As I said when the story broke, the worst part of the Arod decision is that we’re stuck hearing about him for another year. He’s already filed lawsuits against Major League Baseball and the players union, and now we’ll be forced to hear the legal expertise of everyone with a microphone and a keyboard. But let’s be very clear, there are no winners here. Arod’s name is ruined forever. Major League Baseball’s testing policy has been exposed as easily beatable. And let’s not forget about Arod’s lawyer. This is a guy who maintains his client is completely innocent, was paid a boatload of money, and couldn’t convince the arbitrator to budge one iota. (Don’t interpret the reduction from 211 games to 162 as being a victory; the intention was always simply to suspend him for the entire 2014 season). So what does that say about his skills as a lawyer? OJ paid top dollar and got away with murder. Even Cousin Vinny got his clients off, and he was up against a confession and multiple eye witnesses!
Now, you might say that the winner here is the Yankees, since they’re saving over $20 million this season, which gives them a shot at staying under the $189 million luxury threshold. But this is just a short term victory. They still owe him $61 million over the next 3 years, plus incentive bonuses as he passes certain home run milestones. But the next move is a no-brainier: they have to cut ties with Alex Rodriguez.
There are only two scenarios that can play out in 2014, and neither of them bode well for an Arod return in 2015. If they return to greatness this year, behind the bats of McCann, Elsbury and Beltran, and get a superstar performance out of Tanaka (who they now HAVE to sign), then how can they bring Rodriguez back? Why would they bring back a 39 year old distraction, who is a shell of himself on the field, to a team on the rise? And if they fail to make the playoffs again, there are only a few places for them to make a splash in the offseason, and third base will be the place where they can get the biggest bang for their buck, with Kung Fu Panda, Chase Headley and Hanley Ramirez all hitting the market. Are we to believe the Yankees would pass on these guys, coming off of consecutive years of missing the playoffs, in order to hand the keys back to Alex Rodriguez?
I know I’m avoiding the obvious reason to bring him back, which is the $61 million dollars he is owed. But remember 2 things: Getting under the $189 million threshold is not a permanent financial model the Yankees are committing to. They want to get under the cap in 2014 because it will reset the multiplier, so they can go back to paying a 17.5% penalty as opposed to 50%. Once they reset that, they’ll be back to the open wallet Yankees we all know and love (or hate). So eating that money in 2015, 2016 and 2017 isn’t as big a deal as saving the money is for them this year. And second, the Yankees have shown they have no problem eating mistakes they’ve made in the past. When you account for salary and posting fee, they paid $47 million for Kei Igawa, and they had no problem letting him toil away in the minors. Alex Rodriguez’s negative impact to the Yankees, both on the field and with the fans, would dwarf that of Kei Igawa, so spending an extra $14 million to correct a mistake is their only logical option.
So then the question becomes, why wouldn’t another major league team take a chance on him, and benefit from the publicity of him passing all of the aforementioned milestones. For starters, the milestones will be meaningless in the eyes of the fans. He’ll be booed everyone he goes, and more so when he passes a legend like Willie Mays. But more importantly, we have clear precedence here. Barry Bonds, who was never suspended from baseball, was coming off a season where he hit 28 HRs with an OBP of .480, and he was completely blackballed by the league. His OPS of 1.045 would have led the league, but he did not have the ABs to qualify. A-Rod hit .244 last year and will be coming off a season completely out of baseball. If no team was willing to give Barry Bonds a job, or even Manny Ramirez for that matter, who’s going to want Arod?
Unlike others, I don’t find any joy in any of this. While his actions during this entire saga are all inexcusable, I’ll still remember him as one of the best players I’ve ever seen play the game. And for all his selfishness, let’s not forget this is a guy who was the best SS in the game, on track to be far and away the best of all-time, but decided to shift to 3B for a shot to come to the Yankees and win a title. This entire thing is more complicated than simply saying he’s a jerk. But while I loathe the idea of having to discuss Arod for the next 15 months leading up to the start of the 2015 season, I’m convinced the discussion will be limited to off the field banter: His career is now officially over.