A-Rod’s Fate May Provide Once-Unlikely Opportunities

By now, of course, it's not a question of "if" but "when" the hammer drops on Alex Rodriguez. But it is a question of just what the hammer's head will be made of that keeps observers and analysts guessing and examining A-Rod's, and baseball's, pending fate.

I say baseball's pending fate because of what has washed ashore since Ryan Braun finally took the plunge we now know he had little choice but to take. Little by little, but with a force you'd never have suspected a decade and a half ago, the issue of actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances has a very different reception among those playing the game now. And it's providing baseball government with a very interesting opportunity for resolution in the next labor agreement.

Last week, I wrote elsewhere of Bob Costas (also known as the Man Who Wouldn't Be Commissioner, alas) suggesting the Major League Baseball Players Association might be able to place two propositions on the table when the agreement comes up for renegotiation: 1) an automatic 50-game suspension plus denial of honors and awards for particular periods or the remainder of a player's career, if caught using or procuring actual or alleged PEDs; and, 2) a lifetime banishment from baseball on the second such offense.

This week, ESPN's Buster Olney sees and raises Costas. He focuses on the player's union's swelling rage over Braun and Rodriguez and, we'll allow, any other players who may be facing suspensions regarding the Biogenesis case. And he thinks Bud Selig, on whose watch the issue first exploded but who flipped a switch and became front and center in trying to clean up the mess, never mind that he looked as though he were scrambling to clean up a mess he abetted, can use that swelling rage to take the no-questions-asked higher ground.

It comes this way: A-Rod is cooked. He faces either a 100+ game suspension or, if he declines a deal in which he'll serve some suspended time, a lifetime banishment. He can appeal at once, allowing him to stay on the field (assuming his body cooperates) during the appeal process. That, Olney says, would secure due process, necessary not to alienate the players or their union, no matter how strongly they feel about Braun, A-Rod, and apparently all dancing with or around actual or alleged PEDs, and "allow Selig to ... go to the union, with all the evidence against Braun and Rodriguez in hand, and say the following:

"Fellas, look: I know you're not happy with Braun's suspension, and damn it, neither am I. We wanted more. We want to go after the cheaters with more ammunition. We want to be more aggressive. We think Alex Rodriguez cheated all of you; we think he lied to all of you; we think he tried to make a mockery of our drug-testing system. He thumbed his nose at it and exploited the loopholes.

"Let's close those loopholes. Let's make this better. Let's talk about lifetime bans for egregious second or even first offenders, rather than three-strikes-and-you're-out. Let's eliminate the incentive to cheat: Let's talk about voiding contracts under certain circumstances. (Emphasis added.)

"You guys don't like players like Braun and Rodriguez, and neither do we. Let's go after them."

"If Selig uses this measured approach," Olney continues, "he will put more subtle pressure on the union to act, to put muscle behind those recent words we've heard from so many players. And I think the players will be happy to go along. This is a situation ripe for Selig to exploit because Rodriguez is so unlikable."

That's more or less what I said writing of the Costas disincentive plan last week: "The Players Association and the owners could agree to install a clause into the standard major league baseball player's contract rendering the remainder of the contract null and void if a player is caught and suspended for using or procuring actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances as defined under the game's drug policy. Sometimes, when all else doesn't do the trick, a belt in the bank account ought to suffice."

I wasn't alone. From what I can determine, at least three players have gone on the record as suggesting outright or by implication that the contract-voiding wedge should be used: pitchers Max Scherzer (Tigers, who thinks the PED fight needs to go to "the financial incentive") and Zack Greinke (Dodgers, who tore former teammate Braun a new one last week) and outfielder Skip Schumaker (Dodgers, who thinks Braun should have been barred for life — after returning his 2011 MVP in favor of Matt Kemp).

The Yankees would probably love to see nothing better than a way to rid themselves of what's become a franchise albatross. Say what you will about the Empire Emeritus, but even the Yankees have their tolerance limits. This was the organization that actively sought a way to void Jason Giambi's contract after Giambi admitted to trying actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances and apologized for it without being extremely specific.

Giambi, you may recall, testified in the BALCO grand jury probe to using actual or alleged PEDs in 2001 and 2003, which the San Francisco Chronicle revealed before the 2005 season, prompting his public apology and call for other such players to do likewise. (Perhaps tellingly, Giambi never experienced a particular statistical bump while he did use, which doesn't acquit him, of course.) Long since clean, Giambi this week did pass Hank Aaron in one way: he's now the oldest man (by a few days) to hit a walkoff home run in a regular season game. (He did it as a pinch-hitter, yet.)

"With the help of his own representation, answers to difficult questions were crafted in such a way that [Giambi] could steer around open admission of steroid use — to protect the money that he had earned and that he would earn in the future — while still responding, sort of," Olney observed earlier this week. "The statement that Braun issued last week was designed the same way."

The sand continues to pour through the hourglass neck on Alex Rodriguez. The opportunities, depending upon A-Rod's ultimate fate and action about it (or lack thereof), abound likewise. Though, in fairness, there's one such opportunity that may not be a happy thought in one American League city.

Losing Rodriguez actually may not be in the best interest of the Orioles, with manager Buck Showalter crustily reminding ESPN that Rodriguez being suspended for what would include all of 2014 would relieve the Yankees from paying his $24 million salary for the season — bringing the Yankees under luxury tax and revenue-sharing thresholds and enabling them to spend freely enough between co-owner Hal Steinbrenner's luxury tax threshold goals.

That, Showalter says, means — he guarantees it — that Oriole catcher Matt Weiters is going to be a Yankee by 2015. And this may not be the only team in the Show having comparable concerns. Perhaps Selig's phone's been burning up alive over the PED matters furiously enough since the Braun suspension. This kind of wire fire he doesn't need.

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