DEA documents detail Melky Cabrera's doping timeline, actions

ByMike Fish ESPN logo
Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Baseball fans know about the Astros and Black Sox as major scandals, so it naturally figures there are calls to put asterisks next to records and championships. But you'd forgive even the most avid baseball fans for not considering whether the 2012 title-winning San Francisco Giants deserve special designation, too.

But consider the story of then-Giants star Melky Cabrera that is meticulously laid out in U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration documents obtained by ESPN. The documents, including an interview with Cabrera, reveal specific details of his testosterone-heavy doping protocols before and during the season. Fans know, of course, that he doped -- but not the specific timing, extent and impact. Cabrera played in 65 games for the Giants after testing positive, staying on the field while he and his confidants crafted what proved to be a bogus, unsuccessful defense. Further:

  • Cabrera appeared in 113 games, or 70% of San Francisco's regular-season contests -- all while under doping protocols loaded with testosterone and growth hormone designed by Biogenesis clinic founder and unlicensed Biogenesis of America clinician Tony Bosch.
  • By the time of his eventual suspension in mid-August, Cabrera led all of baseball with 159 hits, his .346 average second-best in the National League.
  • His MVP performance at the All-Star Game keyed the National League to victory, which later awarded the NL champion Giants home-field advantage for the World Series -- won in a four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers.

Cabrera declined comment for this story through his agent.

The story of how Cabrera resurrected his career by teaming with Bosch is found in more than 1,400 pages of unredacted federal documents obtained by ESPN and in interviews with Bosch and others. The scandal surrounding Bosch and his Biogenesis of America clinic broke in 2013, and, before it was over, 21 professional baseball players connected to Biogenesis were suspended by Major League Baseball, including Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz and Bartolo Colon.

The documents are from the DEA investigation -- dubbed "Operation Strikeout" and opened a decade ago -- of Bosch and his associates. The pages consist of federal agents' notes from interviews conducted with a dozen professional athletes, other Biogenesis clients and employees, and confidential sources, as well as briefs from surveillance operations and executed search warrants.

Cabrera gave his interview, using an interpreter, to federal authorities in February 2014. He was also accompanied by his attorney and his future wife.

Cabrera laid out to authorities details about when and how he tested positive for performance-enhancing drug use during the 2012 season. The timeline indicates MLB officials knew he had tested positive ahead of the All-Star Game that season, when Cabrera won the game's MVP Award and led the National League to claim home-field advantage for the Fall Classic.

While Cabrera was in Miami with the Giants to play the Marlins in a four-game series in late May 2012, he said, Bosch met him in his room at the team hotel -- the same waterfront hotel that would later house MLB investigators during their own Biogenesis probe. There, Cabrera told authorities, Bosch administered an IV for recovery purposes. Bosch also provided him with performance-enhancing substances and was paid $7,000.

A few days later, on May 28, Cabrera told authorities he received a call from an "unknown female" advising him that he had failed an MLB drug test. Bosch, in one of several interviews with authorities, said Cabrera's trainer, Bruli Medina Reyes, had "laid out the wrong PES at the wrong time for [M. Cabrera] which is why he tested positive."

The All-Star Game was several weeks later, July 10, although Cabrera's suspension wasn't announced until Aug. 15, more than a month after the All-Star Game and 68 games after he had initially tested positive. For winning the MVP Award, MLB rewarded Cabrera with the keys to a sleek, plum red, convertible Chevy Camaro ZL1 -- sticker price $59,545.

Irony of ironies, Cabrera offered the keys to Bosch -- who by this time was the target of MLB investigators then-commissioner Bud Selig had dispatched to South Florida.

"He already had a Range Rover, he had a Benz, he had all these cars," Bosch told ESPN. "He goes, 'Hey, do you want the car?'

"I said, 'No, I don't want the car. I want the cash.'

"He goes, 'But the car is worth more.'

"I said, 'F--- this, that's a dead giveaway. I want the cash.'"

Amid the postgame congratulatory handshakes and smiles, those in baseball's inner circle surely grasped the embarrassment of the moment and the bad news on the horizon. Cabrera voiced as much when he met after the game in Kansas City with Juan Carlos Nunez, a close associate employed as a "limited player agent" by his Brooklyn-based agents, Sam and Seth Levinson of ACES.

Nunez told ESPN: "It's funny because Melky tells me, 'Look, all my family, everybody's happy, happy. Only you and I know we're in deep s---."

Given their druthers, MLB officials said, Cabrera would have been suspended and not in uniform at the All-Star Game. Instead, under terms of the drug testing program negotiated with the players' union, confidentiality was maintained and the process dragged while his camp appealed the test results, only for the hearing to be canceled after a futile attempt at a cover-up was exposed.

"One of the things that we agreed to in order to get a drug program in the first instance was that there had to be confidentiality until a drug suspension had been upheld by an arbitrator," MLB commissioner Rob Manfred told ESPN.

