The day has come. Over five months have passed since Bud Selig released a ruling, and after weeks of waiting the Yankees have finally received the arbitrator's decision regarding Alex Rodriguez. As of right now, the Yankees third baseman will be suspended for the entirety of the 2014 regular season, plus any postseason games the team will take part in. The number was reduced from the original 211 games handed down back in August. Fredric Horowitz agreed with MLB that Rodriguez violated the Joint Drug Agreement, but he struck down the accusation that he interfered with MLB's investigation into Biogenesis.
The question to ask now is whether or not the decision by Horowitz was fair. The 162 game ban for A-Rod will be the largest for any player suspended under the Joint Drug Agreement, and he is the only player, other than Ryan Braun, to be suspended more than the typical 50 games for a first time offense. Predictably, Rodriguez released a statement almost immediately vowing to take the arbitrator's decision to Federal Court as he still hopes to suit up for the Yankees come Opening Day.
I'll be the first to admit that the number came as a surprise to me. When the report came that a Federal judge rejected MLB's request to hold A-Rod's PR guru in contempt, I had felt that the most he would get would be 100 games. MLB was not able to meet their burden of proof that he interfered with their investigation. If it was solely a drug punishment for a first time offender, it's hard to understand exactly how they ended up at 162 games. Nowhere in the Basic Agreement does that number pop up for a drug-related discipline (and his legal team is sure to argue that in both their lawsuit against MLB and their attempt to get an injunction), though it is worth noting that the same rules may not apply for a suspension that does not result from a positive test.
Regarding the Yankees, for months it had seemed as if the team was rooting for a suspension exactly of this nature in order to get under $189 million for 2014, especially since they haven't exactly had the smoothest of relationships with their highest paid player in recent months. Now, though, I wonder if that's still the case. The signings of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran put the Yankees very close to that magic number even without Rodriguez's $27 million on the books, and if they're serious about their bid for Masahiro Tanaka then it's very possible that they were going over that limit no matter what the circumstance. Say what you want about A-Rod, but he is by far the best player the team can hope for at third base. If their backup plan really is Eduardo Nunez, then I already want A-Rod back.
Right now, all we can do is wait for what comes next, because this surely isn't over. Rodriguez and his legal team have vowed to take this into Federal Court since day one, and A-Rod repeated his intentions in his statement today. The Players Association also released a statement saying they will no longer comment on the decision, so this fight has turned into Alex Rodriguez vs. Major League Baseball. The Yankees, meanwhile, would be best served to find a third baseman that is not named Eduardo Nunez. As far as I'm concerned, the biggest problem here is the huge black hole that Rodriguez leaves in the middle of the lineup with no legitimate replacement available. This suspension may increase the likelihood that the team re-signs Mark Reynolds, and it should also increase a possible role for Kelly Johnson. It's unlikely though that they'll be able to make any big splashes at the position, only a month before spring training.
On the surface, it's hard to know exactly what to make of A-Rod's suspension since none of us have personally seen the evidence that's gone into it. Do I think that A-Rod used PEDs? I would not at all be surprised if that was the case. However, the length of the suspension and the way MLB investigators went about gathering evidence certainly gives the feeling that there was another side to it. What A-Rod's legal team has accused MLB of is serious, and while an arbitrator is free to ignore it and simply focus on the issue at hand, a Federal Judge certainly wouldn't. At this point, it's now a question of where we go from here.