So now we know. Independent arbitrator Frederic Horowitz has handed down a 162-game ban for Alex Rodriguez - the entire 2014 season including the playoffs - as punishment for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal that's gnawed away at baseball for the past year. A-Rod hasn't given up yet - his high-priced legal team is asking for a federal court injunction barring the suspension from being enforced, but just about every legal expert who's weighed in seems to agree that getting such a plea granted would be a virtual miracle. For now, we'll have to go on the assumption that 2014 won't be the year of the centaur.
A-Rod is eligible to return to the Yankees on opening day, 2015. While he'll still have three years and $61 million left on his contract, he'll be 39 years and eight months old. He'll have played a grand total of 44 games in the previous two calendar years and he'll be returning to a club that's made it clear in just about every way possible that it doesn't really want him around. It's certainly fair to ask whether A-Rod will ever play in the majors again, and since Saturday a bevy of reporters have already done just that.
Dave D'Alessandro of the Star-Ledger argues that A-Rod should negotiate a buyout and walk away from the game. He writes:
And most of all, try to swim through your narcissistic fog and recognize that you are simply not wanted anymore by your employer, and that you'd be doing everyone a favor by walking away.
Yes, let the buyout negotiation commence.
The idea that Rodriguez would accept a cent less than the $61 million owed to him is pretty far-fetched. That he should go away because it's the "right thing to do" is beyond ludicrous. He has no reason to do the Yankees any favors by letting them out of even a fraction of the foolish $275 million commitment they made to him in 2007. The fact that MLB, the team, writers and some fans don't want to see him on the field anymore probably won't affect A-Rod much, nor should it. He's given no indication that he no longer wants to play baseball. For all there is to say about him, he clearly doesn't lack confidence in himself. More than likely he feels that even at 39, 40 and 41, he can still break records, surpass career milestones and help a team win.
D'Alessandro goes on to suggest that the Yankees could counter-sue A-Rod for the remaining $61 million, pressuring him into a settlement, but since baseball already has a prescribed punishment for PED use, and has enforced it, that would be a pretty empty threat. New York couldn't get out of Jason Giambi's deal and they won't be able to free themselves from A-Rod's either.
A more realistic possibility is that the Yankees will release A-Rod and pay him his entire remaining salary just to go away. By cutting Rodriguez, the Yankees would save the $6 million in bonuses he'd receive for passing Willie Mays on the all-time home run list and possibly the $6 million he'd get for passing Babe Ruth. Unfortunately around $3.15 million of A-Rod's AAV would still count toward the luxury tax threshold in 2014 and the entire AAV of $27.5 million from 2015 through 2017 will count, too. From USA Today's Bob Nightengale:
...he'll have to [come back] drug-free, likely subjected to weekly testing. He will have $61 million remaining on his contract, but that pill may be far easier for the Yankees to swallow than the $100 million-plus he was owed when the Biogenesis scandal broke.
Nightengale may be overestimating just how "easy" that "pill" would be to swallow. $61 million is less than $110 million...sure, but it's still $61 million. That's more than it cost for the Mets to sign Curtis Granderson this winter. To make such a drastic move, the Yankees would need to decide that A-Rod has no chance of being useful on the field - a stretch, since his .771 2013 OPS was third on the team among players with 100 plate appearances or more - or that his mere presence would cause irreparable damage to the brand. That second claim is dubious, too, considering how attendance and YES ratings both rose when A-Rod returned to action late last season. The odds of the Yankees cutting their embattled third baseman a check for the largest buyout in sports history - at least before finding out if he's got anything left -seem extremely slim.
For argument's sake, let's say the Yankees do release A-Rod before the 2015 season. Would he be able to find another job? Teams have been pretty kind to players formerly connected to PEDs when they come clean and say they're sorry, even in the vaguest of terms. Giambi's become a kind of elder statesman in Cleveland and seems destined to become a manager, everyone still loves Andy Pettitte and Mark McGwire's been a hitting coach for two different teams. Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon and Jhonny Peralta inked lucrative contracts after Biogenesis-related suspensions and though his market's been disappointing, Nelson Cruz will do alright for himself as well. It's hard to believe that no team in baseball would find use for a 39-year-old A-Rod, at least on an incentive-based deal. At the very least he'd be a circus sideshow-like draw for his hometown Miami Marlins.
On the other hand, owners have appeared to enforce unofficial bans against players who've steadfastly denied PED use or who've been unapologetic about it. Though there's nothing more than circumstantial evidence to suggest collusion, Jose Canseco and Barry Bonds both found no interest on the open market despite coming off productive seasons in 2001 and 2007 respectively. Canseco batted .258/.366/.467 for the White Sox in '01 and Bonds had a whopping 1.045 OPS in '07 but neither could find work the following year. If nothing changes, it's conceivable that A-Rod might be in for similar treatment, especially since the league office's attitude toward him is so venomous. A team thinking of picking him up might fear retribution from the powers that be.
It would be convenient for baseball if A-Rod simply disappeared from the face of the game. Writers like D'Alessandro and Nightengale would relish the opportunity to wrap up his story in a tidy package, sealing his reputation as a stain on the sport and a purveyor of all things evil. But if Rodriguez has shown us one thing through this entire process it's that he's willing to fight to not let that happen. Only Alex knows to what extent he's been buoyed by chemical enhancements throughout his career, but odds are we're going to find out what he still has as he approaches his fortieth birthday. Some fans will welcome him back in 2015 with open arms while others will boo their little hearts out. One way or another, he'll be around...like it or not.
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