Cabrera told authorities that Nunez, his chief adviser, was eager to fight the suspension in light of Ryan Braun's recent successful appeal. He said Nunez developed a plan to use a fraudulent website and then to blame the failed test on a cream purchased from the Dominican Republic-based site. Cabrera advised authorities he went along with the plan because he was in a "contract year and could lose a lot of money."

In the fallout, the Levinson brothers, whose sports agency represented 12 of the suspended players, were censured by the Major League Baseball Players Association for not adequately supervising Nunez, their agency's specialist for procuring Latin baseball talent. In one of his interviews with federal agents, Bosch said the Levinsons knew some of their clients were using his PEDs: "They all knew. They were in on it." However, prominent Washington-based attorney Robert F. Muse, who was retained by the players' union, found no evidence that the Levinsons participated in or had knowledge of the supplying of banned drugs to players.

The Levinsons declined comment for this story.

Cabrera's positive test was the first in a series for Bosch clients and marked the beginning of the end of Biogenesis: Bartolo Colon also was announced in August, then Yasmani Grandal in November -- all having tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone. Bosch's clinic financial officer told federal authorities at least 12 ballplayers were lost as clients in the wake of Cabrera's positive test. The clinic was in disarray. And with Bosch fueled almost daily by cocaine and booze ("It was almost the life of a rock star. It was very addicting," he told ESPN), he was ill-equipped to handle the storm that would be coming his way.

"The turning point in this whole thing is when Melky pissed dirty," Bosch told ESPN. "I said, 'I'm done. No more Grandal. No more Melky. No more of these guys. These people have an IQ of about -- I am done.'

"It was the first time that I said, 'I am going to get in trouble.' I said, 'You know what, I am doing something wrong. I know that I am breaking the law. I have pressed my luck enough. I'm not feeling right. It is bothering me.'

"I already realized that this thing had gotten so big that I didn't have the control that I needed to have. There was product that was missing. There was medication that was missing. I had my agents or my representatives selling to other ballplayers without going through the process that was established to make sure nobody got caught. ... I just said, 'OK, this is not going to be good.'"

To that point, though, Cabrera had proved a special client. He and Bosch had worked together to turn around his career. Aside from Alex Rodriguez, no ballplayer had put more money in Bosch's pocket or come in for as much care as Cabrera. Documents reveal he paid between $5,000 and $7,000 a month to Bosch, who told ESPN he kicked back a portion to Cabrera trainer Reyesand to Yuri Sucart Sr., Alex Rodriguez's cousin.

Cabrera told authorities that he paid Reyes about $35,000 a year to serve as his masseuse and oversee his weight training but that Sucart acted as the primary middleman for the drugs. Cabrera told authorities that Sucart -- previously ratted out by A-Rod as his personal drug mule -- delivered his first batch of performance-enhancing substances from Bosch. He said Sucart, who had no medical training, injected a shot of red liquid in his buttocks.

Bosch told ESPN he was awarded a $35,000 bonus from Cabrera after the 2011 season.

According to meticulously handwritten clinic logs from Dec. 21, 2011, alone -- which Bosch later confirmed to federal authorities and ESPN -- he provided the following for Cabrera:

  • 0.7 cc morning and evening subcutaneous injections containing various mixtures of growth hormone, growth hormone-releasing peptides and insulin growth factor -- taken either visceral (stomach), in the outside of the arm or outside of the thigh "because if someone only injected in one place without rotating there would be bruising, which would be a 'dead giveaway' to injecting substances," Bosch said.
  • 1.4 cc of IGF-1 once a week.
  • 1 cc injection twice a week of vitamins B6 and B12, plus a fast-acting testosterone suspension -- which is out of the system in less than 12 hours.
  • Troches or gummies containing 15% testosterone.
  • Two creams -- one containing 10% testosterone and the other containing 25% DHEA (pharmaceutical grade, not over the counter.)
  • And supplements containing L-glutathione and zinc.

Bosch and clinic staff carefully preloaded syringes. The syringes and vitamins were packaged in blue Ziploc bags. Instructions were written on the outside. Substances were color-coded to distinguish specific days of the week. They were further dumbed down with symbols of the sun and moon, indicating whether to be taken in the morning or at night.

"He didn't mess up with the sun and moon, but he messed up with the colors," Bosch said of Cabrera. "So instead of pink he got orange or something crazy like that."

Bosch had begun mapping out doping protocols for Cabrera almost two years earlier.

Nunez, the ACES sports agency representative who would later be a source in bringing Latino players to Bosch, said Alex Rodriguez and his cousin Sucart were major influences on Cabrera. Nunez told authorities he began referring MLB players to Bosch in November 2010.

As Cabrera told federal authorities, he was holed up alone in his apartment, about a 35-minute drive south of downtown Miami, feeling fat and sluggish, unsure where his next paycheck would come from. Cabrera, only 26 in November 2010, had just been released by the Atlanta Braves.

