Amid the noise and anger, possible outcomes for Alex Rodriguez
Quite predictably, roughly 99 percent of the reactions regarding Tuesday’s bombshell revelation of a Miami clinic supplying illegal performance-enhancing drugs to professional athletes centers around Alex Rodriguez. Never mind the links to Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon and Yasmani Grandal, the last three players suspended for testosterone use, or the new allegations involving Nelson Cruz and Gio Gonzalez, or the fact that as many as 20 other major leaguers may be implicated – it’s the sport’s highest-paid and most controversial player who is the focus of attention, even here at SI.com.
As with Rodriguez’s October slump, subsequent benching and the ensuing wishcasting of his departure, some of the 37-year-old slugger’s latest woes have provoked their share of hostile and irrational reactions. In their rush to judgement, many have not only suggested that he be suspended, but that the Yankees should cut him adrift, that he may never play another game, or that he shouldn’t even defend himself from the charges. As with so much of the conversation when it comes to PEDs (anabolic steroids, human growth hormone and amphetamines), some of it is pure grandstanding, writers fantasizing about administering frontier justice to dispose of Rodriguez so we never need to hear about him again.
Let’s take a look at the spectrum of possible outcomes for Rodriguez and what’s being said along these lines, both by irrational and rational members of the mainstream media.
• Major League Baseball could suspend Rodriguez
Despite the fact that this is the second PED scandal in which the Yankee slugger has become embroiled in the last four years, he has yet to officially test positive under the game’s testing regime. His 2009 admission of use during his years with the Rangers pertained to leaked information that he had tested positive during the supposedly anonymous 2003 survey test, which was conducted to determine if it was necessary for the introduction of mandatory testing; it did not result in a suspension or other discipline. The identities of the individuals involved in the survey test were supposed to be protected, but the results and the key to match specimen numbers to player names were seized by overzealous federal investigators during the BALCO investigation instead of being destroyed as originally mandated.
Even without a positive test, it’s possible that Rodriguez could be suspended. Under Section G of the Joint Drug Agreement (PDF here), the commissioner can subject a player to disciplinary action for “just cause.” As MLB.com’s Yankee beat writer Bryan Hoch pointed out, Jay Gibbons, Jose Guillen and Jordan Schafer were suspended in 2007 and 2008 for “non-analytical positives” when MLB learned that they had purchased human growth hormone.
But as with any legal bombshell, there’s a fair distance between the spectacle created by an initial reporting of wrongdoing and an outcome determined via due process. Such a suspension isn’t going to be handed down simply because of a pile of newspapers on Bud Selig’s desk, URLs on his computer, or shock and outrage among fans and media members. Via a statement, MLB says that it is conducting its own investigation of the claims from the Miami New Times:
“We remain fully committed to following all leads and seeking the appropriate outcomes for all those who use, purchase and are involved in the distribution of banned substances, which have no place in our game…”
“We are in the midst of an active investigation and are gathering and reviewing information. We will refrain from further comment until this process is complete.”
The New York Post‘s Ken Davidoff pointed out the distance between the report and MLB’s potential action:
As of now, we have a terrific newspaper story that isn’t much of a prosecutorial case. We have a notebook with someone writing, “I sold drugs to A-Rod and a bunch of other guys.”
It’s going to take considerably more than that to bring down A-Rod and his pals. For starters, Anthony Bosch would have to confirm that yes, he did write that and yes, he did sell those drugs to those people. Then he’d have to provide additional evidence that these actions occurred. Canceled checks? Prescription slips? Photos of A-Rod? It’s got to be something good.
Even if MLB uncovers sufficient evidence to corroborate the MNT report and suspend Rodriguez, as a first-time offender under the JDA he will be subject to only a 50-game ban. Furthermore, precedent shows that he will be allowed to serve that suspension during the time that he’s on the disabled list, which he apparently will be until sometime after the All-Star break given the six-month recovery timeline previously reported following his hip surgery earlier this month. In 2010, the Reds’ Edinson Volquez served his 50-game suspension while rehabbing his way back from Tommy John surgery, and last year, the Phillies’ Freddy Galvez served his 50 games while recovering from a stress fracture in his back.
