Analysis: Alex Rodriguez has cost himself the benefit of the doubt
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Here's a question you haven't heard asked much since Tuesday:
What if Alex Rodriguez didn't do it?
In a week in which speculation and statements of the obvious passed as breaking news -- no one, least of all the Yankees, ever thought A-Rod suddenly would choose retirement in light of Tuesday's Miami New Times bombshell story alleging that he purchased performance-enhancing drugs from 2009 into last season -- it's been mentioned only occasionally that the documents central to that report simply haven't been authenticated by investigating authorities.
The paperwork, though fascinating for all of the obvious reasons, in and of itself likely doesn't constitute enough evidence to get A-Rod or any of the other players mentioned in the story suspended by Major League Baseball.
MLB and federal authorities are investigating the anti-aging clinic, Biogenesis, and its proprietor, Anthony Bosch, at the heart of the New Times story.
This is not a defense of Rodriguez, whose past admission of PED use -- after strenuous assertions that he had never used them -- and subsequent explanation during that head-scratching news conference in spring training of 2009 long ago cost him the opportunity to get any benefit of the doubt.
That's a bed of his own making.
Nor does asking the what-if-he-didn't-do-it question take issue with any of the reporting of the New Times.
But Rodriguez, who has hired prominent defense attorney Roy Black and has emphatically denied the story's allegations -- and those made Thursday by ESPN's "Outside the Lines'' that Bosch personally injected him with PEDs at his Miami home -- is deserving of due process.
That said, do the Yankees believe A-Rod, who did not contact the team in the days after the story was published?
By and large they do not.
Any goodwill he had left with the organization all but disappeared when he was alleged to have flirtatiously flipped baseballs to two women near the Yankees' dugout during Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS -- a game that began the Tigers' four-game sweep -- in order to procure phone numbers.
This past week, a source described the Yankees as being "exasperated" by the latest news, resigned that the circus with this particular player never leaves town, even when he's away from it recovering from surgery.
Of course, the narrative then and now would be different if Rodriguez were coming off a 2012 season in which he hit 40 homers and / or excelled in the postseason.
In that case, neither the Yankees nor their fans would care, nor should they, about how many women he flirted with, or when. And the recent story would have produced plenty of detractors, yes, but defenders, too.
But a 37-year-old who by all appearances is breaking down -- and, even when healthy, has seen his production steadily decline -- and is an admitted previous PED user? He had little chance of receiving a shred of benefit of the doubt.
And even less chance of anyone asking the question presented in the second paragraph.
What if A-Rod is able to prove his innocence?
Other than the satisfaction of avoiding suspension and clearing his name in terms of these allegations, it actually changes little.
Before these allegations, the Yankees very much were desirous of freeing themselves of the albatross of a contract they slung around themselves in December 2007, which has five years and $114 million left on it.
And they know, as experts have pointed out all week, even if A-Rod does get suspended, it's still the longest of shots that they can get an early termination of the deal.
The club's faint hope is that A-Rod -- a player whom they privately don't think will see the field in 2013 as he rehabs from hip surgery -- will in the next year or two conclude that he's physically unable to continue.
In that circumstance, they have at least a fair chance to collect much of the money on the contract, which is insured.
If the allegations prove correct, the Yankees wouldn't mind a scenario in which they reach some kind of agreement with A-Rod. Perhaps the third baseman will decide the rehab is too difficult and won't want to face continued public vitriol and the embarrassment of declining skills.
But, simply put, that's still unlikely to motivate him to walk away from the full $114 million.
In the meantime, as the Yankees wait for MLB to finish its investigation, the franchise finds itself asking a rhetorical question about December 2007 that has been posed with increased frequency in recent years.
What were we thinking?