Did Alex Rodriguez Get a Raw Deal in Arbitration Ruling?

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Did Alex Rodriguez Get a Raw Deal in Arbitration Ruling?
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Rodriguez has been suspended for the entire 2014 season, and now we know why.

Here's a fair warning that the "why" in this case is complicated, to say the least. Here's another warning that the "why" is also ripe for criticism, which some will surely chalk up as a point for A-Rod.

What's hard, however, is to look at the "why" and conclude that Rodriguez got screwed. 

If you missed it, A-Rod was indeed hit with a pretty big suspension for performance-enhancing drug-related charges. After the New York Yankees star and MLB shouted at each other in arbitration hearings late in 2013, independent arbitrator Fredric Horowitz ruled on Saturday that A-Rod will be suspended all 162 games and the playoffs in 2014 as a result of MLB's investigation into Biogenesis.

Horowitz's 162-game ban is more lenient than the 211-game suspension MLB commissioner Bud Selig initially wanted for A-Rod. But while the ruling is still a huge victory for MLB, the question hovered in the air: How did Horowitz go from 211 to 162?

Well, it's all online now via The Wall Street Journal. We break it all down here, important piece by important piece.

 

Rodriguez's Guilt: Pretty Obvious

Horowitz made it simple: 

A review of all the evidence and argument presented by all parties in this proceeding clearly and convincingly establishes Rodriguez committed multiple violations of the [Joint Drug Agreement] and [Collective Bargaining Agreement] warranting a substantial disciplinary penalty...

Without getting into the specifics, Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com summarized that Horowitz was convinced by "the testimony of [Biogenesis director] Anthony Bosch, the notebooks documenting A-Rod's drug protocols, and hundreds of text messages exchanged between the two men." 

Now, Bosch, isn't exactly a stand-up guy. That was a big part of Rodriguez's defense, but Horowitz found Bosch to be "direct" and "credible," and that, most importantly, he was able to corroborate his testimony with "several of the hundreds of pages of his personal composition notebooks."

And here's the kicker:

No direct evidence was presented to demonstrate the excerpts [Bosch] identified from the copies of his notebooks that implicated Rodriguez had been forged or fabricated.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
One of these nondescript suites was Biogenesis.

As much as A-Rod's legal team wanted to attack Bosch's legitimacy, they had nothing on the legitimacy of the paperwork. It didn't help that Rodriguez had a hand in his own doom, as he and Bosch exchanged "hundreds of messages" that "plainly support the findings of the JDA violations."

As for A-Rod's violations of the CBA, Horowitz zeroed in on two things.

One was how A-Rod denied knowing Bosch last January, and how in doing so he played "an active role in inducing Bosch to issue his own public denial." In other words: In lying, A-Rod forced Bosch into lying and, by extension, making life difficult for MLB.

Then there's this:

Rodriguez also attempted to induce Bosch to sign a sworn statement on May 31, 2013, attesting that Bosch never supplied Rodriguez with PES and had no personal knowledge that Rodriguez ever used them, statements that Rodriguez also knew to be false.

Horowitz characterized Rodriguez's actions the same way they've been characterized for months: It was a cover-up.

That's as far as Horowitz went in giving credence to MLB's stance that A-Rod was basically running around with a cloak and dagger doing anything he could to clear himself. Horowitz admitted some additional allegations were "troubling," but were moot.

Even still, there's really not much of a question that A-Rod was up to no good. As much as he wanted to attack Bosch's credibility and MLB's tactics, the fact is Bosch had more than his word and, because of that, MLB had a pretty strong case against A-Rod.

But now comes the tricky part: Why 162 games?

 

From 211 to 162: More a Maze than a Path

Regarding A-Rod's violations of the Joint Drug Agreement, here's how Horowitz put it:

The evidence confirms that Rodriguez used and/or possessed three discrete PES banned by Section 2.B. of the JDA during [a three-year period]: testosterone, IGF-1, and HGH

So it's not a question of what A-Rod got from Bosch, and the mere fact that Horowitz knew he got these substances is good enough in light of the JDA. Section 7.A. states that a player can be punished for a positive test and/or "use or possession" of a banned substance.

But here's where the debate begins, as Horowitz noted that it was a different section of the JDA that guided his decision-making:

MLB, the MLBPA, and the Player agree that Section 7.G.2 of the JDA supplies the governing framework for this case. The record establishes that cases such as this, involving prolonged use or possession of multiple substances...were intended to be handled under Section 7.G.2 rather than Section 7.A. Section 7.G.2 of the JDA states that "[a] Player may be subjected to disciplinary action for just cause by the Commissioner for any Player violation of Section 2 above not referenced in Section 7.A through 7.F above." The parties to the JDA both agree that Section 7.A does not reference a violation of the JDA involving the continuous use or possession of multiple Prohibited Substances over a prolonged period of time. Indeed, the express language of Section 7.A specifies a 50-game suspension for first offenders for the use or possession of "a Performance Enhancing Substance" (emphasis added). The parties agree, however, that for violations of the type presented by this case, the Commissioner is not limited to the disciplinary schedule set forth in Section 7.A, but rather can fashion an appropriate penalty, provided that such penalty is supported by principles of just cause.

