Miguel Sano is currently under investigation for violating the league's domestic violence policy. At last report, he had been interviewed by MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred which is typically indicative that the investigation is nearing completion. Any announcement of a suspension should be coming soon. Is there any way to forecast the length of Sano's suspension? I will outline the prior cases and compare them to Sano's to see if there's any reasonable prediction.
Before we get too far, I want to state a couple of things for the record.
First, I'm assuming that the allegations of Sano's behavior are 100% true. I have no additional knowledge of the case beyond what has been published. I haven't interviewed Sano (or anyone else). I am presuming Sano to be guilty exactly as charged. (This is not a court of law.) I freely acknowledge there is additional information which MLB has collected as part of their investigation that will factor into the ultimate decision. I am merely stating that my guess here is based strictly on publicly available information.
Second, I will do my best to compare the cases based only on facts. I do not wish to make or imply any kind of judgement of the severity or impact of any of the alleged incidents. My purpose is not to make any moral equivalency - I'm confident that any kind of assault or violence is awful enough to experience that any punishment handed down isn't sufficient to balance out the physical or psychological damage. If you want to discuss whether the MLB punishment in this or any other case will deter or reduce the likelihood of future incidents, you're welcome to do it on your own. I'm only interested here in projecting how long the Twins may be without Sano's services - nothing more.
The policy against which Sano's actions are being judged is a joint policy of the league and the players association covering domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. It was announced on August 15, 2015. The fact that the policy was jointly agreed to by both the league and the players association may partially explain why none of the previous suspensions handed down under the policy have been appealed. (An appeals process is defined as part of the policy, but has never been exercised.)
There have been five prior suspensions issued (all by Commissioner Manfred) under the policy. Besides Sano's case there is one additional case that is still under investigation (or at least has not yet resulted in any announced suspension).
Here are the prior suspensions, in chronological order:
- Aroldis Chapman - 30 games
- Jose Reyes - 51 games plus all of Spring Training
- Hector Olivera - 82 games
- Jeurys Familia - 15 games
- Derek Norris - 27 games (technically none served as he had already been released, he forfeited his salary and was ineligible to be re-signed as a free agent)
- Addison Russell - case pending - according to reports, the alleged victim(s) and witnesses are not fully cooperating with the MLB investigation
As you can see, there is no immediately apparent pattern to the length of the suspensions. This reflects the discretion built into the policy to allow the commissioner to address the unique circumstances of each incident. In other words, no two situations are going to be alike, so you can't have a fixed/formula suspension as with PEDs.
Aroldis Chapman, 30 games - Chapman was alleged to have placed his hands around the throat of his girlfriend's neck during an argument and of firing a gun eight times into the wall of the garage as his girlfriend cowered outside in the bushes. A police report was filed. Chapman was not arrested. Prosecutors ultimately chose not to press charges, citing conflicting accounts and insufficient evidence (due to incomplete witness cooperation). https://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/02/sports/baseball/yankees-aroldis-chapman-suspended-for-30-games.html
Jose Reyes, 51 games - Reyes was accused of grabbing his wife by the throat and pushing her into a sliding glass door during an argument. Police were called and Reyes was arrested. Prosecutors pressed charges and a trial date was set. However, due to lack of cooperation from the alleged victim (Reyes' wife) the case was dismissed "without prejudice" which means they could bring charges again if the statue of limitations has not expired.
Hector Olivera, 82 games - Olivera was accused of assaulting a woman at the team's hotel. Police were called and Olivera was arrested and subsequently charged with misdemeanor assault and battery. He was convicted and sentenced to 90 days in prison (80 days suspended).
Jeurys Familia, 15 games - Familia was accused of domestic abuse in an incident involving his wife. Police were called and Familia was arrested. Charges were dismissed due to "not enough evidence". In announcing the suspension, Commissioner Manfred indicated that the evidence he reviewed "does not support a determination that Mr. Familia physically assaulted his wife or threatened her or others with harm…" He further stated, "Nevertheless, I have concluded that Mr. Familia's overall conduct that night was inappropriate, violated the policy and warrants discipline."
