PHOENIX -- The Brewers were scrambling on Tuesday morning to replenish their catching depth after Major League Baseball suspended Pedro Severino for 80 games without pay following a positive test for Clomiphene, a banned substance under the league’s PED prevention program. Clomiphene is common in female fertility medications and is characterized as a performance-enhancing drug by MLB because it can alter testosterone levels in men.
Severino released a statement via the MLBPA after the suspension was announced.
“Since late 2020, my wife and I had been trying to start a family unsuccessfully. When we returned to the Dominican Republic after the 2021 season, we sought medical assistance to determine why we had not succeeded. One of the doctors I consulted with prescribed me with a medication to treat infertility issues. Unfortunately, I now know that the medication contained Clomiphene.
"I accept responsibility for this mistake and I have decided not to challenge my suspension. I have been a professional baseball player since I was 16 years old, and I have also been in the big leagues for parts of seven seasons. I have been tested over 100 times in my career and I had never had an issue. In my attempt to start a family, I made a mistake.
"With that said, I want to apologize to the Milwaukee Brewers organization, the staff, my teammates and our fans for letting you down. I hope you guys can accept me back in July and we can have a great second half.”
The 28-year-old Severino was having a productive spring -- .435 average, three doubles, two home runs in eight games -- and stood to play a significant role with the Brewers after a three-week crash course with a new pitching staff. The seven-year veteran of the Nationals and Orioles signed for $1.9 million on Nov. 11, and he was supposed to open the season as Milwaukee’s backup to primary catcher Omar Narváez.
Now, the Brewers find themselves thin at a critical position on the same day they broke camp -- and two days before Opening Day against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Severino informed Brewers officials on Monday that he was facing a suspension, according to Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns, and the team immediately ramped up efforts to acquire a catcher via free agency or trade.
MLB.com’s free agent tracker lists three unsigned catchers: 39-year-old Jeff Mathis, 34-year-old Wilson Ramos and 37-year-old José Lobaton. One former Brewers catcher, Stephen Vogt, just signed with the A’s on March 24, and while another, Jonathan Lucroy, is a free agent, the fact he is being inducted to the Wall of Honor at American Family Field this summer indicates Lucroy has elected to retire.
“This time of year, this timeframe a couple of days from Opening Day, is not the ideal timeframe to be looking for a specific team need,” Stearns said. “But we are already actively engaged in conversations. We’ll see if anything comes of that in the next 24-48 hours. If not, we have confidence in what we have internally.”
Stearns added: “This is probably a conversation that is going to be ongoing for the next few months.”
The other two catchers currently on the Brewers’ 40-man roster have one game of Major League experience between them. Mario Feliciano, No. 21 on MLB Pipeline’s list of Milwaukee’s top prospects, made a brief Major League debut last season before a right shoulder impingement derailed the rest of his season in the Minors. The Brewers also signed catcher/utility man Brett Sullivan over the winter after he posted a .678 OPS for the Rays’ Triple-A club in 2021. Jakson Reetz, a non-roster invitee, is the other catcher in the system who saw significant time in Major League camp this spring.
Between them, those three catchers have three MLB plate appearances: Two for Reetz, one for Feliciano and none for Sullivan.
“I'm not concerned,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We're going to have things happen the fifth day of the season, the tenth day of the season. Things are going to happen. Players are going to get injured or be unavailable and that's just part of a baseball season.”
Of a potential jump to the Majors for Sullivan or Feliciano, Counsell said, “Young catchers always have challenges and it will be no different for them. It's going to be a fast learning process for them and that's all right. They're not the first guys that had a fast learning process.”
Counsell expressed disappointment that the work Severino put into his defense and learning the Brewers’ pitching staff will not pay dividends at the start of the season. Severino came to the Brewers with a reputation as a good hitter and average defender, and had put in a lot of time, Counsell said, to improving behind the plate. Narváez has made significant improvements in that area under the Brewers’ watch.
“We wrap him up with love,” said reliever Brent Suter, the Brewers’ representative to the MLBPA. “What else can you do? We all make mistakes. We all slip up. You can’t condemn somebody else when we have all made mistakes. So, we wrap him up in love and say, ‘We can’t wait to see you in July.’”