Alex Rodriguez is likely out of sight and out of mind for the duration of the 2014 season.
If recent precedent with baseball villains is used, baseball fans may never see him compete in a Major League Baseball game again.
According to John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle, expect Alex Rodriguez to get the Barry Bonds treatment when returning from his 162-game suspension. In other words, an unofficial lifetime ban from the sport.
When the 2007 season concluded, Barry Bonds was a 43-year-old outfielder with bad legs and zero defensive value. Yet, due to profiling as one of the most dominant offensive performers in the game, Bonds still was a valuable cog to any lineup in baseball.
Despite leading the world in walks and on-base percentage, Bonds couldn't find one team to sign him, even as a part-time player, for the 2008 season.
In retrospect, the league-wide refusal to sign Bonds was outrageous, especially considering his eagerness to play, per Christian Red of the New York Daily News.
"Barry is not retiring. He's not considering retiring," said Jeff Borris, the agent for Bonds at the time. "If Barry's skills had eroded and he wasn't able to compete at the major league level, he would take off his own jersey."
Clearly, Bonds' skills hadn't eroded. In fact, as the numbers show, he was a superior player to the version of Alex Rodriguez that we last saw during the 2013 season.
|A Tale of Two Tainted Sluggers|
Those numbers, using 2013's batting leaders as an example, would be the equivalent of Joey Votto (league-leader in walks), Miguel Cabrera (league-leader in on-base percentage) or David Ortiz (fourth in MLB in OPS+) being left out in the cold if any were on the free-agent market. The idea is ridiculous, but from a strictly baseball perspective, it happened just six years ago.
The major difference between Bonds and Rodriguez is contract status.
When Bonds hit the open market, he was owed nothing, tied to no one and only worth a contract if a team was willing to entertain the media circus that surrounded him on a daily basis. For one reason or another, no team was willing to sacrifice sanity for a difference-maker in the middle of the lineup.
Rodriguez, on the other hand, is under contract through the 2017 season.
When his suspension is complete, he can return to his job with the New York Yankees. Even if the sport wants him gone forever, there's nothing anyone can do to take away the guaranteed money and years he is owed in his pact.
However, if the Yankees choose to buy out the remaining years on Rodriguez's deal, forking over $61 million to make the former three-time AL MVP disappear, he will become a free agent.
That concept, put forth as Hal Steinbrenner's choice by Wallace Matthews of ESPN New York, will become a major talking point when the 2015 season approaches. Per Matthews' piece:
"It is Hal Steinbrenner, the man who signed off on the $275 million contract that is now choking his payroll and his roster, the man who OK'd a deal with the devil and whose bill has now come due. So what does Steinbrenner do? Swallow hard, write a check for $61 million made out to Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez, and bid him farewell?"
Even though releasing Rodriguez now would rid the team of a constant headache and long-term questions, it doesn't behoove the Yankees to entertain the thought until the suspension is over.
Over the next year, as Rodriguez serves his suspension, he will be subject to MLB drug testing. If he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, a lifetime ban could be in order. At that point, the Yankees and baseball would be off the hook forever.
Assuming the embattled slugger isn't quite that foolish, he'll be eager and ready to return in 2015 with little care for the team or uniform he suits up for during his last ride in baseball.
Throughout the career of Alex Rodriguez, he's loved being a baseball player above all else.
The former 18-year-old phenom was never a "true" Mariner or Ranger or Yankee. Instead, his baseball heart was taken by the game, an intoxication with competition and the diamond itself. If, or when, the Yankees pay Rodriguez $61 million to walk way, he'll take the money and expect to latch on with any team in need of a power-hitting right-handed hitter.
At that point, the Barry Bonds narrative will be out in full force.
If teams weren't willing to bring aboard Bonds, despite never serving an MLB-sanctioned suspension, they'll stay away from Rodriguez. Smart front-office minds looked at how dominant and feared Bonds was in 2007, yet still stayed away.
In 2013, Rodriguez, even though his OPS+ (111) showed that there's still something left in the tank, wasn't close to the kind of player Bonds was during the 2007 campaign.
After a year away from baseball and with two surgically repaired hips, his 2015 production couldn't be expected to be much better than average.
Of course, it will only take one crazy, headline-hungry owner, like, say, Jeffrey Loria in Rodriguez's hometown of Miami, to take the bait and sign a sideshow for a league-minimum rate. That scenario is possible, but not probable.
With the disdain around him, age creeping close to 40 and the treatment that Bonds received, it's more than plausible to believe we've seen the last of Rodriguez in Major League Baseball. If the Barry Bonds treatment was given to a more productive player, it won't be spared for Alex Rodriguez.
If Alex Rodriguez is released from the Yankees, will any team sign him for 2015?