As MLB and Alex Rodriguez dig in for what promises to be a contentious arbitration hearing, recent comments by the Players Association suggest that a compromise could have – and should have – been reached between Rodriguez and MLB. In a radio interview yesterday, Michael Weiner, executive director of the Players Association, said, "I don't want to give a number, but there was a number that I gave A-Rod and we advised him to take it...Based on the evidence that we saw, we made a recommendation. The commissioner's office didn't meet it. They were much higher. And, therefore, we're at a hearing."
While Weiner refused to disclose the number he had in mind, a 150-game suspension would have been a reasonable compromise. According to the N.Y. Daily News, Rodriguez’s best offer was for an 80- to 100-game suspension with the promise that he would retire after the suspension. On Monday, Commissioner Selig imposed a 211-game suspension. A 150-game suspension is in the middle of what Rodriguez supposedly offered and what Selig imposed, and there are principled reasons why that number makes sense.
A 50-game suspension is the mandatory penalty for a first-time PED offender. Rodriguez qualifies as a first offender. A suspension of 80-100 games is the penalty for a first-time offender who "participates in the sale or distribution" of a PED. Thus, 150 games is the sum of the mandatory penalty for first-time PED use and the maximum penalty for a first-time distribution offense.
MLB has not made its evidence public, but news accounts have suggested that MLB has evidence that Rodriguez steered other players to the Biogenesis clinic. Selig has not confirmed this. He has mentioned only PED use and obstruction of the investigation. Perhaps Rodriguez’s offer of an 80- to 100-game suspension tipped Rodriguez’s hand as to what evidence MLB has. If he did steer other players to Biogenesis, his 80- to 100-game offer makes sense.
A 150-game suspension would have made benefited all sides. For Selig, it is be a penalty far above that imposed on the other Biogenesis players. It would have treated Rodriguez as the most serious offender among the group. For Rodriguez, it would have reduced his suspension by 61 games and saved him $9.4 million that he will lose if his 211-game suspension is upheld. It would have enabled him to resume his career with his suspension behind him about a year from now. If his 211-game suspension is upheld this off-season, he will not be able to resume his post-suspension career until part way into the 2015 season, when he will be nearing 40. For the Players Association, the penalty would have come exclusively from the Joint Drug Agreement. It would have avoided an issue that troubles the Association: the Commissioner’s use of the CBA as part of his justification for a PED suspension.
Is this deal still possible? Anything it possible but it is highly unlikely. Weiner said MLB refused to even consider his offer last Saturday. It is difficult to see why Selig would change his mind now. While Weiner had a number that the Association considers fair, he did not say that Rodriguez would have accepted it. The major variable may be Rodriguez himself. He has three sets of lawyers: David Cornwell, the sports-law expert; a prestigious Manhattan labor-law firm; and the attorneys for rapper Jay Z and his Roc Nation. In this type of negotiation, there needs to be one person who can speak frankly and bluntly to the defendant, telling him what he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear. With three sets of lawyers, one wonders if there is that one voice within Team A-Rod.