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MLB to Standardize Shared Medical Data Protocol for Trade Talks

November 15, 2016
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Major League Baseball (MLB) will now standardize the medical information that must be shared during trade negotiations in the wake of one of the league’s general managers hiding medical data from teams this summer.

Kyle Glaser of Baseball America reported on Nov. 9 that MLB intends to introduce a formal standard specifying exactly what medical information must be disclosed by teams in trade discussions following suspicious activity from San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller this year. Indeed, at the annual general manager meetings last week, MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said, “We’ve talked about medical records given the issues we had this season, and I think we’re going to focus on trying to do even a better job of standardizing that process when clubs exchange records. General managers received an update on that whole process.”

This summer, the Padres made deals with three teams— the Boston Red Sox, Miami Marlins and Chicago White Sox—in which officials from those teams “were enraged by what they perceived to be strategic deception: veiling medical information that could have been pivotal in trade discussions. At least one other team reached out to the commissioner's office with a complaint, according to sources,” ESPN senior baseball reporter Buster Olney conveyed in a September article. Olney’s report attested that the Padres tell their organization's athletic trainers to maintain two separate files of medical information on their players—one for industry consumption and the other for the team's internal use.

According to Olney, “All MLB teams feed medical information into a central database known as the Sutton Medical System, designed to both maintain the privacy of individual players and to be accessible to teams when needed—such as when trades are made. Any time a player goes into the training room and receives treatment…those details are supposed to be entered into records.” Olney’s report continued, “When teams close in on trades, the athletic trainers usually exchange codes needed to access the medical information stored on the players in question so inquiring teams can learn about a player's physical condition.”

Preller, who has been working in the Padres front office since 2010, was subsequently suspended by MLB for 30 days on Sept. 16. In one trade, the league ruled that he failed to disclose relevant medical information to the Red Sox in the trade of pitcher Drew Pomeranz to Boston for pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza. Another trade with the Marlins sent pitcher Colin Rea Miami in a seven-player deal. But Rea suffered a torn UCL after his first start with the Marlins. Rea was sent back to the Padres following the injury.

According to the Baseball America report, Halem said, “This is kind of an area where we’ve been moving each year since we adopted the electronic medical records . . . to get more consistency and standardization across clubs. It was largely left to a committee of athletic trainers to determine the types of records each club should maintain and how to maintain them. We’re going to formalize it a little more and contemplate pushing for guidance in terms of what has to be in and what has to be out. Just make sure everybody has confidence in the system.”

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