NEW YORK — The New York Yankees have 61 million reasons they wouldn’t want Alex Rodriguez back if he has to serve a lengthy Major League Baseball ban for his connections to a clinic accused of supplying performance-enhancing drugs: the money they’ll owe him.
Rodriguez, a three-time American League Most Valuable Player, is being investigated by baseball for his ties to the now-shuttered Biogenesis of America clinic in Coral Gables, Fla., and may face a suspension through the 2014 season. ESPN has reported that MLB may announce penalties against Rodriguez and other players connected to Biogenesis this week.
Rodriguez, the active career home-run hitter in the major leagues with 647, would still have three years and $61 million remaining on his record 10-year, $275 million deal even if he’s banned without pay for the rest of this season and the 2014 campaign. If Rodriguez receives the longest drug-related suspension in the sport’s history, the Yankees may seek to void his contract, something Rodriguez would oppose, said Michael McCann, director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.
“In all likelihood it would end with some kind of buyout rather than either side entirely wining,” McCann said in a telephone interview. “But for the Yankees, if they could buy him out for half of the $61 million they’d owe him, without knowing the specific impact on the luxury tax, it seems like it’s something that would be attractive to them.”
McCann said the Yankees could cite paragraph 7(b) of baseball’s uniform player contract, which states a club can terminate a deal if the player fails, refuses or neglects to conform his personal conduct to the standards of “good citizenship and good sportsmanship.”
“Teams in the past have tried to use that without success because players immediately go to the grievance process and then the team decides not to put up a fight,” McCann said. “They usually work out some type of a buyout agreement.”
Rodriguez’s lawyer, David Cornwell, said Monday on ESPN radio in New York that he’s preparing for an eventual appeal if there’s an MLB suspension handed down.
“My understanding is that the next step that’s going to be taken is the players association and baseball will meet to discuss the investigation and baseball’s focus on particular players,” Cornwell said. “So we’ll see how that plays out, but at this point my expectation is that we’re going to be working through the process toward an appeal.”
Cornwell said in the interview that Rodriguez wasn’t interested in any settlement like the one reached by 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun, who was suspended from the Milwaukee Brewers for the final 65 games of this season by MLB for unspecified drug violations.
The New York Daily News reported Monday that MLB was waiting to see whether Rodriguez would accept a settlement that would call for him to be suspended through the 2014 season. If he rejected it, Rodriguez could receive a lifetime ban from the sport from MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, the Daily News said, citing an unidentified person familiar with the discussions.
MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said the league won’t comment on possible suspensions during an active investigation.
The longest major-league drug ban is 100 games, against pitcher Guillermo Mota for failing two doping tests. Rodriguez never failed a test but previously acknowledged using banned drugs in 2001-03, while with the Texas Rangers.
If Rodriguez gets a ban through 2014, he’d lose his pay for the rest of this season, when he was due to make $29 million, plus $25 million next year.
That would provide an immediate financial benefit to the Yankees, who are attempting to pare payroll to less than $189 million next year from what USA Today lists as a major-league high of $228.8 million this season. Hal Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ managing general partner, has set that goal to save the franchise from MLB’s luxury tax payments. Wages affected by a suspension wouldn’t count against the luxury tax, MLB said.
Rodriguez hasn’t played in the majors this season while recovering from left hip surgery in January. He complained of tightness in his left thigh during a minor-league rehabilitation stint this month and was diagnosed with a strained quadriceps muscle, prompting the Yankees to keep him on the disabled list.
Rodriguez then retained a doctor who questioned the results of the medical scan, after which Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said the team wasn’t trying to delay Rodriguez’s return.
Cornwell declined to comment on Rodriguez’s relationship with the Yankees during his ESPN radio interview. Cornwell said Rodriguez’s primary focus is playing baseball.
“It’s been nearly a year since he’s played, he’s gone through his operation and there’s no amount of rehab games that’s going to give him the feel of facing live bullets at a Major League Baseball level,” Cornwell said. “That’s where Alex’s primary focus is right now. We’ll have a chance to deal with these later issues and they arise and as they unfold.”