Kobritz Column: A-Rod, Yanks dispute home run obligation
If Alex Rodriguez and tranquility are an oxymoron, then A-Rod and controversy are a tautology; they mean the same thing.
It would take a book to chronicle all the controversies A-Rod has spawned in his illustrious career. The latest occurred last Saturday when he clubbed a game-winning home run against the Red Sox. The homer tied him with Willie Mays for fourth place on baseball's all-time home run list at 660. Not every game-winning home run is controversial, but A-Rod isn't your ordinary baseball player.
During negotiations on a new contract in 2007, A-Rod was intent on signing the first $300 million contract in MLB history. But when the Yankees balked at guaranteeing that amount up front, the parties compromised. They signed a 10-year, $275 million contract and added a side agreement that would pay A-Rod an additional $30 million, $6 million every time he achieved one of five milestone home run marks. The first was for tying Mays' record, followed in order by tying Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds, and finally for exceeding Bonds' total of 762 home runs.
The side agreement referred to the milestones as "marketing" opportunities because under MLB rules, players cannot be rewarded for specific performance levels. They can earn bonuses for a certain number of appearances - for example, 500 at bats for a player, 50 appearances for a pitcher - but not for batting .300 or winning 20 games.
After A-Rod was suspended for 162 games - the entire 2014 season - for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal he sued MLB and the Yankees, accusing them of trying to run him out of the game. Needless to say, the Yankees were none too pleased with A-Rod's actions and recriminating insults made headlines in the New York tabloids. The team made no bones about their desire to rid themselves of the mercurial slugger and the $64 million remaining on his contract - plus the $30 million in bonuses - once and for all.
But this is MLB where, unlike the NFL, contracts are fully guaranteed the day they are signed. As long as A-Rod attempted to play, even if he was injured or released, the Yankees were on the hook for the remainder of his contract. So A-Rod apologized to the Yankees, showed up in spring training and set about winning a roster spot. By all accounts he has been a model citizen since his return and although he was only batting .243 when he hit the home run that tied Mays, it was his sixth of the season in addition to 14 RBIs. His contributions have helped propel the Yankees to first place in the American League East.
Although A-Rod's on-field exploits please his bosses, apparently the ill will generated over his suspension and the lawsuits that followed has not been forgotten. The team says it has no intention of paying the bonuses to A-Rod because the milestones are no longer "marketable." Nor apparently, are they obligated to do so. According to the team, the contract language gives them "the sole discretion...to determine whether each of these milestones is commercially marketable as the home-run chase."
It would be out of character for A-Rod to forego $6 million without a fight so you can expect this issue to make headlines for the foreseeable future. Although the next move is A-Rod's, what it will be is currently unknown. The union has publicly stated it will support A-Rod in this matter but exactly what their options are depends on whether the side contract is part of his base contract or in reality a marketing deal. If it's the latter, it may not be subject to the collective bargaining agreement, which would require A-Rod to seek redress in the courts rather than via baseball's arbitration system.
Regardless of which route A-Rod takes, the Yankees' position that the home run marks aren't marketable may be a result of their own doing. They trashed A-Rod as a PED violator and now they have no interest in attempting to market his accomplishments. Every contract includes an implied obligation to act in good faith. Have the Yankees done that? Stay tuned.
The latest A-Rod controversy is just beginning. And regardless of how it turns out, because its A-Rod you can rest assured there's another one brewing somewhere on the horizon.
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 email@example.com.