Elsa/Getty Images
Bud Selig's "just cause" wild card became Horowitz's wild card.

There's a lot there to take in, but the key bits are the ones about the "just cause" section of the JDA and the other one that I bolded.

That's the one that I think makes it clear that Horowitz targeted a loophole in Section 7.A in order to make his ruling. He prioritized the semantics of the rule over the apparent intent of the rule.

Keep this in mind. It's important.

Horowitz went on to explain that while Section 7.A wasn't ruling the case, it did offer a "useful guidepost" in determining Rodriguez's punishment. This is in referring the 50-100-life suspension structure for first-, second- and third-time PED violations.

Rodriguez and the MLBPA, naturally, argued that nothing more than a 50-game suspension was warranted since his violations were technically his first offense. But Horowitz argued back that A-Rod had been shown to have "used or possessed" multiple drugs on multiple occasions. He may have technically been there for a first offense, but realistically he had committed multiple offenses.

Horowitz then referenced Neifi Perez's 80-game suspension from 2007, the result of three positive tests for a banned stimulant, and how the thinking at the time was that the language of the JDA "reasonably implies a general understanding that separate uses are subject to separate discipline."

Now, stimulants don't fall under the same 50-100-life penalty structure as PEDs. With stimulants, it's follow-up testing, 25 games, 80 games and then an open-ended "just cause" suspension. Perez got three strikes, and he got 80 games.

Therein lies the question: If Perez's case was a precedent, why didn't Horowitz overrule MLB's 211-game ban and go right for a lifetime ban?

Here's Horowitz:

...because the Commissioner did not impose a lifetime ban on Rodriguez, and because neither the Commissioner nor this Panel is bound by the penalty structure of Section 7.A, it is not necessary to determine whether a lifetime ban of Rodriguez would be supported by the language of Section 7.A and the Perez incident.

G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images
Neifi Perez's OPS+ in 2007: 27.

What Horowitz appears to be getting at is that the Perez case is relevant because of how it established that "separate uses are subject to separate discipline." Not because it provided precedent for how to proceed in terms of the structure of the penalty.

Thus, Horowitz does have an open door to go through here:

However, at minimum, it cannot be disputed that if Rodriguez was found to have used three distinct PES -- IGF-1, testosterone, and HGH -- on three separate occasions, and was subjected to a 50-game suspension as a first-offender for each violation...Rodriguez still would be assessed a 150-game suspension (i.e., a 50-game suspension for each violation)...

This is more flimsiness. In part because of the hypothetical "if," and in part because it's not in keeping with the spirit of the JDA.

All PEDs fall under the same umbrella in the eyes of the JDA, and a violation is a violation is a violation. If the JDA offered a kind of penalty reset—i.e. 50 games for every new drug a player was busted forit would be encouraging cheaters to try different PEDs after getting caught for one PED.

It doesn't want to do that, and, well, it doesn't.

In the end, what led Horowitz to include an extra 12 games and the postseason as well is his belief that A-Rod's "incidents of attempted obstruction" made additional punishment "supported by just cause." Horowitz didn't overrule Selig's right to hit A-Rod with 211 games, but he did, in effect, correct Selig's aim.

All told, Horowitz's ruling is, if not quite a mess, certainly not perfect. There's no ignoring that he had to bend the language of the CBA to justify getting from 211 to 162. In doing so, he sent out an open invitation for criticism.

Knowing this, you might be wondering why I don't think A-Rod got a raw deal. Simple. It's because...

 

Realistically, He Didn't

Two reasons.

One: The evidence said Rodriguez committed multiple violations, and he got a punishment befitting multiple violations. Maybe the ruling isn't perfect, but it's hard to see how it's completely unfair. Nobody should be saying "Poor A-Rod" with a straight face.

Two: He didn't get suspended for life.

It all traces back to Horowitz's interpretation of "a Performance Enhancing Substance" under Section 7.A of the JDA. Had he interpreted that phrase differently, he would have gone for the punishment for three violations under Section 7.A.

And that's a lifetime ban.

Did Alex Rodriguez get screwed by the arbitrator's ruling?

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Sure, there's the possibility that a lifetime ban would have been easier for A-Rod to overturn in federal court. But probably not, as I'll take Wendy Thurm of FanGraphs' word for it that a court may only intervene with collectively bargained arbitration processes when an arbitrator “dispenses his own brand of justice." 

Since Horowitz still would have been sticking to the language of the JDA, he technically wouldn't have been dispensing his own brand of justice.

Horowitz had to go off the rails to get away from Section 7.A of the JDA, but he pointed out that he did so with the blessing of the league, the union and A-Rod himself. I'm assuming MLB agreed to that because it kept the door open for a 211-game suspension. I'm assuming the union and A-Rod agreed because it kept the door open for Rodriguez's multiple violations to be ruled as a first-time offense.

Maybe there was a way for Horowitz to twist the wording to make that happen. But he certainly had evidence that said a major penalty was warranted, and he had the "just cause" wild card at his disposal to make it happen. 

A-Rod will probably forever maintain that he deserved better, but it could have been—and arguably should have been—worse.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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