After months of arbitration hearings, deliberations and courtroom drama, Alex Rodriguez has been suspended for 162 games, according to a release from MLB.com, which also includes a statement from A-Rod.
Here is a portion of Rodriguez's statement, via MLB.com:
I have been clear that I did not use performance enhancing substances as alleged in the notice of discipline, or violate the Basic Agreement or the Joint Drug Agreement in any manner, and in order to prove it I will take this fight to federal court.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports added an extra wrinkle to the suspension, saying that if the New York Yankees make the postseason in 2014, Rodriguez will not be eligible to return, making the total number of games missed potentially as much as 182:
it's 162 plus playoffs. a-rod will NOT be eligible for the postseason.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) January 11, 2014
One would assume that, at least behind closed doors, the Yankees are breathing a sigh of relief. They finally got a decision on Rodriguez's immediate future, which may or may not hold up following his federal appeal.
If the suspension does stick, the Yankees would also be off the hook for Rodriguez's 2014 salary of $25 million. This news could make them even bigger players for Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka and/or other prominent free-agent pitchers.
The bigger story is what this means for Rodriguez's immediate and long-term baseball future. He's been steadfast in his denial of any wrongdoing with the Anthony Bosch/Biogenesis scandal, even going so far as to call out MLB commissioner Bud Selig during the arbitration process.
One tidbit that should be pointed out is that suspended players are allowed to attend spring training with their team, and Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York reports that Rodriguez intends to do just that:
Source tells ESPN NY: A-Rod plans on attending spring training. We'll see if the Yankees let him.— Andrew Marchand (@AndrewMarchand) January 11, 2014
A-Rod turns 39 years old in July, and he played just 44 games last season, as he was recovering from hip surgery. The good news is that he was able to play fairly well in limited action, hitting .244/.348/.423 with seven home runs in 156 at-bats.
At some point, though, missing so much time at such an old age (by athlete standards) is going to be too much to overcome. As impressive as Rodriguez looked at times late in 2013, his 23.8 percent strikeout rate was the highest it's been since he played 48 games as a 19-year-old in 1995.
His bat speed has already lost so much zip that taking away an entire year, where the only baseball he can play after spring training will be on his own time, can only hurt him at the plate.
Let's compare Rodriguez's swing from his last 30-homer season in 2010 and last year to provide a better understanding of what I am talking about.
Look at the leg kick and when it gets started. Rodriguez used to have a huge leg kick in his prime years, but as time went on, it became less deliberate or pronounced. It's still used as a timing mechanism, but one that has gotten smaller as his bat speed decreased.
It's very subtle, but you can see that A-Rod is still picking the lead leg up a little higher during the 2010 season. That allows him to keep his weight back and drive harder velocity, as he did against Jonathan Papelbon in the first video.
In the second video, Rodriguez starts his leg kick slightly earlier than in the top video. As soon as the ball leaves Justin Verlander's glove, his leg is moving. In the first video, his leg moves as Papelbon's arm moves toward the plate.
It's not a huge difference, but it's enough to show that Rodriguez is staring to cheat in order to catch velocity. That makes him vulnerable to off-speed stuff and pitches on the outer half of the plate.
Timing is everything in baseball. Some players are able to make up for lack of timing by having excellent bat speed and controlling the barrel through the zone. Rodriguez used to fit in that category, but he no longer has that luxury.
He clearly wasn't the same player at the end of last season we saw in 2012 because of all the missed time and natural wear and tear on his body. If you take away another year, with no game action whatsoever, it's not out of the question that Rodriguez could turn into the 2012-13 version of Kevin Youkilis.
Now, if Rodriguez's federal appeal isn't successful and the 2014 suspension sticks, his Major League Baseball career will be all but over. But he's still owed $61 million from 2015-17 and doesn't seem like the kind of person to leave any money on the table.
If A-Rod feels he can play, or if he's so set on making Bud Selig and the Yankees pay for what he believes is a great wrongdoing against him, he could just keep playing through his age-41 season in 2017 to collect all the money owed to him.
That doesn't seem like the most plausible scenario, because Rodriguez is one of the most image-obsessed athletes in the world. He will not want to hang around just for the sake of hanging around, especially if he's only hitting .200/.270/.350 and facing more scrutiny about being washed up than he already has.
Another scenario has Rodriguez leveraging the remaining years on his deal with the Yankees' desire to get rid of him and negotiating some sort of buyout for the money he's still owed from 2015-17.
The New York Daily News reported in August, right before MLB announced the original 211-game suspension, that Rodriguez approached the Yankees about a settlement for the $100 million he was owed. The team declined to discuss it, "telling him this is a drug issue under the purview of MLB."
Rodriguez could choose to return from his season-long suspension, assuming it doesn't get reduced on appeal, putting the Yankees in a position where they still don't want him around. That might open the window for negotiation that the Yankees kept closed last year.
Ultimately, in my opinion, given what we have seen from Rodriguez on the field in the last two years and his declining physical state, if the suspension holds up through federal appeal, it will be the end of his career. He may find a way to get some money out of the deal, but everything on the field will be over.
Note: All stats and contract information courtesy of Baseball Reference. Videos via MLB Advanced Media.
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