Without notice, Sucart showed up at his door. Cabrera had known Sucart since his early years with the New York Yankees, where Rodriguez's beefy cousin had roamed the clubhouse. Sucart had with him a friend -- Bosch -- who, Sucart said, "could help [Cabrera] play better baseball."

Sucart pitched the down-and-out Cabrera on working with "Dr. T," promising he'd end up "stronger and have more energy" all the while enhancing his appearance by "losing weight and lifting more weights." Bosch told Cabrera he would work his magic by creating performance-enhancing drug protocols featuring hormones and supplements, assuring Cabrera he'd never flunk a drug test.

From that meeting, "El Monstro," as Dr. T nicknamed him, enjoyed a career rebirth like few others.

Playing on a one-year, $1.25 million deal in Kansas City the next season, Cabrera killed it: He hit .305 with a career high in home runs (18), RBIs (87) and stolen bases (20). After being traded to the Giants before the 2012 season -- signing a one-year, $6 million deal -- the below-average-fielding outfielder released roughly two years earlier by the Braves turned himself into a viable MVP candidate.

When he first met Bosch, he told federal authorities, he was at the "low point" of his career. He told them that when he used the PEDs, he "felt more focused and had a better performance." Other details from the interview:

  • Cabrera injected himself with substances in his stomach for the most part. But red liquid injections containing testosterone were administered in his buttocks by Bosch, Sucart and Cabrera's trainer, Reyes, who previously had worked with Alex Rodriguez.
  • Cabrera had stopped using performance enhancers after the 2011 season, but Bosch and Sucart persuaded him to resume use before he joined the Giants in 2012. Bosch's rates went up from $5,000 to $7,000 a month after the big contract.
  • Cabrera couldn't explain banking account transfers totaling approximately $90,000 that had been wired to accounts associated with Bosch's clinic. He suggested to authorities that those might have been done by someone he had fired who used to handle his money.

Cabrera was slapped with a 50-game suspension, but it was a risk he and others willingly took. Bosch gained notoriety within the Latino baseball community after hooking up with Manny Ramirez before the 2008 season. Others, such as A-Rod, Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and Francisco Cervelli, followed over the next five years.

The rare ones, like A-Rod and Ramirez, eyed mega numbers and a plaque in Cooperstown, but Bosch said most came in hopes of a new contract or simply staying in the big leagues. And the risk of getting busted was a price they willingly accepted.

"The Latins, this is their life," Bosch said. "The All-American boy has life after baseball. There is no life after baseball for these guys. This is their lives. All they talk about is how to get better, how to make money, where they are going next. Every year they are auditioning for somebody else. And that's the way that they expressed it to me.

"Melky, he has got to be good [that] year in Kansas City. He didn't know anything about Kansas City. He knew they played jazz in Kansas City, that is it. He didn't know the hotel he was sending me to [where Bosch would provide him drugs]. I had to figure everything out. But he knew he was auditioning for the following year. That's how we did it. We were preparing for all the other clubs. It worked out well. San Francisco picked him up, and the guy made a bundle."

Cabrera came off the scrap heap to a $6 million deal with the Giants -- almost five times what he was pulling down in Kansas City.

In Bosch's view, the Cabrera doping caper proved a success. Even after Cabrera was exposed as a drug cheat in San Francisco, the Toronto Blue Jays felt comfortable the next year signing him to a two-year, $16 million deal. A three-year deal before the 2015 season with the Chicago White Sox was even sweeter, totaling $42 million. Cabrera last appeared in the majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019, retiring in 2022.

"We accomplished and we met our objectives," Bosch said. "I got what I wanted. Sure, it was a hell of a journey. And by the way, [it] cost him the glory, too. But [he] was never going to get in the Hall of Fame anyway.

"Now, Alex [Rodriguez] is a whole different game. But the Melkys, the Colons, the Cruzes, the Peraltas of the world, no. For them it is about making All-Star Games, about making the money, about meeting the requirements of the contract and getting a new contract. And moving on."

In the end, eight people were convicted as the books closed on the largest doping scandal in American sports history. Bosch pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute testosterone and was sentenced to four years in federal prison, but he was released in late 2016 and was on probation until October 2019.

Federal authorities declined to characterize Bosch's statements on an individual basis but did say that, overall, they found him to be truthful in his interviews. Not only did Bosch risk additional charges if he lied to federal agents, but prosecutors also would have declined to go before the judge in the case and seek a sentence reduction for him as the cooperation deal specified. Like the other witnesses who gave interviews to federal DEA authorities, Bosch was not under oath, in keeping with standard practice in such investigations.

Federal authorities did not target athletes or hangers-on in their investigation.

"Our focus was on the distributors and the suppliers of the drugs," said Mark Trouville, the DEA special agent in charge of the Florida office during the Biogenesis investigation. "The DEA doesn't work cases to go after users. ... We're looking for people who are distributing drugs. We're never concerned about the consumer."

Mike Fish is a senior writer at ESPN. Reach him at On X, formerly known as Twitter, his handle is @MikeFishESPN.