A-Rod’s lawsuit: dropping bombs, but maybe he has a grander tactical plan

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I finally finished reading A-Rod’s lawsuit against Major League Baseball.  If you haven’t read it, go here. It may be one of those most over-the-top, Earth-scorching lawsuits I’ve ever seen. Certainly in a sports context.

It’s Alex Rodriguez attempting to put Bud Selig and Major League Baseball on trial for Collusion against free agents in the 80s, the Steroids Era — which A-Rod claims was largely authored by Bud Selig — and generally for trying to destroy Rodriguez’s career, reputation and earning potential. It did so, he claims, by paying off witnesses, leaking the details of the Biogenesis investigation to the media and singling him out as the target of a vendetta. The complaint reads like acid in places, is hilarious in others and basically attempts to put baseball on trial for everything bad it has done since Selig has been around.

But so much of that is just noise and red meat for the press. A lawsuit is only as strong as its legal claims, and it’s worth noting that the legal end to all of these allegations is pretty small: two simple legal counts for tortious interference. One in which he alleged that Major League Baseball’s actions have caused him to lose out on business and endorsement deals and another in which he alleges that Major League Baseball is trying to interfere with his contract with the Yankees.

As we noted back in March when MLB filed its tortious interference suit against Biogenesis and again when San Jose sued MLB on tortious interference grounds back in June, such claims are often hard to establish. In order to prevail, you have to show the following:

  • that you had a contract with a third party (or that prospective contracts were in the offing);
  • that the defendant knowingly induced the third party to break the contract;
  • that the defendant had an improper motive or means for doing so; and
  • that you were harmed by such actions

In the Biogenesis suit, MLB’s harm, as stated in the complaint, was laughable. In the San Jose suit, San Jose’s contracts are imaginary, not real. In this case A-Rod can make valid claim to real contracts — his Yankees contract chief among them — and harm that will result from his suspension. But what I’m struggling with is how he will establish Major League Baseball’s improper motive and means.

Even if we think MLB has overreached — which I do — MLB has been acting and continues to act in furtherance of a valid drug enforcement regime. In collecting evidence, issuing discipline and suspending players, MLB has been fulfilling its legal obligations under the CBA, so the very act of the proceedings against A-Rod are, at least on the surface, valid. Maybe they secretly harbor a vendetta, but they have total deniability of that in saying that their motive here is to police PED use by baseball players.

So then we go to means. As A-Rod’s lawyers so helpfully remind everyone at paragraph 37 of the complaint, I personally think that the way in which MLB has gone about gathering evidence is bogus. The main tool they used — the Biogenesis lawsuit — is clearly a sham, designed to get documents and not actually redress injury.  But that’s just my view. The court handling that case has validated the suit by refusing to dismiss it and by continuing to let major league baseball collect evidence and depose people. I think the court was wrong to do so, but it’ll be hard for A-Rod to get this court to rule that an active lawsuit is a tortious act in and of itself.

So then we get to the leaks. Again, I think there have been all kinds of loose lips in this case, but how will A-Rod establish that Major League Baseball has violated the confidentiality provisions of the CBA and JDA? Calling reporters to the stand and having them explain who at MLB told them what? We’ve seen that kind of drama before. Reporters will not burn their sources. And even if they did, are we really so naive as to think that only MLB has leaked things? I think we can confidently say that lots of different parties with lots of different agendas have leaked things. As such, it’d be hard for A-Rod to get a lot of traction here.

A final hurdle — although it may very well be a threshold issue in this case — is whether a court should actually hear this case in the first place. The JDA and CBA say that disputes between Major League Baseball and players should take place in arbitration. Obviously this suit is A-Rod’s way of saying that he no longer has to do that because MLB, in his view, has misbehaved. But a court may not buy that and may refuse to hear the case, saying it’s a matter of arbitration. If that happens, the lawsuit ends before it begins and A-Rod is back in the arbitration room every day.

What’s more — and this could loom pretty significantly — the players union itself, who is A-Rod’s nominal defense in the arbitration, has a vested interest in protecting the integrity of the arbitration process. The MLBPA, therefore, may feel obligated to break with A-Rod now and tell this court it shouldn’t hear the case because the arbitration must be respected. This would be a very big deal.

Which — now that I think about it — could be A-Rod’s plan. Well, his plan in addition to simply excoriating Bud Selig and Major League Baseball in as loud a voice as possible. The plan is this: Force his union representation to take a stand against him. That, in turn, blows up the arbitration which cannot go on if the union and league are now on the same side of a critical issue. With the arbitration in limbo, A-Rod and MLB are back to square one, A-Rod is eligible to play and there is no basis for denying him his paychecks. If such a thing were to happen, MLB may not want to proceed with a new arbitration. It may try to reach out to make a deal.

All of that is wild speculation, of course. But this is a wild case. And with it the Biogenesis matter, which we thought was nearing its end, may still have many twists and turns before its final resolution.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.