ABOVE PHOTO: Alex Rodriguez
(AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)
By Ronald Blum
In question-and-answer form, a look at the issues and implications of Major League Baseball’s possible suspension of New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez:
Q: What penalties face Alex Rodriguez and why?
A: Rodriguez is among at least a dozen players MLB had been investigating since the Miami New Times published documents in January alleging links between major leagues and Biogenesis of America, a closed anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables accused of distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs. A-Rod faces up to a lifetime ban, with the Yankees expecting him to be accused of recruiting other athletes for the clinic, attempting to obstruct MLB’s investigation, and not being truthful with MLB in the past when he discussed his relationship with Dr. Anthony Galea, who pleaded guilty two years ago to a federal charge of bringing unapproved drugs into the United States from Canada.
Q: What will he be suspended for and why?
A: If he does not agree to a deal with MLB, he may be suspended first for violations of baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, which would prevent him from playing while the union files a grievance and an arbitrator determines whether the penalty meets a “just cause” standard. MLB may use a provision in the Basic Agreement that states : “Players may be disciplined for just cause for conduct that is materially detrimental or materially prejudicial to the best interests of baseball including, but not limited to, engaging in conduct in violation of federal, state or local law.” Rodriguez could later be suspended for violating the Joint Drug Agreement. He has never been suspended under the JDA, and a suspension for a first offender is served only after an arbitrator upholds the penalty.
Q: Why are suspensions for players linked to the Biogenesis investigation likely this week?
A: The penalty for a first positive test for steroids under the Joint Drug Agreement is a 50-game suspension, and that appears to be the likely discipline for several players MLB has targeted. This is the last week a player could accept a 50-game suspension and serve it in time to return either for the postseason, if his team advances, or the start of the 2014 season.
Q: How likely is a lifetime ban for Rodriguez?
A: If Rodriguez agrees to accept a suspension and doesn’t ask the players’ association to file a grievance challenging the penalty, the suspension likely would be for a year or two. If MLB announces a penalty unilaterally, if could be a lifetime ban, but an arbitrator could reduce it after a hearing. When Commissioner Fay Vincent suspended Yankees pitcher Steve Howe for life in 1992, after his seventh suspension for drugs or alcohol, arbitrator George Nicolau reduced the penalty to 119 days.
Q: Any other lifetime bans in baseball?
A: The most famous occurred in 1921, when Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis banned Chicago White Sox pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude “Lefty” Williams, first baseman Chick Gandil, shortstop Charles “Swede” Risberg, third baseman Buck Weaver, outfielders “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Happy Felsh and infielder Fred McMullen for throwing the 1919 World Series against Cincinnati. Landis acted a day after they were acquitted on criminal charges.
Philadelphia Phillies infielder Gene Paulette (1921), New York Giants pitcher “Shufflin’” Phil Douglas (1922), New York Giants outfielder Jimmy O’Connell and coach Cozy Dolan (1924) and Philadelphia Phillies president William D. Cox (1943) were banned either for life or indefinitely over gambling or bribery issues, and New York Giants outfielder Benny Kauff (1921) was suspended indefinitely by Landis following his indictment on charges of auto theft and possession of a stolen car. Cincinnati manager Pete Rose agreed to a lifetime ban in 1989 following an investigation of his gambling. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner agreed to a lifetime ban effective in August 1990 for his dealings with self-described gambler Howard Spira and was reinstated in March 1993.
Q: How did this happen to Rodriguez?
A: MLB has been investigating the three-time AL MVP over various periods since February 2009, when he acknowledged using performance-enhancing drugs while with Texas from 2001-03. Rodriguez has denied using them since. He met with baseball investigators in March 2009, then met with them again in March 2010 and told them he didn’t receive PEDs from Dr. Anthony Galea, who treated Rodriguez without the Yankees’ consent following hip surgery in 2009. Galea pleaded guilty in 2011 to a federal charge of bringing unapproved drugs into the United States from Canada. As part of the Biogenesis probe, Rodriguez met again with baseball investigators on July 12 this year.
Q: How much will this cost him?
A: Hard to put an exact figure on it until the length of the suspension is determined. Rodriguez is baseball’s highest-paid player this year at $28 million. If he’s suspended Wednesday for the rest of the season, he would lose $8,508,366 under the formula in baseball’s Joint Drug Agreement: 56 games (the total remaining for the Yankees) divided by 183 (the number of days this season) times his salary. He is owed an additional $86 million by the Yankees over the next four years: $25 million in 2014, $21 million in 2015 and $20 million in each of the final two seasons. Not at risk is a $3 million payment from the Yankees on Jan. 15, the final installment of his signing bonus, and $36 million-plus interest owed by Texas from 2016-25, funds that were deferred in his contract with the Rangers and converted to an assignment bonus at the time of his trade to the Yankees in 2004.
Q: Will his AL Most Valuable Player awards from 2003, 2005 and 2007 be taken away?
A: No. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America says its voting is final when it is conducted and will not be revisited. Carlos Delgado finished second in 2003, David Ortiz in 2005 and Magglio Ordonez in 2007.
Q: How will the drug investigation and any suspension impact Rodriguez’s chances of getting elected to the Hall of Fame?
A: Once viewed as a sure Hall of Famer, Rodriguez would appear to have little support among the voting writers in the foreseeable future. Among players accused of steroids use, Roger Clemens (37.6 percent), Barry Bonds (36.2), Mark McGwire (16.9), Sammy Sosa (12.5) and Rafael Palmeiro (8.8) all fell far short of the necessary 75 percent in this year’s vote. Whether a player denies or acknowledges use has had little or no impact on the voters.
Q: What would be the impact of a suspension be on the New York Yankees?
A: In addition to not having to pay Rodriguez, the Yankees would have a much easier time to get under next year’s $189 million threshold for baseball’s luxury tax, which has room for about $177 million in salaries before benefits are added. Rodriguez’s contract has a $27.5 million impact on the Yankees’ payroll for luxury tax purposes. Others whose salaries are coming off the payroll next year include Curtis Granderson ($15 million), Andy Pettitte ($12 million), Mariano Rivera ($10 million), Phil Hughes ($7.15 million). And if he exercises his $9.5 million player option, Derek Jeter’s luxury tax salary would drop from his 2013 value of about $15.5 million. If he remains with the Yankees, Robinson Cano’s salary is likely to increase from its current $15 million.