Arbitrator Frederic Horowitz has decided to reduce Alex Rodriguez’ suspension to 162 games, which, make no mistake about it, is a victory for Major League Baseball. So, after months of drama more suitable to daytime TV, it’s finally case closed! Or, is it? As much as MLB and its weary fans would like to put the Arod/Biogensis situation behind it, today’s arbitration ruling raises just as many questions as were answered, some of which are outlined below.
1) Can Arod sue to have the suspension overturned?
Yes. In fact, according to a statement released by the former MVP, the wheels are already in motion for a legal challenge to the ban. However, a more relevant question is how realistic are his chances of receiving judicial relief? Craig Calcaterra does a good job explaining why Arod faces an uphill battle in having the courts overturn a collectively bargained arbitration decision, but, then again, that analysis assumes the courts will view this particular situation as typical. Considering all the nuances, as well as the various claims made by Arod that seem to fall outside the purview of the CBA, a long drawn out legal battle could be in the offing. Should that occur, it’s possible that Arod will be granted injunctive relief from his suspension. If so, Rodriguez just might be the Yankees’ third baseman on Opening Day.
2) How does the suspension impact the Yankees’ 2014 payroll?
There has been a lot of speculation about how Arod’s suspension will impact the Yankees’ attempt to dip below the $189 million luxury tax threshold. However, as this breakdown reveals, even with a significant AAV savings, the Yankees really have no chance of trimming their payroll below the limit. Assuming Arod’s suspension is upheld, the Yankees will enjoy approximately $24 million in AAV savings ($27.5 million minus approximately $3.2 million that will still be owed), but still find themselves precariously close to the $189 million plateau. In other words, although the Yankees will not have to pay Arod, they will have to pay the luxury tax.
3) How long is the suspension really?
The official word is Alex Rodriguez has been suspended for 162 games. However, there has also been an indication that the playoffs will be included as well. If true, this would represent another unprecedented punitive action taken against Rodriquez. Every other PED-related suspension has so far not included the post season, so by making an exception in Arod’s case, MLB is effectively lengthening the terms of the ban. Is this an action directly based on the arbitrator’s decision, or is it simply being implemented at the discretion of the commissioner’s office? Regardless, Rodriquez may have grounds for another appeal separate from his legal challenge, but if the latter is true, it would only re-enforce the perception that MLB has abandoned fairness in its attempt to punish Arod.
There’s another wrinkle to consider. What happens if the Yankees play more than 162 games in the 2014 season? Because tiebreakers are considered part of the regular season (i.e., game #163), would it fall under the umbrella of a 162-game ban, even if it includes the post season? Even though it’s unlikely that the Yankees would want a stale Rodriguez to participate in a tie-breaker, the possibility remains, especially considering that such a game would be played with 40-man rosters.
4) Will Arod play in 2014, even if his suspension is carried out in full?
Even though Rodriguez has been suspended for 162 games, the ban does not apply to Spring Training. Arod has already indicated that he will report to camp, but will the Yankees welcome him? Barring some kind of settlement, they may not have a choice. Unless Arod decides to spare his teammates from the inevitable circus atmosphere that his appearance would create, the Yankees could be headed for a Spring Training like no other.
After Spring Training, Rodriguez wouldn’t be permitted to wear the pinstripes in a game, but could he play in another league? International leagues will probably pass because of their relationship with MLB, but independent league teams will likely jump at the chance for free publicity. It’s important to remember, however, that Arod will still be under contract, and its terms may not permit him to play elsewhere while serving a suspension. On the one hand, it would be in the Yankees best interest to have Rodriguez stay sharp, but the last thing the organization needs is another injury that carries into 2015. For that reason, the Yankees would probably balk at Rodriguez playing independent ball, and Arod isn’t likely to sign an injury waiver that might change their mind.
5) Have we seen the last of Arod in Major League Baseball?
It has become popular to speculate whether Arod’s 162-game suspension is a death knell for his career, but if we’ve learned one thing about the embattled superstar, it’s that he loves to play baseball. For that reason alone, it seems unlikely that Arod would simply walk away from the game. Of course, there are at least $60 million other reasons why Rodriguez won’t retire. Unless the Yankees agreed to buy him out in full, Arod would have a significant financial incentive to remain active. And, if the Bronx Bombers remain on the hook for such a large sum, it stands to reason that they would want to extract some value. That could all change as Rodriguez’ various lawsuits unfold, particularly the ones aimed at team representatives, but even if he never plays for the Yankees again, it seems all but certain that Arod will have another major league at bat in his future.