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Some Cubs profiled for PED testing? Random is random, MLB insists

PITTSBURGH — In the wake of Pirates All-Star outfielder Starling Marte’s steroid suspension last week, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo spoke out strongly, saying baseball needs to increase its testing for performance-enhancing drugs.

“I haven’t been tested once this season,” Rizzo said, correcting himself to include the mandatory test every player takes during spring training. “Other than that, I’ve had a solid two months of, you know, random [process without being tested]. And I’ll probably be drug tested in the next week now because I’m saying this.”

He was tested after the game the same night.

The Pirates, who are hosting the Cubs for a three-game series, still are trying to adequately replace Marte for what’s left of his 80-game suspension. Marte homered in a one-run Pirates victory against the Cubs during a sweep just over a week ago.

Was it "random" when Anthony Rizzo was drug tested a few hours after talking to reporters about drug testing last week? Some in the Cubs' clubhouse wonder.

In fact, Marte’s replacement — Jose Osuna — had a rough night in right as the Cubs peppered him with flares, drives and gap shots for two innings on their way to a 14-3 victory.

But the Cubs’ biggest question on the subject seems to be: When did the random-testing part of MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program become seemingly non-random?

“Strange,” pitcher Jake -Arrieta said when told of Rizzo’s two months without a test compared to his two tests in two weeks.

Could this be one of the not-so-fawning byproducts of all the attention heaped upon these wildly celebrated champions? A quiet profiling element attached to MLB’s stepped-up diligence since the 2013 Biogenesis scandal?

Cubs players who talked on the subject are advocates of vigorous testing and said they’re willing to be tested as often as MLB wants.

But as Marte’s positive test shows, there clearly are players around the league who still juice. And some in the Cubs’ clubhouse privately wonder how random the random-testing program is.

But with the way the program is constructed, with oversight from MLB and the players’ union, it seems difficult to override the randomness of the system.

Only three parts of the program allow for testing beyond random selection, including previous violators entering a regular testing phase and the mandatory tests for all players on 40-man rosters during the spring, regular season and offseason (the offseason testing is new to the CBA this year).

Even the third part, the reasonable-cause exception that allows MLB to single out a player (if, for example, his name were to be linked to an investigation of a PED provider), requires notification of the players’ union, which, in turn, may challenge the justification.

MLB insists that beyond the follow-up testing for violators and the reasonable-cause exception, testing is entirely random.

“Random testing under our program is truly random, and every aspect of the selection — including the dates, times and players selected — is varied and randomly drawn,” said an MLB official.

If anything, the sizeable increase in testing for every player might be creating the perception by some that they are being targeted.

Random offseason tests jumped from the previous 350 annual tests to 1,550 because of the 1,200 players on 40-man rosters covered under the added provision.

Last year, 8,281 tests were conducted overall, according to MLB. That number is expected to reach nearly 12,000 this year.

But even the mandatory tests in and out of the season are considered random within the computer algorithm MLB’s contracted testing company uses to spit out blind numbers (each representing a player) for testing on a given day. A player’s chances of being tested increase through the season until he is tested.

“As with any random testing program, particularly one that conducts almost 12,000 tests per year, perceived trends or frequencies can result over a period of time,” the MLB official said. “We review all of the testing data after each season as part of our annual review process to make sure there are no additional changes that can be made to the selection and scheduling procedures to increase the unpredictability of collections and the deterrent effect of our random testing process.”

Tell it to Rizzo or Arrieta, who has trouble keeping track of how often he has been tested.

“I’ve been tested four or five times a year, every year. Been blood tested in the offseason, been urine tested in the offseason, just about every offseason as far back as I can remember,” he said the day Marte’s suspension was announced. “I’ve been tested back-to-back days before.”

He seems to find it plausible he has been profiled but shrugs it off — “That’s fine” — and said he’ll keep doing whatever MLB wants and producing clean results.

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

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