Despite recent changes to the JDA to allow for in-season testing for HGH and for the creation of a longitudinal profiling program, it doesn’t appear as though that DL loophole has been closed. Rodriguez wouldn’t draw his salary during that suspension, but he wouldn’t miss any additional games. The Los Angeles Times‘ Bill Shaikin termed that potential outcome “the hollowest of suspensions.”
• The Yankees could release Rodriguez
Rodriguez still has five years remaining on the 10-year, $275 million deal he signed in December 2007, with another $114 million coming his way; his salary is already receding from its 2009-2010 peak of $32 million annually, and he’ll make “only” $28 million in 2013, with the money eventually drawing down to $20 million in 2017. If the Yankees were to release him they would be on the hook for nearly all of the remaining money, with the team picking him up paying him only the prorated minimum annual salary, currently $490,000.
After Rodriguez’s admission to using PEDs four years ago, the New York Daily News‘ Bill Madden suggested that the Yankees set him adrift:
Cut him loose — no matter the cost.
As difficult as it is to imagine eating $270 million, the Bombers will be making a statement, not just for the Yankee brand but for baseball as a whole.
As a rationally run business with one eye on winning championships and the other on their bottom line, the Yankees did no such thing. They went on to win the World Series title later that year, their sole one since Rodriguez’s acquisition in February 2004. This time around, the opinion that Rodriguez should be released is mainly coming from fans via Twitter and talk radio/television personalities, not professional journalists.
• The Yankees could void Rodriguez’s contract
This is perhaps the most popular position, and in fact ESPNNew York.com’s Andrew Marchand and Wallace Matthews report that the Yankees are already trying to do so, but that their efforts aren’t likely to work. First, there’s no precedent for a team succeeding via this tack, as the Yankees discovered when they tried to rid themselves of Jason Giambi amid the BALCO scandal. The collectively bargained Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program specifically prevents teams from administering additional punishment beyond the mandatory 50-game suspension stipulated for a first-time offender. As Marchand and Matthews wrote:
Section 7, paragraph M of the agreement states, “All authority to discipline Players for violations of the Program shall repose with the Commissioner’s Office. No Club may take any disciplinary or adverse action against a Player (including, but not limited to, a fine, suspension, or any adverse action pursuant to a Uniform Player’s Contract) because of a Player’s violation of the Program.”
“Baseball’s drug policy was specifically written so that teams can’t do things like this,” one of the sources said. “You can’t use this to try to get out of the last years of a contract.”
Furthermore, any attempt by the Yankees to take action is likely to be thwarted by the fact that they didn’t challenge the existing contract — which isn’t known to have any non-standard morals clause or special language pertaining to PED usage — after the previous revelations. Again from Marchand and Matthews: “By their failure to act in 2009, the Yankees can be legally found to have ‘ratified’ Rodriguez’s behavior, defined as one party “accepting and approving the conduct of the other.”
• The Yankees and/or Rodriguez could find a doctor to say he’s medically unable to continue playing
This bad idea was first voiced via Twitter by ESPN’s often combative and controversial Darren Rovell. He tweeted, “Best scenario for Yanks might be for A-Rod to never return. Get Dr to say his injuries are career ending. Yankees pay w/insurance.” As was quickly pointed out by several lawyers including FanGraphs’ Wendy Thurm (@hangingsliders on Twitter), “Falsifying A-Rod’s injuries & forcing him to retire to obtain insurance = federal mail & wire fraud. Much more serious crime than using PEDs.” Even so, the idea found its way into several columns. The Bergen Record‘s Bob Klapisch, who called Rodriguez “baseball’s all-time fraud,” outlined a similar ploy, albeit at the player’s doing:
Just wait and see, A-Rod will find a doctor to say he’s medically unable to keep playing, like Albert Belle, whose own career ended in 2000 because of hip problems. This convenient detour will allow A-Rod to pocket the rest of his money and give the Yankees 85 percent reimbursement from their insurers.
Dishonest or not, it would be the ultimate face-saver, and don’t think for a minute Yankee elders aren’t praying for this very road map.
Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal outlined nearly the same position:
Specifically, Rodriguez might find a doctor who says he is suffering from a career-ending injury, collect the $114 million remaining on his contract and never play again … A-Rod can attempt to go through his rehabilitation, then make the case that he is physically unable to perform. A doctor surely could make such a diagnosis quite plausible, given the weakened condition of Rodriguez’s two hips.
