Baseball officials yesterday formally requested a meeting with Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons to discuss his alleged link to performance-enhancing drugs, an industry source confirmed.
The request stems from a report that steroids and human growth hormone were shipped to Gibbons' home in Arizona between 2003 and 2005.
It is the third time in the past week MLB representatives have made such a request. Last week, they asked permission to speak to St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Rick Ankiel and Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Troy Glaus, who also reportedly received shipments of performance-enhancing drugs from Signature Pharmacy in Orlando, Fla., which was the subject of federal raids this spring.
Ankiel and Glaus are expected to honor the requests, but no timetable has been determined.
On Sunday, SI.com reported that six separate shipments of Genotropin, a brand name for synthetic hGH, two shipments of testosterone and two shipments of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), were sent to Gibbons' Gilbert, Ariz., address between October 2003 and July 2005.
Gibbons, who made his debut with the Orioles in 2001, is currently on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury. He did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment yesterday. Neither did his agents nor Orioles president Andy MacPhail. Club executive vice president Mike Flanagan and manager Dave Trembley declined to comment.
Even before the SI.com report surfaced, Gibbons' future with the Orioles was cloudy, thanks to another injury-troubled and unproductive season. He started the year as a part-time player because of the offseason signings of Jay Payton and Aubrey Huff. When Gibbons' season ended last month because of shoulder surgery, he was batting .230 with six home runs and 28 RBIs in 270 at-bats - all career lows.
Now, with Kevin Millar's 2008 option vesting and Huff's contract difficult to unload (he's set to make $16 million over the next two seasons), Gibbons, who has long been criticized for his outfield defense, likely would enter the 2008 season as a $5.7 million bench player.
The Orioles shopped him this season but found no takers. Team officials don't expect that to change this offseason.
If the Orioles were to cut Gibbons, they likely would be on the hook for the remaining $11.9 million of the $21.1 million, four-year contract he signed last year.
The Orioles could attempt to void Gibbons' contract by citing the pharmacy allegations, similar to what they did in 2005 with pitcher Sidney Ponson after he was arrested for the third time in 10 months. (There still has not been an arbitrator's hearing in that case.)
But it would be much more difficult under the collective bargaining agreement to void a contract because of involvement with performance-enhancing drugs. The New York Yankees considered a similar path with slugger Jason Giambi in 2004 and this year after newspaper reports that he acknowledged using steroids. But it was never pursued.
Undoubtedly, the Orioles would have a major fight on their hands from the Major League Baseball Players Association.
"From the association's perspective, the commissioner's office has exclusive authority to take action in response to alleged violations of the joint drug program," said union general counsel Michael Weiner. "The clubs have no recourse in that area."
Therefore, the union believes any punishment given to Gibbons would have to come from commissioner Bud Selig. And since the alleged infractions occurred during 2003 and 2004, when there was no policy on performance-enhancing drugs, and in 2005 when it was established, the argument can be made that Gibbons should - at the most - be suspended for 10 days, the way Rafael Palmeiro was in 2005.
Regardless, it has been a quick and painful fall for Gibbons, 30, a former fan favorite who was elated to sign a contract extension in January 2006. That same week, he got married and he and his wife, Laura, bought a house in Baltimore, deciding to make the city their year-round home.
"I feel very settled," Gibbons said before the 2006 season started. "There is a quiet confidence going into this season. I am looking forward to a fun year."
Instead, it turned into a nightmare on a professional and personal level. His mother died unexpectedly in May and then, two days before his mother's funeral service, he crashed into a wall at Angel Stadium trying to field Vladimir Guerrero's inside-the-park home run.
Gibbons tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the collision. He returned after only two weeks, but aggravated the injury and headed to the disabled list for a second time. When he was activated, his balky knee had sapped him of his power and took away his ability to play the outfield. He finished the season with a .277 average, 13 home runs and 46 RBIs, while playing just 90 games, his lowest total since his rookie campaign.
This is the second time in a year that a report has linked Gibbons with performance-enhancing drugs - and it's just another in a steady flow of Orioles-related steroid stories.
In the past three years, those under suspicion have included Palmeiro (failed test), Jason Grimsley (federal investigation involving hGH shipments), Gibbons, Miguel Tejada and Brian Roberts (the last three allegedly mentioned in Grimsley's affidavit as steroid users, which they all denied), David Segui (mentioned in Grimsley's affidavit as using hGH, which he said was done legally through a prescription), and Jerry Hairston Jr. and Gary Matthews Jr. (allegedly received illegal shipments from Signature Pharmacy, which they deny).
Contacted yesterday by phone on the Orioles' day off, third baseman Melvin Mora said he wasn't even aware of the Gibbons report.
"You see my locker in this clubhouse is in the corner next to the door," said Mora, an Oriole since 2000 and the team's longest-tenured player. "I come in, get dressed, do my work, play the game, come back in, get dressed, go home. I know nothing about this. ... I just go and do my job.
"I don't read the paper. I don't even know. The only thing I know is we've lost a lot of games. That's the only thing I worry about."