Before Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom, before Steven Matz, the face of the New York Metropolitans’ pitching rebuild was a young fireballer named Jenrry Mejia. When he first arrived in the big leagues in 2010, Mejia had a mid-90s cutter that was compared to Mariano Rivera’s, but it was complemented by a collection of underdeveloped secondary pitches. Over the next couple of years, Mejia refined his arsenal and his command; he broke out in 2013, flashing four average or better pitches (cutter, sinker, changeup, slider) and a real ability to miss bats. In that 2013 season, Mejia struck out 24.1% of hitters while walking just 3.6%, en route to a 65 ERA- and identical 65 FIP-. Mejia quieted any small sample concerns the following year, striking out better than a batter per inning (23.5% overall) and posting a mid-3.00s ERA, FIP, and xFIP across 93.2 innings alternating between the rotation and bullpen — and even recorded 28 saves as the Mets’ closer.
And then it all fell apart. Twice in 2015, Mejia was suspended for the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Although he was his old dominant self between suspensions — recording a 25.9% K, 7.4% BB, 53 FIP-, and 0 ERA- in 7.1 innings — his absence opened the door for the next wave of Mets pitchers, including Jeurys Familia, who supplanted Mejia as the team’s closer in the Mets’ historic run to the World Series. Still, there seemed ample room for for the fireballing Mejia to rejoin the Mets in 2016, either in a setup role or as a starter.
And then, on February 12, 2016, just before spring training was scheduled to begin, Mejia tested positive again. Per MLBTradeRumors:
Mets reliever Jenrry Mejia has been banned permanently from the majors after his third positive PED test, according to a league announcement. Remarkably, Mejia tested positive for the banned substance boldenone after earning two suspensions just last year.
And with that, Mejia became the first player ever banned from the majors on the basis of repeated positive tests, per the terms of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Mejia did not take it well, accusing MLB of a “witch hunt,” saying the league had set him up, calling out the MLBPA for not defending him, and later threatening to sue MLB for his ban.
It turned out to be bluster: Mejia’s lawyer, Vincent White, ended up bringing the suit on behalf of someone else. As for Mejia, he appealed his suspension, a move which Nathaniel Grow discussed here and which could be summarized thusly:
All in all then, although it isn’t particularly surprising that Jenrry Mejia would elect to challenge his lifetime suspension, his chances of actually persuading an arbitrator or judge to overturn the punishment appear to be remarkably low.
The appeal was denied, and we all assumed we had seen the last of Jenrry Mejia. And yet, even then, there were signs that this lifetime ban wasn’t really that.
Jenrry Mejia can apply for reinstatement from ban in one year, but must sit out a minimum of two years even if that's granted by MLB.
— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinMedia) February 12, 2016
And, as it turns out, that’s exactly what ended up happening. Again, per MLBTR:
Major League Baseball announced today that Mets reliever Jenrry Mejia will be reinstated for the 2019 season. He had previously been banned following a third positive PED test.
Mejia was reinstated pursuant to this provision of the Joint Agreement:
Interestingly, this provision doesn’t have any factors to be evaluated or standards to be used to determine whether or not to grant an application for reinstatement aside from the Commissioner’s discretion. Discretion means something different in this context than in popular language; in legal parlance, “discretion” means, in essence, “use your best judgment.” So, in essence, it’s entirely up to the Commissioner. But it seems that the Commissioner did extract a concession from Mejia in exchange for his reinstatement:
“I’ve had a long, difficult time away from the game to contemplate the mistakes I’ve made both with regard to my positive drug tests and also the false allegations I made about Major League Baseball’s investigation into my testing history,” Mejia said in a statement released through the MLB Players Association. “Baseball is my profession, my passion and my life, and for those mistakes I am truly sorry.”
That concession? An admission that the “witch hunt” allegations were false. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Manfred said to Mejia “I’ll reinstate you if you retract your earlier claims.” Settlement negotiations don’t always work like that. At the same time, though, it’s not hard to figure out that Manfred wasn’t terribly likely to reinstate a player who is actively accusing MLB of corruption. “Reinstate me, because you framed me and I’ll keep saying that” doesn’t seem like an optimal strategy to impress the one person with that authority. And it was that apology from Mejia which evidently swayed Manfred:
“Mr. Mejia expressed regret for poor choices he made in the past and assured me that, if reinstated, he would adhere to the terms of the program,” Manfred said. “In light of Mr. Mejia’s contrition, his commitment to comply with the program in the future, and the fact that he will have already spent almost four consecutive years suspended without pay, I have decided to grant Mr. Mejia a final chance to resume his professional career.”
Why would Manfred agree to this? This is admittedly speculation, but there is absolutely value in Mejia publicly recanting his prior story. Remember that, not too long ago, Carlos Gomez made some waves by implying that Hispanic and Latino players were drug tested more than their peers. The drug-testing regime operated by MLB will work only so long as it has the public trust, and Mejia’s renunciation of his prior story is the removal, or at least mitigation, of a significant data point potentially undermining its credibility.
Mejia won’t be eligible to pitch in the majors again until 2019. Given the Mets’ 2018 season is all about playing out the string, that is both a positive and negative; positive, because the last thing the Mets need right now is even more attention on a lost season, and negative, because now, rather than next year, is a far better opportunity to see what Mejia still can bring to the table. Still, Mejia will be allowed to work out at Mets’ facilities after the upcoming All-Star break — and even start a minor-league rehab assignment in August.
We also have no real idea of how Mejia will look in professional competition, even against minor leaguers. He pitched a grand total of 52 innings over the last three offseasons combined in winter ball, including just 13 lackluster innings over the last two winters. But at the same time, Mejia is a former top-100 prospect, is still just 28, and now has less mileage on his arm than most pitchers his age. Tim Britton also passes along that Mejia won’t be a free agent until 2020, meaning the Mets get a full two years of control over a potential impact pitcher. In the Mets’ 2018 season, that may be the biggest win they get.
Sheryl Ring is a litigation attorney and General Counsel at Open Communities, a non-profit legal aid agency in the Chicago suburbs. You can reach her on twitter at @Ring_Sheryl. The opinions expressed here are solely the author's. This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.