
Three months into the first year of mandatory steroid testing with penalties for positive results, a major league player has yet to be tested, according to two high-placed sources familiar with the screening program. That inactivity underscores a major loophole in the program: Players can be tested only once a year from March through September, not including a follow-up test to be administered five to seven days later. That means anyone who passes a test early in the season effectively has a green light to use banned substances for the rest of the year.
The five-person committee that runs the program, which includes union and ownership representatives, rightly wants the testing to hang over players like the sword of Damocles. Consequently, owners and players have been negotiating changes to the program that, if quickly agreed upon, they intend to implement this season. Rather than subject some players to the existing program and others to a revised one, they wisely have withheld all tests.
Closing the one-test loophole should be the first priority of owners and players. In the anonymous, penalty-free tests administered last season, 240 players were randomly selected to take a second test, a provision that kept players guessing if they would be tested again. Though neither side has pushed for such a measure, off-season testing is also needed if baseball is serious about cracking down on banned performance-enhancing drugs.
Several baseball executives agree that the Royals should shop centerfielder Carlos Beltran (right) now rather than wait for the July 31 trade deadline. Kansas City, which has no hope of re-signing the free-agent-to-be (11 homers), ended last week 11 games out of first in the AL Central. "He has more value as a four-month rental than as a two-month rental," one executive says. The Angels may be in the best position to satisfy the Royals with major-league-ready prospects, though the Padres, who see Beltran as the player who can keep them atop the NL West, have strong interest.
LOOKING FOR THE RIGHT GUY
With a .259 batting average Alexis Rios (left) was hardly tearing up Triple A pitching, but the prized Blue Jays outfield prospect was promoted to the majors on May 26 to inject some life into an underachieving offense. Rios, 23, is a natural centerfielder who will play rightfield, with Vernon Wells remaining in center and Frank Catalanotto in left. "We've tried everybody [at the corner outfield positions]," general manager J.P. Ricciardi says. "[ Chad] Hermanson, Howie Clark, Dave Berg. Rios had a great year last year in Double A, dominated winter ball and had a great spring training. It's his sixth year as a pro. I don't know if he'll stick, but we don't have a better option right now."
1. B.J. Ryan of the Orioles (right) has emerged as a rare top-quality lefthanded relief specialist. At week's end lefthanded hitters were 0 for 29 against Ryan this season with 16 strikeouts.
2. Seattle (18-31) is the team most likely to be dismantled in the next two months, with pitchers Gil Meche and Freddy Garcia, infielders Rich Aurilia and John Olerud and outfielder Randy Winn priced to move.
3. How bad is Tampa Bay? It continues to give at bats to infielder Rey Sanchez, who at week's end had one RBI, one extra-base hit and four walks in 90 plate appearances.