Alex Rodriguez

Alex Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension is crazy and should be reduced

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The MLBPA’s official statement on the suspensions of the Biogenesis players is something I can totally agree with: the 50-game suspensions make sense given that all involved were first time drug offenders who agreed, when they chose not to appeal, that MLB had the goods on them. But Alex Rodriguez’s 211-game suspension is crazy and it should be reduced.

It’s crazy for a number of reasons.

One simple argument is that A-Rod is receiving discipline for the first time under the Joint Drug Agreement (JDA). The JDA calls for suspensions of 50 games, 100 games or life. A strict constructionist of the JDA could very easily say that A-Rod, as a first offender, should get 50 games, full stop.  Now, I’m not naive. I don’t think that argument will necessarily work. Indeed, the head of the union himself said, for some reason, that the 50-100-life rubric does not apply to Biogenesis cases. I’m not sure why he’d admit that, but I do feel like if that argument had any weight it would have been made a lot more forcefully before now. Still: it’s not an argument I’d abandon if I was A-Rod’s lawyer.

MORE: A-Rod on appeal:’I’m fighting for my life’

A more compelling argument: 211 games is the most arbitrary number imaginable, and arbitrators of employer-employee agreements tend not to like arbitrariness.

The Joint Drug Agreement employs a unit of measurement for drug discipline: games. MLB may make an impassioned and persuasive case that Alex Rodriguez was a horrible wrongdoer, but they clearly chose this discipline based on how long they wanted to see him gone — this season and all of next — and simply calculated how many games that covered. In this sense it was entirely arbitrary and made little effort to match up the severity of the acts with the severity of the punishment. If it happened last week he’d get 217 games? If it happened next week he’d get 205? For the same conduct? It speaks to an unreasonable standard of discipline, even if it happens to go after unreasonably bad behavior.

Let’s talk about that behavior. A-Rod’s Biogenesis case has been the subject of countless leaks over the past several months, and most of those leaks have spoken non-specifically of awful, awful things. We don’t know how awful. Maybe it’s really, really bad! Obstruction of the investigation. Maybe some sort of luring of other players to Tony Bosch’s clinic. We really don’t know.  But we do know that for 211 games to stick, those acts have to be more than four times worse than some other player’s drug use, right? That’s how MLB got to its arbitrary number, right?

MORE: Rodriguez goes 1-for-4 in first game back with Yanks

I don’t know what MLB’s evidence is, but I do know this much: the historic pattern of A-Rod coverage has been to take what he actually did, multiply it by about a million times in terms of severity and report it as the worst thing that ever happened.  Puffing up A-Rod’s evil works with tabloid readers, talk radio callers and the “A-Rod is the devil” folks, but it’s unlikely to work well with an arbitrator. So if that pattern is happening once again, it may be a much closer case than many are portraying.

None of that means Alex Rodriguez didn’t do anything wrong. None of that means that Alex Rodriguez will succeed on his appeal. But from where I’m sitting, Major League Baseball’s 211-game suspension looks hard to defend, and it’s hard to blame Rodriguez for going after it on appeal.

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the exception because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed, I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.

Report: Yankees sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal

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Update (12:02 AM EST): Rosenthal adds that Chapman’s contract includes an opt-out clause after three seasons, a full no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract, and a limited no-trade clause for the final two years.

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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Yankees have signed closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract. Mark Melancon recently set the record for a contract earned by a reliever at $62 million over four years. Chapman blew that out of the water and many are surprised he didn’t fetch more.

Chapman, 28, began the 2016 season with the Yankees but he was traded to the Cubs near the end of July in exchange for four prospects. The Cubs, of course, would go on to win the World Series in large part due to Chapman. The lefty finished the regular season with a 1.55 ERA, 36 saves, and a 90/18 K/BB ratio in 58 innings between the two teams.

Chapman was the best reliever on the free agent market and, because he was traded midseason, he didn’t have draft pick compensation attached to him.

The Yankees don’t seem to be deterred by Chapman’s domestic violence issue from last offseason, resulting in a 30-game suspension to begin the 2016 regular season.