Derek Norris, 27 games - Norris was accused (via a social media post) by his former fiancé of physical and verbal abuse that occurred in 2015 (approximately two years prior to her post alleging the behavior). No police report was filed. Norris denied the allegations but did not appeal the suspension. He was a free agent at the time, having been released by the Rays shortly after the allegations came to light. He forfeited his salary and was ineligible to play had he been re-signed.
Reviewing Sano's case, we know that the allegations were published via social media quite some time after the incident occurred and that no police report was filed at the time. (Again, this is not to call into question the veracity of the victim nor the severity of the alleged assault - merely as facts which can be related to other previous cases.) To the best of my knowledge, no criminal charges are pending though the appropriate Minnesota authorities have not indicated they have closed any pending investigations.
There are clear parallels with the Norris case - social media as the vehicle, time of allegation compared with the alleged incident and the absence of a police report. The absence of a police report is particularly significant because there are no contemporaneously gathered statements or evidence to guide the investigation or against which to compare any recollections by any witness.
There are also clear differences between Sano's case and those of Chapman, Olivera and Reyes. There was no arrest of Sano, no prosecution/charges (at this time) and no alleged use of weapons as with Chapman's case. (Manfred stated the use of a weapon was a contributing factor in his assessment of Chapman's case and his determination of a suspension.)
The Familia case is interesting in that police were called but ultimately no charges were filed. Media reports at the time indicated that the incident may have merely been a verbal altercation and that evidence of physical assault may have been due to other causes. Nonetheless, the commissioner determined the conduct was "inappropriate" and "warrants discipline".
The other pattern I discern in the suspensions is that other than Chapman's (the first case investigated under the policy) and Familia's (the shortest suspension levied) all of the other suspensions were 'time-based' - that is they were defined to expire as of the first of a month. I believe this is a significant indicator.
Given the above, it is my conjecture that Sano's suspension will be approximately one month, set to end on or about the first of the following month. Since the MLB investigation is nearing its conclusion (by all reports), it would seem likely that Sano would be suspended before the start of the season through April to be reinstated on or about May 1. If he were eligible to return on May 1, that would translate to 28 games (assuming no rainouts).
On May 1, the Twins are at home. Further, they plan to recognize the Minnesota Lynx for their championship that night. I can't help but think that all parties would recognize the bad optics of promoting the success of women's athletics on the same night an accused offender is returned to the field. The Twins also play at home the next night, May 2 before going on the road.
Thus, my final projection is that Sano will be suspended at the start of the season for 30 games. Starting with opening day, 30 games would carry them through May 2, at least (the entire home stand) and allow him to return to action on the road. If a game or two in April is rained out, they'll still be on the road, since they start a 10-day road trip on May 3.
It's unclear whether the suspension would allow for any concurrent minor league rehab starts while he is suspended. If not, then it makes sense for the suspension to end May 1 - the Twins could send Sano down to Rochester for a few games to avoid any awkwardness of a home debut (particularly on MN Lynx Day).
Sano can also expect to spend some time in sensitivity training, community service or similar activities to demonstrate his commitment to a better understanding of acceptable social interaction. Also, look for the Twins to donate any forfeited salary to a domestic violence-related charity. All that is as it should be, just not germane to my objective in this post.
Ultimately, we won't know until the Commissioner speaks. As noted above, no suspension under this policy has been appealed and I would expect the same outcome here. I would guess we'll see Sano on the field about the same time we see Santana - early May.
Note: Yasiel Puig was investigated under this policy for an incident involving his sister that occurred in a nightclub in 2015. After MLB completed its investigation, it issued a statement that Puig would not be suspended because their investigation did not uncover any witness who supported the allegation of assault.