Originally Published: January 15, 2014 6 a.m.
In the wake of MLB arbitrator Frederic Horowitz' ruling that Yankees' third baseman Alex Rodriguez should be suspended for the entire 2014 season, plus the postseason, here are five key facts about the decision.
1. Horowitz shaved 49 games off A-Rod's original suspension of 211 games, subject to any playoff games the Yankees might be involved in this year. Nonetheless, it was the longest drug-related suspension in MLB history, exceeding the 105-game ban imposed on Miguel Tejada last year as a third time violator of the Joint Drug Agreement ban on amphetamines. The suspension will cost Rodriguez approximately $24 million in salary.
2. The suspension may have effectively ended A-Rod's MLB career. Although he is owed $61 million for the 2015-17 seasons - plus an additional $30 million in $6 million increments if he reaches certain career home run levels - A-Rod is 38 years old and a shell of the player who was by any standard of measurement one of the all-time greatest players in MLB history. He will turn 40 during the 2015 season, and returning to action after sitting out an entire season would be problematic. Even if Horowitz had overturned the suspension, there was little reason to expect A-Rod to perform beyond the level he exhibited in limited duty last year after rehabbing from a second hip operation: a .244 average with 7 home runs and 19 RBIs in 181 plate appearances. In addition, his physical limitations make him a liability in the field.
3. The ruling was nothing short of a delayed Christmas present for the Yankees. The salary relief may allow the team to stay below the luxury tax threshold of $189 million this year, which would save the team tens-of-millions of dollars in future seasons. While the Yankees are on the hook for the guaranteed portion of A-Rod's contract, the suspension makes it highly unlikely that he will earn the incentives even if he returns. That $30 million, combined with the 2014 payroll relief and potential luxury tax savings, might motivate the Yankees to pay Rodriguez off to rid themselves of his drama forever while eliminating a PR headache in the process.
4. Rodriguez vows to continue fighting his suspension, the next step being an appeal to the federal courts. If A-Rod follows through with his threat, the only winners will be his - and MLB's - lawyers. Appeals of an arbitrator's decision are rarely successful, none in MLB history. A-Rod's only hope is that a court grants a temporary injunction, which would allow him to report to spring training and get ready for the season. While that may be difficult for some people to comprehend, under the CBA a suspended player is allowed to participate in all club activities pending an appeal, which is why A-Rod was allowed to play last year while his suspension was appealed in arbitration.
Unfortunately for A-Rod, courts have little interest in interfering with an arbitration decision that is a product of a collectively bargained agreement. In this case, MLB and the players' union agreed to take disputes such as a suspension by the commissioner to binding arbitration, which A-Rod did when he appealed Selig's original 211-game ban. The arbitration process in MLB was first agreed to in 1970, one of former union leader Marvin Miller's greatest accomplishments. Up until that point, players were required to appeal suspensions by the commissioner to ... the commissioner, who was hardly the epitome of an independent arbiter.
A-Rod's grounds for appeal are limited to allegations that Horowitz was biased or that he showed "manifest disregard" for the law or the arbitration procedure was defective. There is no indication that any such claims have merit, although Horowitz' written decision has yet to be released.
5. The view by some commentators that the arbitration decision is a victory for Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB in their efforts to rid the sport of PEDs is bogus. There are no winners here. Some players will continue to use drugs, despite A-Rod's cautionary tale. And while MLB received most of what it was looking for from the arbitrator, the reputation of the sport was sullied during the process and what remained of A-Rod's career and legacy are left in shambles.
The difference between MLB and A-Rod is that while the institution will persevere, A-Rod's once bright star has completely disintegrated.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog http://sportsbeyondthelines.com. Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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