Matt Lawton became the 12th player suspended under the new Joint Testing and Prevention Policy of MLB, testing positive for the banned substance boldenone. Boldenone is a veterinary anabolic steroid marketed under the name equipoise, which is available throughout North America and has a dedicated following in the steroid underground. Called “weak testosterone” by experts, equipoise has not previously been the cause of a positive test in major league baseball. Equipoise has not been used much for a few reasons: the need for injections, relatively high dosings, side effects such as water retention and appetite stimulation, and a tendency to “crash” post-cycle, necessitating the use of drugs to restart the natural system. Normal cycles of equipoise tend to last ten weeks, with one 400-600mg dosage per week. It is almost always “stacked” or used in conjunction with other substances, especially testosterone. It also has a long detectable period. “Months,” said one steroid expert who wished to remain anonymous.

There remains a question about the timing of Lawton’s test. Early reports had Lawton testing positive while with either the Pirates or Cubs and the suspension delayed by appeals. Lawton, in quotes reported by the AP, denied this, saying the test came while in New York and that he had not appealed the suspension. There are discrepancies on both sides of this–the news originally leaked two weeks ago and was sourced to Lawton’s agent, who indicated that the appeal was pending. Lawton may have meant that he did not appeal the decision to an arbitrator, as is his right. Given the extended timelines for MLB appeals, whether steroid related or whacking a cameraman, the timeline for Lawton’s suspension remains murky.

The other question is “why?” Like many players, steroids remain a temptation, especially when recovering from injury or when faced with downturns in performance. Lawton had both problems. He was in the final year of his contract, having one of the worst years of his career, and was dealing with a shoulder injury that had plagued him for nearly two years. Given the drug’s characteristics, it is unlikely that Lawton could have been using this long-term, though this is impossible to know without having his testing dates made available.

While Lawton says he did not appeal, there are supplements that only recently (January 2005) became illegal that do metabolize to similar compounds to that which caused Lawton’s positive. 1,4-Andro (that’s 1 comma 4 dash Andro), a prohormone that was widely available, is a “first pass” metabolite that can convert into boldenone at a nearly 50% rate. Boldione, a substance sold by Molecular Nutrition and created by Bill Llewellyn, a noted steroid advocate, is still available in some internet stores despite its illegal status. It should be noted that Molecular Nutrition has ceased production and sales of this substance.

Lawton now faces the ten day automatic suspension, something that will likely become a factor in any free agent negotiations. Like Felix Heredia, another player named after the regular season had ended, Lawton’s suspension begins with the first game he is on a roster during the regular season. As with most steroid suspensions, there is very little factual information to go on, though in this case, the substance was outted by Dr. Gary Wadler. While Lawton’s September has some superficial resemblance to the April of Rafael Palmeiro, there is no way to make any real assumptions about the performance-enhancing effects of the substances. In any case, it will be a tough offseason for Lawton as he looks for a new team–and by the way, tomorrow’s his birthday.