David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
The Yankees didn't get their best-case scenario Saturday when Alex Rodriguez had his suspension reduced to 162 games, thereby wiping out the entire 2014 season. But it was pretty darn close.
Despite chopping 49 games off A-Rod's original suspension, arbitrator Fredric Horowitz still hacked roughly $25 million off the Yankees' payroll for the 2014 season. The ruling also saved Rodriguez about $6 million, a sum that won't even put a dent in the legal tab for his anti-Bud Selig crusade.
The number that intrigues us, however, is the $61 million now left on Rodriguez's contract, which runs through the 2017 season. Are we approaching the range at which the Yankees could be tempted to simply jettison A-Rod? Or maybe work out some kind of mutually beneficial package that might get him to take his talents home to South Beach?
It's got to be getting closer.
Remember, not only does Rodriguez plan on taking his case to federal court -- in most legal views, a futile effort -- but he also has a lawsuit pending against the Yankees' medical staff, and things are about to get even messier with A-Rod's camp insisting that he will be at spring training in Tampa.
Rodriguez's intention to show up at Steinbrenner Field comes off as a rather obvious attempt to further antagonize the Yankees and thumb his nose at baseball commissioner Selig. He's fully entitled to participate in spring training while suspended, and even play in Grapefruit League games, according to the Joint Drug Agreement. But given the contentious nature of Rodriguez's situation and his inability to take a meaningful swing for the Yankees until 2015, it's really a pointless exercise.
A-Rod didn't have any problem keeping his distance last year during spring training. While his workouts back then were limited by his rehab from hip surgery, Rodriguez maintained that he would make it back later in the season, and he did on Aug. 5. There's no such goal this time around -- no date circled, no mile markers on the rehab trail. Just six months on the shelf, another birthday -- Rodriguez will turn 39 in July -- and a long winter ahead.
In the meantime, all A-Rod has left to keep him busy is a relentless PR campaign, and he's getting better and better at it, with the help of a sizable staff at his disposal. Rodriguez lashed back at the system Saturday with a 370-word statement detailing the injustices he's suffered through, but he made sure to emphasize where his loyalty remains.
"I will continue to work hard to get back on the field,'' he said, "and help the Yankees achieve the ultimate goal of winning another championship.''
Of all the bizarre twists and turns involved in this PED-tainted saga, A-Rod's mutilated relationship with the team that employs him tops everything else. The Yankees clearly want no part of him, and yet it's been impossible to move on as long as they're anchored to him by his unwieldy contract -- one that helped produce a 27th World Series title but also has created a headache-inducing circus that never leaves town.
Horowitz's ruling provided a welcome reprieve for the Yankees, and let's face it, it's something they have been rooting for from the moment Selig handed down that 211-game suspension. What the Yankees still are waiting on, however, is an exit strategy from A-Rod, and that part is up to them.
Can they really wait out an entire season, take on whatever additional abuse Rodriguez feels like dealing them, and then be held hostage for three more years?
There seems to be room for negotiation here. A-Rod has built up some leverage with his lawsuits and affinity for a microphone, but Horowitz helped the Yankees bridge the gap from unthinkable to worth discussing as far as the possibility of ditching Rodriguez goes. They have spent this offseason rebooting the franchise at an expense of more than $300 million -- with Masahiro Tanaka still on the market -- and the Yankees have to figure those additions should help boost their TV ratings, even with A-Rod out of the picture.
Ultimately, every decision comes down to a cost-benefit analysis, and the Yankees finally might be inching closer to a place where a split with A-Rod could be feasible.
Cutting a check for $61 million might seem like a lot to pay to never again deal with Rodriguez's mind-numbing drama. But to the Yankees, after the past few years, we'd bet it's beginning to feel like a bargain.