Would the Yankees sue A-Rod for “damaging the Yankees brand?”

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The idea of voiding player contracts in retaliation for PED suspensions is a non-starter at present, as the Collective Bargaining Agreement specifies that the Joint Drug Agreement constitutes the sole basis of punishment for PED use.  We talked a lot recently about why changing the CBA/JDA to include contract voiding is undesirable. In just the past week some players have gone on record saying that such a thing won’t happen unless some mechanism is built in to differentiate between active attempts to cheat vs. accidental ingestion of banned substances, but that changes the whole nature of the drug program and would lead to evidentiary trials for every positive test, and that seems like a stretch.

Yet it is a topic that simply won’t die. Buster Olney talks about it in today’s column, in which he reports how teams and their lawyers are trying to think of other ways to claw back money from players who use PEDs. After noting that the CBA prevents any such moves:

However, some lawyers believe there could other, more simple grounds — along the lines of the recent government suit filed against Lance Armstrong. Could a team file a lawsuit against a player — as they would any company or entity with which they worked — alleging that irreparable damage has been done to their business, to their brand, through the actions of the defendant?

Take Rodriguez, for example.

At the time the Yankees signed him to his 10-year, $275 million deal, after the 2007 season, they entered into the deal thinking that Rodriguez would continue as an important and marketable part of their franchise for years to come. This is also why they added $5 million incentive clauses that were attached to specific and historic statistical milestones — so he andthe franchise would share that wealth.

But after his admission of PED use in the spring of 2009, the practical usefulness of Rodriguez as a marketing piece was badly damaged — and now, with MLB close to concluding its investigation of Rodriguez, he is all but useless on that front.

It’d be pretty hilarious, after a century of hearing the Yankees talk about how their brand is sterling and their business is bigger than anything this side of God to suddenly claim that Alex Rodriguez did “irreparable damage to their business and brand.”

Plaintiff’s Attorney: “So it’s your testimony, Mr. Steinbrenner, that a century’s worth of domination and glory was cast asunder by the man sitting over there?”

Hal Steinbrenner: “Yes. Yes it is. No one knows who Babe Ruth, Joe Dimaggio, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Derek Jeter are anymore. I tried to give a Yankees cap away to a small child yesterday and his father punched me in the ear.”

“Your witness.”

Seems unlikely but I suppose lawyers have made more outlandish claims.

Of course there’s something besides a lack of such chutzpah that would keep a team from doing that: opening the door to arguments in the future about just how valuable a given player is to the team’s brand.

In this hypothetical case wouldn’t A-Rod’s lawyers be obligated and motivated to argue how much good will the Yankees already received from him? The value of him in their marketing materials from the time he arrived until his name became Mudd? The value of his contributions to the 2009 World Series winning team? No, not in a baseball sense — that’s what A-Rod’s salary was for — but for all of the good will and marketing mojo that flowed out of that? Maybe the YES Network’s revenue would be part of that too? I mean, it would all have to be on the table if we’re talking about the extra-contractual damage the Yankees would be claiming, yes? It would have to be offset by the extra-contractual benefits, of which there have no doubt been many.

No team is going to want to wade into that. If, for no other reason, it would lay the groundwork for player suits in equity — think unjust enrichment theory — when a team realizes way, way more value from the player than that for which they paid. I wonder how many people feel better about the Nationals since Bryce Harper came up. Yasiel Puig totally changed the perception of the Dodgers in a month. There has to be some value in there, no?

Lawyers and their teams know this. But maybe they don’t care. Here’s the giveaway, from Olney’s article:

Could a team gain legal traction and win that argument? Could they get some money back? The longtime lawyer said he isn’t entirely sure. “But I’d file that suit if it involved a player with us,” he said, “because what do you have to lose?”

How utterly inspiring.

The 2017 Yankees are, somehow, plucky underdogs

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There’s a lot that has happened in the past year that I never, ever would’ve thought would or even could happen in America. Many of them are serious, some are not, some make me kinda happy and some make me terribly sad. I’m sure a lot of people have felt that way in this oddest of years.

There’s one thing in baseball, however, that still has me searching my feelings in a desperate effort to know what to feel: The New York Yankees are the postseason’s plucky underdogs.

This is not about them being lovable or likable — we touched on that last week — it’s more about the role they play in the grand postseason drama. A postseason they weren’t even supposed to be in.

None of the three writers of this website thought the Yankees would win the AL East or a Wild Card. ESPN had 35 “experts” make predictions back in March, and only one of them — Steve Wulf — thought the Yankees would make the postseason (he thought they’d win the division). I’m sure if you go over the plethora of professional prognosticator’s predictions a few would have the Yankees squeaking in to the postseason on the Wild Card, but that was nothing approaching a consensus view. Their 2017 regular season was a surprise to almost everyone, with the expectation of a solid, if unspectacular rebuilding year being greatly exceeded. To use a sports cliche, nobody believed in them.

Then came the playoffs. Most people figured the Yankees would beat the Twins in the Wild Card game and they did, but most figured they’d be cannon fodder for the Indians. And yep, they fell down early, losing the first two games of the series and shooting themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion in the process. Yet they came back, beating arguably the best team in baseball and certainly the best team in the American League in three straight games despite the fact that . . . nobody believed in them.

Now we’re in the ALCS. The Astros — the other choice for best team in the American League if you didn’t think the Indians were — jumped out to a 2-0 lead, quieting the Yankees’ powerful bats. While a lot of teams have come back from 0-2 holes in seven game series, the feel of this thing as late as Monday morning was that, even if the Yankees take a game at home, Houston was going to cruise into the World Series. Once again . . . nobody believed in them.

Yet, here we are on this late Wednesday morning, with the Yankees having tied things up 2-2. As I wrote this morning, you still have to like the Astros’ chances given that their aces, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, are set to go in Games 5 and 6. I’m sure a lot of people feel still like the Astros’ chances for that reason. So that leads us to this . . .

It’s one thing for no one to have, objectively, believed in the Yankees chances. It’s another thing, though, for the New York Yankees — the 27-time World Champions, the 40-time American League pennant winners, the richest team in the game, the house-at-the-casino, U.S. Steel and the Evil Empire all wrapped into one — to officially play the “nobody believed in us” card on their own account. That’s the stuff of underdogs. Of Davids facing Goliaths. Of The Little Guy, demanding respect that no one ever considered affording them. If you’re not one of those underdogs and you’re playing that card, you’re almost always doing it out of some weird self-motivational technique and no one else will ever take you seriously. And now you’re telling me the NEW YORK FRIGGIN’ YANKEES are playing that card?

Thing is: they’re right. They’ve totally earned the right to play it because, really, no one believed in them. Even tied 2-2, I presume most people still don’t, actually.

I don’t know how to process this. Nothing in my 40 years of baseball fandom has prepared me for the Yankees to be the David to someone else’s Goliath and to claim righteous entitlement to the whole “nobody believed in us” thing.

Which, as I said at the beginning, is nothing new in the year 2017. I just never thought it’d happen in baseball.