Column: Like it or not, A-Rod may never miss a day or a dollar
For those who think Alex Rodriguez is finally being held accountable for his PED use, the reality is far different.
By now you know that A-Rod received the longest PED-related suspension in MLB history, 211 games covering the remainder of this season and all of 2014. The previous high was the 100-game suspension that journeyman pitcher Guillermo Mota received as a second offender under the Joint Drug Agreement administered by MLB and the players' union. A-Rod's suspension puts the entire $100 million remaining on his contract - and indeed his career - in jeopardy. With so much at stake, it's not surprising that A-Rod filed an appeal.
Twelve of the 13 other players disciplined in the Biogenesis scandal accepted their 50-game suspensions. The 14th, Ryan Braun, was suspended for 65 games and he, too, agreed to forego an appeal. But none of those players are in A-Rod's tax bracket. Even if A-Rod had received a 50-game ban, he stood to lose more in salary than the other 13 players combined.
Despite the suspension, short of a compromise A-Rod is likely to continue playing well into next year and perhaps beyond. A hearing on A-Rod's appeal won't begin until November after the season and the World Series are completed. There's no way MLB wants the A-Rod saga to dominate the news cycle during its premier event. And it will take at least till then for lawyers on both sides to prepare their respective cases.
In addition to their legal arguments under the JDA - A-Rod never tested positive, there is no provision that allows for a 211-game suspension, A-Rod is being singled out unfairly, etc. - Rodriguez' attorneys will take a scorched earth approach to the appeal. MLB's investigative tactics and the credibility of witnesses will be under attack. The hearing is likely to consume weeks, even months. Add in a shutdown during the holidays along with the time it takes for the arbitrator to write an opinion, and a decision is unlikely before spring training.
The arbitrator is virtually guaranteed to forge a compromise somewhere between the 50-game suspension received by 12 players and the 211-game ban imposed on A-Rod. Braun was essentially treated as a second offender under the JDA and his involvement with Biogenesis earned him a suspension of only 65 games. The bet here is A-Rod will be treated similarly to Braun, and certainly no worse than Mota was. That could instantly save A-Rod in excess of $20 million, not counting contract bonuses, some of which are reasonably attainable. But his game plan doesn't end there.
A-Rod can appeal the arbitrator's opinion in the courts. While a court is only authorized to overturn an arbitrator's decision based on extremely limited grounds, at a minimum the legal process will take time and A-Rod can remain in uniform until a decision is final. By then his physical condition, currently tenuous at best, may allow him to claim a disability, which will result in his being paid the entire balance of his contract. Add it all up and A-Rod may never serve a day of his penalty while collecting every cent of the $100 million remaining on his contract.
Unfair, you say? You won't get an argument here. For anyone willing to risk the shame and loss of reputation that accompanies PED use, the potential benefit far exceeds the punishment.
All the suspended players save Braun will be eligible to participate in the playoffs, should their teams make it that far. Several, like Texas' Nelson Cruz and Detroit's Jhonny Peralta, will be free agents after the season and multiple teams will be tripping over themselves to present multi-year contract offers averaging millions-of-dollars per year. Despicable as he is, A-Rod can be forgiven for thinking he was singled out by MLB in comparison to every other PED violator on record.
We may soon see the day when A-Rod's suspension will be the norm, or perhaps players will be forced to forfeit their contracts for violating the JDA. Teams may also be punished for or prohibited from signing PED users. But those consequences must be negotiated between the owners and the players. Until then, what we have is MLB unilaterally trying to make an example of A-Rod. Deserved as it may be, it's unlikely to stick.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor and Chair of the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and is a contributing author to the Business of Sports Network and maintains the blog http://sportsbeyondthelines.com. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.