Let’s get one thing out of the way at the outset: whatever results from the Biogenesis news, be it a lengthy suspension or otherwise, this will not “forever taint Alex Rodriguez’s legacy” or whatever words anyone chooses to author to that melodramatic effect. Alex Rodriguez’s legacy was toast years ago, rightly or wrongly.
A-Rod was transformed from a supremely-talented All-Star into a greedy mercenary when he signed his first $250 million contract with the Texas Rangers before the 2001 season and had that image solidified when he opted out of it while with the Yankees and signed another huge deal in December 2007.
He was branded a steroid cheat and effectively denied his rightful ticket to the Hall of Fame when word surfaced of his past performance enhancing drug use in early 2009 and that stain has never gone away in the public eye.
Beyond that, he has been portrayed in the media — not necessarily without reason — as a vain, image-conscious but self-consciousness-impaired prima donna for well over a decade now and has been judged as something less than a professional or a fierce competitor due to past playoff failures (never mind that he carried the Yankees on his back to the 2009 World Series title) and because he is not Derek Jeter (never mind that not even Derek Jeter is the Derek Jeter the media and his adoring fans have constructed).
So no, this is not a fall from grace. This is not a hero brought to his knees. If you hear someone talking about A-Rod and Biogenesis and they offer any sentiment suggesting that this, after all that has come before, is the final straw, you may feel free to ignore this person because they have no idea what they are talking about. A-Rod has been a widely hated and hated-on figure for far longer than he was ever considered, first and foremost, a baseball superstar and this is merely another brick in that very tall, very long and very solid wall. It’s not totally fair that he’s been made the pariah that he is, but he is a pariah among all but the most forgiving fans, no question.
So what CAN the Biogenesis scandal do to Alex Rodriguez?
It can suspend him for 50 games. One hundred games if the investigation finds out he used PEDs and lied about it. But it cannot, and I believe should not, end his career, either in its entirety or as a New York Yankee.
Alex Rodriguez is under contract with the New York Yankees through 2017 . Including this season he’s owed approximately $114 million. While the Yankees would love to be out from under than contract somehow — because, really, it’s a horrible contract — there is no mechanism for them to void it regardless of what comes out of the Biogenesis investigation. The Joint Drug Agreement provides no means to do so. Player contracts have no terms which allow for contracts being voided due to PEDs for they incorporate the Joint Drug Agreement by reference. Given that we are now nearly six years out from when the deal was signed, it would strain credulity for the Yankees to claim that there was any fraud or misrepresentation that forced them into the deal. It’s just not going anywhere, regardless of what the Yankees front office may say off the record to the media.
At the same time, there is zero incentive for Alex Rodriguez to retire or walk away from the game. While he is coming off major surgery and while it is unclear whether he will ever be anything close to the player he once was, it is premature to say that Rodriguez will never play again for physical reasons. But even if he can’t play — even if his hip is toast, he can’t run, field or even lift a bat — the Yankees are still on the hook for that $114 million. All A-Rod would need to do is to comply with whatever rehabilitation or medical regimen the Yankees asked him to do and the checks would keep on coming. There is considerable precedent for this happening in baseball history, with Albert Belle being perhaps the most notable example. Belle signed a five-year contract with the Orioles in 1998, but due to a degenerative hip condition did not play for the final three of those five years. He was kept on the disabled list by the Orioles, fully paid, the entire time. Why? Because teams assume the financial risk of injury to a player, not the player.
But the thing is, Alex Rodriguez does appear to be able to play baseball. He has been rehabbing at the Yankees complex in Tampa for weeks now, taking ground balls, running, hitting balls off a tee and getting back into baseball shape. Just today Yankees manager Joe Girardi had this to say about his third baseman:
“My focus is not on what MLB is investigating and all of that. And I don’t want to get caught up in that just because, in a sense, they’re going to handle it. I’ll let them handle it. I’ll continue to assist our players in getting ready anyway they can.
“But he’s in Tampa getting ready and that’s what we want him to do.”
He hasn’t commented on the latest reports. Given the state of Rodriguez’s rehab, the Yankees need for his bat back in the lineup and given the potentially lengthy timeline for any discipline if he is found culpable, I think it’s far more likely that we’ll see Alex Rodriguez playing major league baseball games this season than we’ll see him cast out of the game on either a temporary or permanent basis.