Could Alex Rodriguez be a Newark Bear next year? It’s possible but would require a series of unlikely events
If Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension stands, he will miss the 2014 season and the beginning of the 2015 season. He will be barred from major-league and affiliated minor-league ball, but he might consider playing in an independent league. He doesn’t need the money, but facing live pitching every day might increase the odds of playing for the Yankees when his suspension ends. He might also like the attention his presence on an independent team would bring.
The Newark Bears, a member of the Can-Am League, would love to have him.
"The Newark Bears ownership, coaches and players would welcome A-Rod to be a part of the Bears family," said Daniel Frankel, director of media relations for the Bears. "He is still a very good hitter and would be a great addition to have his bat and glove in our lineup."
Rodriguez would not be the first former major-leaguer to play for the Bears. Former Yankees Rickey Henderson and Jose Canseco and former Yankee draft-pick Carl Everett all played for Newark. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Bears were the Yankees’ top farm team, sending players to New York in assembly-line fashion.
Frankel said that Rodriguez’s presence would be good for the Bears and for the region. "This opportunity to have Alex Rodriguez be a Newark Bear would not only be great for Alex to stay in shape, but would also greatly impact the community and surrounding area for the state of New Jersey." He predicted increased attendance, noting that the Bears play in a modern stadium in Newark (Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium) and are in the middle of northern New Jersey’s strong Yankee fan base.
There are, however, significant obstacles to Rodriguez playing for the Bears. Gone are the days of the outlaw leagues, where banished players like Shoeless Joe Jackson could play.
Rodriguez will remain under contract to the Yankees until the end of 2017. His contract gives the Yankees the right "to enjoin him from playing baseball for any other person or organization during the term of his contract." Another part of his contract prohibits him from participating in any sport, amateur or professional, "involving a substantial risk of personal injury." The Yankees used the latter to void Aaron Boone’s contract after he hurt himself in a pick-up basketball game.
The Yankees and Rodriguez could negotiate a waiver of these terms. However, given the recent ill will between them, that is not likely. The Yankees may feel that the dangers of injury from playing independent ball outweigh any benefits. After all, they will owe him more than $50 million when his suspension ends. On the other hand, they might feel that it makes sense for him to stay in playing shape during his suspension. MLB would also have to approve any contract modification and that seems unlikely because it might be seen as giving Rodriguez a way to circumvent his suspension.
If the Yankees were to release Rodriguez, independent league teams might be free to sign him. He would no longer be under contract to a major-league team, but would still be under an MLB suspension. A release is not likely, however, because of the money the Yankees owe him on the balance of his contract.
Even if he were no longer under contract, some independent leagues would stay away.
Joe Klein, executive director of the Atlantic League, said no team in his league would sign a player under MLB suspension. "We respect MLB discipline and they ours." The Atlantic League includes the Somerset Patriots and the Long Island Ducks. Marc Russinoff, vice president of the Somerset Patriots, agrees with the League’s position.
Going off-shore may not be an option either. The N.Y. Times recently reported that professional leagues in Japan, Korea and Taiwan all honor MLB suspensions.