Alex Rodriguez's strained relationship with Yankees just got worse
David LennonDavid Lennon
David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since
Back in August, when Alex Rodriguez first took aim at the Yankees and Major League Baseball with his conspiracy allegations, Brian Cashman said he was concerned about the "litigious environment" created around the team by his $275-million third baseman.
Evidently, Cashman knew what he was talking about. Seven weeks later, everyone realizes now that was only the tip of the legal iceberg.
On Friday, Rodriguez's lawyers made good on their threats to sue those responsible for his 211-game suspension, as well as the Yankees' team physician, Christopher Ahmad, for malpractice regarding A-Rod's seriously injured -- and since repaired -- left hip.
The timing of the lawsuits, coming toward the end of Rodriguez's arbitration hearing at MLB headquarters in Manhattan, suggests that A-Rod isn't planning on suiting up for the Yankees in the near future, and certainly not for the start of next season. Although the team wasn't directly named as a defendant -- a curious move considering Rodriguez's warfare with the front office -- the lawsuits have made A-Rod even more toxic.
Launching an assault on Bud Selig and attacking the entire Biogenesis investigation is one thing. But going after Ahmad makes it more personal between A-Rod and the team.
When A-Rod's most visible lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, first accused the Yankees in August of mishandling his client's hip injury, Cashman circled the wagons and took to the Fenway dugout to deliver a public defense of the club's medical staff.
Even then, it seemed as though merely having Rodriguez around, and getting routine treatment from longtime Yankees trainer Steve Donohue, was a risky proposition. What was A-Rod's priority? Helping the team win or gathering more information for his pending legal action?
That's what Cashman first touched on during that impromptu Fenway Park news conference. But we won't fully know the answer to that question until these cases make it to the courtroom, if ever.
Fortunately for the Yankees, Rodriguez's lawyers chose only to provide salacious details regarding the Biogenesis case and skipped over (for now?) any potential dirt on A-Rod's dealings with the Yankees. As we've learned from the Roger Clemens-Brian McNamee trials, these things tend to cast a wide net that ensnares players, managers and GMs.
The Yankees were able to absorb the A-Rod circus for two months this season as he helped them stay in wild-card contention, but after what transpired Friday, it's becoming more of a stretch to picture him in their clubhouse again.
Fredric Horowitz, the arbitrator for A-Rod's hearing, is likely to take care of that for the short term. While it's difficult to envision a scenario in which Rodriguez gets stuck with the full 211-game suspension, given the lack of precedent for his specific charges, the expectation is that he will serve a chunk of it.
His lawsuit against MLB -- which claims A-Rod is a victim of a "witch hunt" -- doesn't appear as if it will have an effect on the outcome, as MLB asserted Friday in a response to Rodriguez's 33-page suit.
"While we vehemently deny the allegations in the complaint," the statement said, "none of those allegations is relevant to the real issue: whether Mr. Rodriguez violated the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program by using and possessing numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including Testosterone and Human Growth Hormone, over the course of multiple years."
The statement also said Rodriguez, as Selig cited in the original Aug. 5 announcement of his suspension, attempted to "cover up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner's investigation."
All along, Rodriguez has tried to separate his on-field relationships with Joe Girardi and his Yankee teammates from those he is battling, such as Cashman and club president Randy Levine. But despite the return of Rodriguez's power stroke in his 44 games, the Yankees' rooting interest here is obvious. As Hal Steinbrenner looks to stay under that $189-million luxury threshold for 2014, the eligibility of A-Rod is the fulcrum to that plan.
Rodriguez is on the books for $25 million next season, and a suspension of any length would be a significant rebate on the close to $100 million the Yankees already have invested in 2014. When the team's decision-makers look at A-Rod now, after they put aside the anger, all they see is the dollar signs. And once Horowitz renders his verdict, the Yankees will have to weigh the pros and cons of Rodriguez's long-term future with the team.
A-Rod is guaranteed another $89 million through 2017, with another $30 million in performance bonuses tied to his pursuit of Barry Bonds' home-run record. Next up is Willie Mays at 660, and Rodriguez is only six away from that $6-million bump. Depending on the terms of the suspension, the bigger question for the Yankees could become whether to cut their losses at some point.
Would A-Rod ultimately agree on a settlement to pack up and play elsewhere? Given the acrimony between the two sides, reaching some sort of middle ground won't be easy, and no player willingly surrenders a dime of guaranteed salary unless his current working environment becomes unbearable.
Plus, Rodriguez already may have survived the toughest part by making it back this season. He's done the tedious stretch in Tampa, climbed the minor-league ladder through Charleston and Trenton, endured the verbal abuse at visiting stadiums as well as in the Bronx. For A-Rod, what's happening now feels as familiar to him as the on-deck circle.
"I think the biggest challenge is behind me," Rodriguez said Sept. 28 in Houston during the Yankees' final series of the season.
With A-Rod, you never know.