Arbitrator’s decision on Alex Rodriguez imminent, resolution less so
With Wednesday’s Hall of Fame announcement out of the way, the stage is clear for the next big headline of baseball’s offseason: the ruling by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz on Alex Rodriguez 211-game suspension. The ban was handed down in early August as punishment for Rodriguez’s alleged use of performance-enhancing drug use and obstruction of Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Biogenesis clinic that reportedly provided such drugs to Rodriguez and numerous other major and minor league players.
However, Horowitz’s decision may not be the final word on the subject. The New York Daily News reported on Wednesday that, as has long been suspected, Rodriguez and his legal team are prepared to appeal an unfavorable decision in federal court and to request an injunction that would allow Rodriguez to continue to play during the course of that appeal. “The papers are all ready,” said one of the News‘ anonymous sources.
Rodriguez’s hearing concluded on Nov. 21, after which both sides had until Dec. 11 to file written briefs and an additional 10 days to file replies to the opposing briefs. Horowitz’s deadline is reportedly 25 days from his receipt of both replies, putting it at Jan. 15 at the latest.
Per the Daily News report, Rodriguez is expected to accept any reduction of his suspension that brings its duration within the scope of those handed out to the other major league players connected with Biogenesis — that is, 65 games (the length of Ryan Braun’s suspension) or less. Such a reduction would undermine any argument Rodriguez and his lawyers might make in federal court that Rodriguez was punished excessively or otherwise unfairly targeted by the commissioner’s office.
Such a reduction would also reduce Rodriguez’s financial incentive to fight Major League Baseball in federal court using some of the most expensive attorneys in the country. If suspended for the entire 211 games starting on Opening Day of the 2014 season, Rodriguez will lose roughly $31.35 million in salary, not counting the reduced likelihood of his reaching the milestone career home run totals of 660, 714, 755, 762 and 763, each of which would trigger a $6 million bonus in Rodriguez’s contract. If he’s suspended for just 65 games of the 2014 season, however, he would lose only $10 million in salary and would start his season in mid-June just six home runs shy of the first of those milestones (Rodriguez currently has 654 career home runs).
There would seem to be very little chance that Rodriguez’s suspension will be overturned in its entirety, and it’s very likely that any reduction will result in Horowitz’s dismissal by MLB, something of which Horowitz is surely aware. Shyam Das, the arbitrator who overturned Ryan Braun’s initial 50-game suspension in February 2012, was fired that May. Most famously, Peter Seitz, the arbitrator who redefined the reserve clause in the Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally case in 1975 was handed a letter informing him he was fired mere moments after delivering his decision to Baseball’s lawyer, John Gaherin. (According to John Heylar’s Lords of the Realm, upon signing Seitz’s decision, Gaherin handed Seitz the letter saying, “That’s that, and this is for you”).
That’s not to question Horowitz’s integrity, but the precedent of firing arbitrators who rule against MLB is a clear flaw in the process. In fact, it would seem to be an important aspect of Rodriguez’s potential appeal and could be essential to helping him and his legal team overcome the courts’ typical reluctance to hear appeals of grievances that have been decided through collectively bargained, binding arbitration. If Baseball dismisses Horowitz, it will be supporting Rodriguez’s appeal argument, and therefore it can’t fire him. Thus Horowitz might actually have some job security he may not otherwise have had.
For now, we wait, but don’t bother mending the garments rended over yesterday’s Hall of Fame vote. They’ll just be torn again in a few days.