After recovering from offseason hip surgery and a subsequent leg injury, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez made his 2013 debut on Monday night in Chicago, going 1-for-4 from the plate against the White Sox.
Make sure you get a good look at A-Rod while you can, baseball fans. The beginning of the end of his career may have already arrived.
It's been months since A-Rod first played a starring role in the report from the Miami New Times that detailed the activities of Anthony Bosch and his now-defunct South Florida wellness clinic, Biogenesis.
The last few weeks have been loaded with speculation about what kind of punishment Rodriguez would ultimately face for his alleged involvement with performance-enhancing drugs supplied by the clinic.
Major League Baseball officially announced its decision via Twitter on Monday. Rodriguez has been suspended for the rest of the 2013 season and the entirety of the 2014 season, a total of 211 regular season games.
Rodriguez's discipline under the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program is based on his use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including Testosterone and Human Growth Hormone, over the course of multiple years. Rodriguez's discipline under the Basic Agreement is for attempting to cover-up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner's investigation.
This development corresponds with what has been reported in recent days, but there are a couple catches. After detailing its accusations against A-Rod, the league clarified that his punishments won't kick in until Thursday and that he does indeed have the right to appeal. That means he has the right to play until a definitive verdict is reached in arbitration.
Rodriguez will take advantage of that right. Via Joel Sherman of the New York Post:
Steven Marcus of Newsday says that MLB could move for an expedited process, but the MLB Players Association would have to agree to such a thing. And that seems unlikely in light of what the union had to say about the matter in a statement issued in the wake of the announcements:
For the player appealing, Alex Rodriguez, we agree with his decision to fight his suspension. We believe that the Commissioner has not acted appropriately under the Basic Agreement. Mr. Rodriguez knows that the Union, consistent with its history, will defend his rights vigorously.
So lest there was any doubt, the union is indeed on Rodriguez's side. The league is going to get a fight, and in the meantime Rodriguez will be able to play.
And from the sound of things, he's going to be able to play for the rest of the 2013 season and the postseason as well if the Yankees make it there. Here's Tyler Kepner of the New York Times:
If true, this undoubtedly works in Rodriguez's favor. He's making $28 million this year compared to $25 million in 2014, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts. He'll be able to salvage all of his 2013 salary if his appeal isn't decided until the winter, and he also stands to make a $6 million bonus if he hits 13 home runs to tie Willie Mays' career mark of 660.
Now, the possibility does exist that Rodriguez will eventually win his appeal and serve no suspension whatsoever. That, however, should be considered the least likely outcome.
Overturning Rodriguez's suspension would presumably require his camp to prove that the evidence against him has no validity. That was a strong possibility a few weeks ago when Bosch's credibility was being questioned upon his agreeing to help MLB with its investigation, but not so much now that Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun and the others who have accepted suspensions have effectively validated the Biogenesis material by not choosing to fight them.
And while there's also the possibility that Horowitz will call for a shorter suspension for A-Rod, one as short as a 50-game offense seems unlikely given the sheer amount of wrongdoing he's being accused of.
To boot, MLB supposedly has plenty of evidence. ESPN's T.J. Quinn reported recently that the evidence MLB has on A-Rod is "far beyond" what it had on Braun, who is currently serving a 65-game ban.
It might not be something as long as 211 games in the end, but Rodriguez's suspension is likely to be a big one either way. And given that his appeal may not be decided until the offseason, it's a good bet that he's going to sit out most or all of the 2014 season regardless of the specific number of games.
What would happen next is anybody's guess. But it's been suggested all along that a long suspension would mean the end of Rodriguez's playing days, and that certainly is a possibility that has to be taken seriously.
There are a number of ways Rodriguez's career could come to an end before his contract with the Yankees expires at the end of 2017. They are:
- He could retire.
- He could be deemed medically unfit to play and forced to retire.
- He could be released.
- He could be bought out.
It's doubtful that either of the first two possibilities will come to fruition. Rodriguez would forfeit the remainder of his contract if he chose to retire, and that would mean forfeiting the $61 million he's owed between 2015 and 2017. He's not going to do that.
The medical retirement possibility is one that's been kicked around a lot in the last few months, but something like that won't be made possible by a PED suspension. It will be up to doctors to declare A-Rod unfit to play and up to insurance companies to go along with it.
As banged up as A-Rod is, a suspension isn't going to make his body any less healthy. It doesn't help that the New York Post reported way back in January that PEDs are not to blame for the issues he's had with his hips. It would be a different story if that wasn't the case, but, well, it is.
However, the other two possibilities in the above list—which are essentially the same thing—can't be ruled out.
Whether they release him or buy him out — a la the New York Mets and Jason Bay — the Yankees will still have to pay Rodriguez whatever money he's still owed under his contract. That's going to be a lot of money and would be a tough pill for the organization to swallow, but it will certainly be an easier pill to swallow if Rodriguez is suspended for a long time first.
For starters, the amount of money would be significantly less than what it was last winter when the idea of a buy-out was first being discussed. But more importantly, the Yankees will have just saved a lot of money by virtue of the fact that Rodriguez's lengthy suspension will have been without pay. With more money in their pockets, they could indeed be willing to effectively pay Rodriguez to go away.
I'll admit that this is an outcome that I wasn't taking seriously as recently as two weeks ago. It didn't even occur to me because it sounded like it was either going to be a lifetime ban for A-Rod or a lesser ban (i.e. 100-150 games). The picture has changed drastically since then.
So go ahead and mark it down now: If a Biogenesis suspension is going to be the end of Rodriguez's playing days, his outright release or a buy-out settlement is how it's going to happen. For once he severs his ties with the Yankees, his ties with baseball will be effectively severed. He might still be willing to play, but there won't be anyone willing to take a chance on him. Not after all he's been through.
While the death of Rodriguez's playing career could indeed be the ultimate consequence of a suspension, he'll deal with other consequences in the meantime.
Rodriguez has already lost one notable ally. The Taylor Hooton Foundation, an organization that raises awareness about the dangers of steroid use, announced on Monday that it's cut ties with the slugger.
Endorsers also tend to run for the hills in these situations. Braun had his deal with Nike terminated as a result of Biogenesis. Rodriguez is likewise bound to have some of his own endorsement deals terminated in the coming days.
Another thing you can expect to see in the coming days are a number of columns and other written declarations (i.e. tweets) from writers that they will never, ever vote for Rodriguez to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame when his day comes.
Mind you, A-Rod's odds of getting in were already slim due to his 2009 admission that he had taken steroids in his days with the Texas Rangers. Now that the hammer has been lowered on him for being involved with PEDs even after that admission, Rodriguez's odds of getting into Cooperstown amount to nil.
Because Rodriguez is appealing the suspension he has been given, the situation at hand is a classic "now," "then" and "later" situation. A lot is going to happen between "now" and "then," and what will happen "later" will take shape accordingly.
The general shape of the narrative, however, is already clear. Rodriguez's career has taken many hard hits in recent years, but the hit his career took on Monday is the hardest yet.
In time, it could very well prove to be the killing blow.
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