After it was pointed out that what he had suggested might constitute fraud, Rosenthal amended the wording of that slightly: “Specifically, a doctor might determine that Rodriguez is suffering from a career-ending injury… I’m not suggesting insurance fraud, as some who read the initial version of this column believed…”
Beyond the fraud angle, the bigger stumbling block is that the injury is not though to be career-threatening. The Yankees themselves said that his anticipated recovery time was six months. Earlier this week, general manager Brian Cashman admitted that it was possible Rodriguez could miss the season but that “It’s not the likely outcome. It’s not what the doctors expect.” After the surgery was performed a couple of weeks ago, the New York Daily News‘ Anthony McCarron reported that Rodriguez’s surgeon, Dr. Bryan Kelly, told the Yankees that he discovered less cartilage damage than was suspected. “It was minimal,” the source said. “Now it’s up to his rehab.”
• Rodriguez has tarnished his legacy and will never get into the Hall of Fame
The reaction from several voting members of the Baseball Writers Association of America was swift with regards to how history will regard Rodriguez. “He is never going to the Hall of Fame, although he is a certified first ballot candidate for the Hall of Stupid,” wrote Madden in Wednesday’s Daily News. “This week’s story simply cost him whatever little piece of his legacy he still controlled,” wrote CBS Sports’ Danny Knobler. “A-Rod is done… When I say, “done,” I’m talking about Alex Rodriguez’s reputation. His attempt to rehabilitate his once-pristine image. And, of course, his chances of making the Hall of Fame,” wrote Rosenthal.
The recent Hall of Fame voting showed that a majority of voting members of the BBWAA are thus far unwilling to forgive any player about whom there’s more than mere suspicion of PED usage, at least to the extent of inducting them into Cooperstown. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, both the focus of federal trials related to investigations into whether they lied under oath about using PEDs — trials that cost tens of millions of dollars but produced exactly one conviction for obstruction of justice between them (Bonds’) — received 37.6 and 36.2 percent of the vote, respectively, despite overwhelming credentials suggesting they belonged in Cooperstown. Mark McGwire, who admitted to PED usage three years ago, received 16.9 percent, his lowest share in seven years on the ballot. Sammy Sosa, who reportedly failed the 2003 survey test, got just 12.5 percent in his first year on the ballot. Rafael Palmeiro, who failed a test in 2005, netted just 8.8 percent, his lowest share yet in three years on the ballot.
None of those players are gaining entry anytime soon, though first-timers Clemens, Bonds and Sosa still have another 14 years on the ballot unless they fall below the 5.0 percent mark, and many high-profile writers have allowed that they may change their minds in the future about voting for such players. If Rodriguez had come onto the ballot this year before the new allegations, his share probably would have fallen into the McGwire-Sosa range rather than the Bonds-Clemens range because of his previous admission and the survey test info. He’s not on the ballot this year or next, however. Even if he never played another game, the earliest he would come up for election would be on the 2018 ballot, by which time Bonds and Clemens may well have gained entry, toppling any notion of a unified zero-tolerance stance among voters. Assuming Rodriguez received at least the minimum share required to remain on the ballot, his eligibility would run through 2032. If he were able to play out the remainder of his contract through 2017, his eligibility would run from 2023 through 2037, 24 years from now.
By then, much of today’s electorate — which, based on the requirement of 10 consecutive years of service, was covering the game before testing was in place and was therefore among those duped — will have turned over. Writers whose anger at the users is part of their own embarrassment at having fawned over McGwire and Sosa during the 1998 home run chase or celebrated Clemens’ workout regime instead of investigating the complicity of the owners, players union and commissioner in turning a blind eye to drugs which have been around the sport since at least the late 1980s will be gone. In place will be younger generations with less first-hand connection to the period, and they may well view those players — including Rodriguez — in a different light, particularly as new medical procedures and even genetic modification blurs the line between means of performance enhancement.
It’s a cliche to say that “time will tell” when it comes to Rodriguez’s fate, but a legacy is something that’s determined over a long period of time, not via a knee-jerk response to breaking news. In the wake of the latest revelations, the urge to shovel dirt on Rodriguez is understandable, but much of it is founded in fantasies that some process can make him disappear. Like the rest of the steroid scandal of the past few decades, that’s simply impossible.