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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Staff with A-Rod

In spite of all of the speculation...all of the rehab assignments...all of the sniping in the media...all of the threats of a lifetime ban...Alex Rodriguez returned to the Yankees lineup on Monday night. He went 1 for 4 in a lopsided loss at the Chicago White Sox.

A-Rod must have been laughing his ass off when he finally got some privacy.


Rodriguez was among 13 players whose suspensions were announced on Monday for their relationship with the now closed Biogenesis anti-aging clinic. Biogenesis has been linked by MLB with distribution of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) to MLB players. Eleven players were suspended for 50 games as first offenders.

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder and 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun was suspended for 50 games plus an additional 15 games for remarks he made publicly about the testing process. A-Rod was slapped with a suspension of over 200 games, intended to last from Thursday though the end of the 2014 season. The other 12 guys were at home. A-Rod batted cleanup on Monday.

While Major League Baseball, on the surface, remained within the boundaries of discretion and confidentiality, the media was always a few days ahead of the announcements throughout this saga. One of the possibilities that was consistently reported was that Bud Selig was considering pursuing a lifetime ban against Alex Rodriguez, though he has never had a positive drug test nor has he ever been disciplined under MLB's Drug Program. Yet there A-Rod was with sports networks breaking in for coverage of every Rodriguez at bat.

Alex Rodriguez singles in his first at-bat of the 2013 season on Monday against the White Sox. 1

Of course, the reason Rodriguez played Monday night is because the other players agreed not to appeal their 50 game suspensions (with no additional discipline). Rodriguez has thrown the finger to the Commissioner's office throughout the process, never agreed to any suspension, and filed for an immediate appeal. Players are allowed to continue playing pending appeal of suspensions per the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the players' union.

Rodriguez's appeal is reportedly not expected to be ruled on by an arbitrator until after the season. This means that Rodriguez could play the remainder of the regular season and the playoffs (should the Yankees miracle their way out of fourth place in the A.L. East). He will also get to collect on all of his $29 million salary he is due in 2013 and the Yankees will not collect on an injury insurance policy they took out on A-Rod (in the event he could not play due to hip surgery recovery).

Chicago showing A-Rod the love. 2

Alex Rodriguez is among the least likable of Major League Baseball stars. This means that public backlash is less likely to result from any discipline he receives in the Biogenesis investigation. He is also 38 years old. His production took a noticeable dip after the 2010 season. He struggled so badly in the playoffs last year that he was benched during the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers. Simply put, Rodriguez's salary on his contract, which runs through 2017, is far greater than his MLB market value relative to his productivity.

He has no 40 homerun seasons in his future. He has no MVP-caliber seasons remaining. He is not likely to have another .300 season. The Yankees are about halfway through a very bad and very expensive contract.

Major League Baseball player contracts are guaranteed. The only way to get out of paying a player is if the player retires, is injured and unable to perform because of a non-baseball reason, or is suspended. The Yankees are arguably the highest profile franchise in all of professional sports, certainly the American League's flagship club. When historic, high-profile legacy franchises are doing well in any sport, it is always good for the sport.

Removing the albatross of over $40 million in salary obligations for a player worth about $4 million on the open market over the same payout period would be very good for the Yankees and therefore very good for baseball, PED issues aside. Regarding PEDs, making a Draconian example of of one of its highest-profile stars makes for great publicity for a sports organization and a commissioner looking to save face and erase the stain of its self-induced Steroid Era of the 1990s and early 2000s. Again, A-Rod is not well liked among baseball fans. Throwing the book at A-Rod benefits everyone involved except for A-Rod and the other American League ballclubs in direct competition with the Yankees for the A.L. pennant.

Only Brian Cashman could find a way to make A-Rod look (ever so slightly) sympathetic this year. 3

The Yankees, collectively, can't get a hit in blackjack right now, let alone on the field. Their struggles are well documented, with shortstop Derek Jeter, first baseman Mark Teixeria, centerfielder Curtis Granderson, A-Rod and other key players missing most of the season. They were batting just above the Mendoza line, with absolutely no power whatsoever, from the third base position, prior to Rodriguez's return.

Suppose Rodriguez catches lighting in a bottle. Suppose Granderson can get his groove back. Suppose Jeter recovers from his seemingly endless string of nagging leg injuries. Suppose the Yankees can turn this nightmarish season around, slip into the playoffs and make a deep run. Suppose Alex Rodriguez is a significant part of such a run.

It's a longshot, but it is not an outrageous suggestion. The Yankees were on the heels of the Boston Red Sox until shortly before the All-Star break and the Yankees pitchers have continued to turn in consistent solid performances on a nightly basis. The Bronx Bombers lineup is getting back some significant position players and their bats. Much stranger and more improbable comebacks have happened in sports.

Alex Rodriguez, in the aforementioned scenario, would regain his popularity in the baseball's largest market. Public sentiment would turn in his favor. The Yankees, specifically General Manager Brian Cashman would be handcuffed in taking any hard stances in dealing with A-Rod (yes, the Brian Cashman who told Alex Rodriguez to "shut the fuck up" on ESPN Radio in New York). And a season-plus suspension against the aging yet redeemed Rodriguez would not help Selig's image at that point nearly as much as it would if Rodreiguez went away quietly. I won't even open the Pandora's Box of what happens if A-Rod wins his appeal.

Bravo, Bud Selig! Once again you've been given a wide-open public relations alley-opp, and the ball slipped through your fingers as you hit your face on the side of the rim. Possession: A-Rod.

Don't be surprised is Selig if throwing his hands up, again, when this is all over. I've been throwing my hands up as a fan for nearly 20 years. When is he going away? He'll be 80 years old next year. Time to retire!
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