David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
As Major League Baseball gathers more evidence and Alex Rodriguez adds more lawyers, both sides are gearing up for a fight over the Biogenesis anti-aging clinic that is likely to drag on for months, with the real possibility of no clear winner.
Just look back to what happened in 2011, when Ryan Braun tested positive for elevated testosterone levels -- supposedly a slam-dunk for suspension -- yet escaped thanks to a chain-of-custody defense during the arbitration hearing.
The Brewers outfielder avoided a 50-game suspension and saved himself roughly $2 million. Fortunately for Braun, he had signed a five-year, $105-million extension less than six months before the positive test. But skating free on what amounted to a technicality left a stain that can't be totally erased by an arbitrator's ruling.
Rodriguez is staring at the same type of scenario. MLB is aggressively pursuing A-Rod, Braun and nearly two dozen other players connected to Biogenesis. Suspensions are likely; the league's investigators didn't go through the trouble of reportedly cutting a deal with the anti-aging clinic's founder, Anthony Bosch, just to embarrass the alleged PED users.
MLB also doesn't want to look bad, as it did after the Braun reversal, so this is not a case of heaving up the legal equivalent of a Hail Mary pass. If MLB can't produce a positive PED test or airtight documentation of a player buying ban-ned substances, it's going to be a tough sell, regardless of the help provided by Bosch or his associates. Not impossible, but difficult.
Here's the thing: MLB still can impose suspensions if what it uncovers fits as a violation of the Joint Drug Program, then worry later about whether the punishment will stick. There's zero doubt that appeals will follow. And if the appeals don't go the players' way, you'd have to expect lawsuits.
At this point, it's not so much about reputation as the salary hit. For Rodriguez, a 100-game suspension would cost him roughly $15 million. He's already admitted to using PEDs, during the non-penalty phase of MLB's early survey testing, and to come under suspicion again is not helping him in the court of public opinion.
The same goes for Braun, who would be out about $5 million for a similar suspension.
Braun's ordeal evidently made an impression on Rodriguez, who a month ago hired Braun's former attorney, David Cornwell. The Atlanta-based lawyer helped Braun win his appeal, and the addition of Cornwell to Rodriguez's legal team -- along with Jay Reisinger in Pittsburgh -- suggests that A-Rod is preparing himself for a brewing showdown with MLB.
In the meantime, Rodriguez has been working out in Tampa as he rehabs from January hip surgery and looks to be on schedule to return after the All-Star break. On Friday, A-Rod did drills that should prepare him for running the bases soon. If he steadily improves, that eventually will put pressure on the Yankees, who probably would prefer to have Rodriguez stay right where he is.
Even if he's healthy, there's no telling how productive Rodriguez will be after surgery on both hips. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has expressed concern that A-Rod is a diminished player now and basically can't live up to the remainder of his $275-million deal. The Yankees actually have more to gain by Rodriguez being in limbo.
If he is suspended, Rodriguez's discounted salary won't count against the Yankees' payroll or luxury tax. There's also a good chance, given the appeal process and subsequent court delays, that Rodriguez wouldn't serve a suspension until 2014, which could turn out to be a big break as the Yankees try to get under the $189-million luxury-tax threshold for that season.
Another potential outcome, though perhaps more of a long shot, is that Rodriguez will be physically unable to play. If he misses up to four months and can't finish the season, the Yankees have an insurance policy that will pay the rest of his 2013 salary. If he can't return at all and a doctor declares him disabled, the team will be refunded 80 percent of his remaining contract.
Again, these are not things that will be decided in the near future. The Yankees have maintained a business-as-usual attitude throughout the A-Rod drama because he's essentially been living in exile since the offseason. As long as Rodriguez is out of sight, he's out of mind, and there's a vibe around the club that no one prefers the alternative.
Regardless of how this whole Biogenesis thing turns out, from what we've come to learn about baseball's PED problem, this is less about winning and more about different degrees of losing for everyone involved.