Have We Seen the Last of Alex Rodriguez in Major League Baseball?

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Have We Seen the Last of Alex Rodriguez in Major League Baseball?
Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Rodriguez was slated to return to the New York Yankees on Monday. But then he strained his quad over the weekend, putting his comeback on hold for a while longer.

This is assuming, of course, that Rodriguez isn't suspended by Major League Baseball first. The latest report says this is something that is moving away from "if" and more towards "when."

According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, a suspension for Rodriguez stemming from MLB's investigation into Biogenesis is "all but assured." What's more, Heyman cites sources close to the third baseman who say A-Rod is actually expecting a suspension at this point, and it's easy to speculate that he's expecting one soon now that the league has dealt with Ryan Braun, as reported by Adam McCalvy of MLB.com.

If/when MLB lowers the hammer on Rodriguez, there's a slight chance he'll never set foot on a major league diamond again. In pinstripes or any other uniform.

But please note the word "slight" in the above paragraph. It's not there just because it sounds good; the odds of Rodriguez never being seen again are indeed slight.

The only reason we can even begin to discuss the possibility is because a possible lifetime ban for Rodriguez has to be taken at least a little seriously. He's not in the same boat as the other players linked to Biogenesis, the shuttered anti-aging clinic in Miami, and director Anthony Bosch. The evidence against Rodriguez is apparently much more plentiful.

"MLB has receipts, checks, the whole nine yards," a person with ties to A-Rod told Heyman.

It's easy enough to believe it. Rodriguez was the star figure of the original Miami New Times report on Biogenesis for a reason: There was a lot of damning evidence on him in the records obtained by the newspaper.

It was apparent then that his ties to Biogenesis were strong and not the last bit vague.

Then there's the matter of Rodriguez's non-cooperation with MLB investigators. According to Heyman, A-Rod refused to answer their questions when he was summoned, and Heyman suggests that doing so could lead to further trouble:

If MLB has a strong case, Rodriguez could be more vulnerable to multiple violations because he has interviewed on multiple occasions with MLB on PEDs in the past -- even though he has never failed a non-survey test or been suspended previously (he admitted failing the 2003 MLB survey test after Selena Roberts, then at Sports illustrated, reported that he did). 

The phrase "vulnerable to multiple violations" is key here because players only have so many strikes to work with under the rules of baseball's Joint Drug Agreement. A player can only violate the rules twice before getting booted for life for a third violation.

If MLB really wants to make an example of Rodriguez, a lifetime ban would certainly do the trick. To get it, the league only has to prove Rodriguez guilty of three separate violations of the JDA. He would then go bye-bye forever.

But now for why nobody should be counting on this.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

First up is the fact that Rodriguez has never been punished for PEDs before, which would technically make this Biogenesis mess his first actual violation of the JDA. The union might argue that 50 games should be the max for A-Rod.

It's either that, or the union could look to save itself some trouble by pushing for Rodriguez to make a deal with MLB. Players Association chief Michael Weiner told the New York Daily News last week that this will be a very real strategy if the case against a player is that strong:

I can tell you, if we have a case where there really is overwhelming evidence, that a player committed a violation of the program, our fight is going to be that they make a deal. We’re not interested in having players with overwhelming evidence that they violated the (drug) program out there. Most of the players aren’t interested in that. We’d like to have a clean program.

Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Bud Selig and Michael Weiner in 2011.

Plea deals would only be made easier if MLB agrees with Weiner's stance that the 50-100-life penalty structure of the JDA doesn't necessarily apply to Biogenesis cases. As Danny Knobler of CBS Sports reported, Weiner said last week, "In theory, a player in the Biogenesis case could be suspended for five games or 500 games."

The possibility of a plea deal makes it plausible that Rodriguez won't be seen this season. He'll have the right to appeal if MLB hands down a suspension, but the union could urge him to cut a deal and get his suspension over with.

Conceivably, A-Rod could receive the news one day and cut a deal the next.

Mind you, A-Rod's penalty could still be a long one. Heyman floated a possibility of a 150-game suspension, which sounds realistic enough. That would be a huge penalty for a first-time offender yet something extreme enough to reflect the alleged strength of his ties to Biogenesis.

But here's where you should make no mistake: Even if it comes to a 150-game ban, Rodriguez presumably would be seen again. Without a lifetime ban, it's going to be difficult to keep him from playing.

Rodriguez is still owed an awful lot of money. He seems to really want that money now, and one assumes that he'll be wanting it even more if he has to serve a 150-game PED suspension. Those, after all, are without pay.

The only way A-Rod's going to get that money is by playing, and the only way he's going to play is by not retiring.

The Yankees won't be able to stop him from doing so. Wallace Matthews and Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York floated the possibility of the club voiding Rodriguez's contract in the event of a suspension way back in January, but Marchand reported just last month that there is "no specific language related to steroid use" in A-Rod's deal.

So go ahead and nix that idea, and you can go ahead and nix the idea of Biogenesis forcing Rodriguez into an injury-related early retirement too.

There are indeed various insurance policies linked to Rodriguez's contract. Matthews reported in December that the Yankees are well-insured with Rodriguez's contract, and Heyman says that Rodriguez has his own insurance policy.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Rodriguez was starting to look like himself towards the end of his rehab stint.

However, a lengthy PED suspension isn't going to make Rodriguez any less healthy. And that's an issue, because he was looking pretty good in the more recent days of his rehab stint following offseason hip surgery. He had collected five hits (including two homers) in 19 at-bats at Double-A and Triple-A before he was shut down with his bad wheel, and that injury is hardly a career-ender. 

There will need to be a career-ending injury in order for the insurance companies to bite, since they're not going to go for any PED excuses. It may be accepted that PEDs are not good for one's long-term health, but you might recall that doctors were saying back in January that PEDs were not to blame for Rodriguez's hip issues.

I'm not saying that a health-related early retirement and everyone activating insurance policies can't happen under any circumstances. Rodriguez could come back and suffer a legitimate career-ending injury. Or he could suffer one of those before even setting foot on a major league field again, perhaps during an offseason workout.

What I'm saying is that neither the Yankees nor A-Rod will be able to use a Biogenesis suspension as an excuse to collect insurance, as that would essentially involve trying to paint a long suspension as a career-ending event. Insurance companies would rightfully call that bogus.

As far as I can tell, everyone wants Rodriguez to go away. The Yankees, fans, writers, you name it. But the only way that's going to happen as a result of Biogenesis is a lifetime ban, and it's doubtful that one of those is in the cards.

So if Rodriguez does indeed get suspended in the comings days or weeks, hold off on saying your final farewells. Odds are he'll be seen again.

 

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