A look at the upcoming A-Rod-Yankees fight over the 660 home run milestone


As we’ve noted around here several times, the Yankees and Alex Rodriguez appear destined to do battle after he hits career home run 660, tying Willie Mays. The upshot: there is a marketing deal in place in which the Yankees agreed to pay $6 million for this milestone (and more for later home run milestones). The Yankees, however, intend to withhold the payments on the theory that A-Rod’s PED infamy renders his reaching the milestone non-marketable.

I noted in the past that this marketing agreement is not a part of A-Rod’s player contract. It can’t be because player contracts are not allowed to contain statistical incentives outside of games played or finished. This is a separate agreement and, as such, it may not have the same sorts of guarantees that normal contracts have. Put differently, depending on the language and mechanics of the marketing agreement, the Yankees could have some defensible basis for withholding the money.

Today the New York Post reports some inside stuff on how that battle would look. The key takeaway: the Yankees have the right under the deal to designate whether any milestone is “marketbale” at around the time it is reached. Specifically, they have 30 days to make the designation and then pay out to A-Rod. If they don’t, A-Rod files a grievance and it’s heard by baseball’s arbitrator.

The key inquiry, then, will be whether or not the Yankees acted in good faith when they decided that the feat was NOT marketable.

Recently we learned that the Yankees themselves aren’t listing A-Rod’s upcoming passing of Mays in their little fact sheets they hand out to the media. This despite the fact that they note all kinds of other, nearly insignificant upcoming “milestones,” such as, as the Post notes, Brett Gardner needing one stolen base to pass Wid Conroy for sixth place on the Yankees’ all-time stolen base list. I’m sure A-Rod and the union will make some hay out of that in an arbitration.

“So, Mr. Levine, is it the Yankees’ position that passing Wid Conroy is more notable than passing Willie Mays? Really? How many commemorative shot glasses of Gardner and Conroy did you sell for the event?” And so on.The Post gives a less extreme example of this same argument, noting that the Giants and Major League Baseball still sell merchandise related to Barry Bonds’ passing of Hank Aaron and, if that’s marketable, certainly A-Rod passing Willie Mays is too, right?

But hell, I’d take it one step further. If I’m Alex Rodriguez’s lawyers, I print up a bunch of “A-Rod passes Mays” merchandise right now and start selling it on street corners in New York. When it sells — and you know people will buy it because people will buy anything — you drop the receipts on the Yankees’ table right there in the arbitration room and ask them why the Yankees didn’t want to get in on that gravy train if not for spite?

Whatever they do, however, it should be an interesting little battle. Maybe one that doesn’t happen until after the season, as the Post notes that there is no reason compelling an immediate hearing on this since it only involves money, but interesting whenever it happens.