Contract status has A-Rod's future cloudy
There is an inauthenticity to Alex Rodriguez, and not just because he was exposed as a PED user four years ago or because he is now alleged to have continued using performance enhancers the last four seasons.To many, A-Rod (and yes, even the nickname leaves something to be desired) has long been viewed as too image-conscious, too vain, too insecure to be taken seriously as one of the game's all-timers. Somewhere alongside the glove-slapping incident against the Red Sox, the Cameron Diaz popcorn feeding, the Details Magazine photos of him kissing himself in the mirror, Rodriguez became more punchline than protagonist. Sign the two most lucrative contracts in the history of American professional sports, and you're bound to be intensely scrutinized. But A-Rod has always seemed to find strange ways to attract the spotlight. Rumors that he had a painting of himself depicted as a centaur hanging in his house certainly didn't help. Only the natural talent and the statistics on the back of the baseball card could save A-Rod, and those elements have also fallen victim to the stain of steroids and the unyielding breakdown of his body in recent years. Add it all up, and you have an undoubtedly great ballplayer who, on measure, has been more reviled than revered. And that, ultimately, is more representative of the Rodriguez legacy than his career home run total. The problem, however, with this decidedly negative perception about A-Rod is that it sometimes pushes the storyline into places that don't exactly mesh with reality. And so it is here in the immediate aftermath of the Miami New Times report that Rodriguez was one of several players who bought human growth hormone and other PEDs from a now-defunct anti-aging clinic in Coral Gables, Fla. The immediate assumption of many in the media and many in the Yankees' fan base is that we've likely seen the end of A-Rod, saddled as he is with hip issues and, now, another doping scandal from which he'll presumably never recover. A-Rod used his latest public relations firm to dispute the allegations on Tuesday, and MLB will continue to investigate what's been going on in South Florida. But suffice to say, the court of public opinion is skeptical of A-Rod, to say the least. What is beyond debate, though, is that A-Rod has a contract with the Yankees. That contract has five years and $114 million remaining on it. And no matter how unlikeable he may be, no matter how embarrassing this latest development might seem, it is, at this moment, likely we have not seen the last of Alex Rodriguez on a baseball field. It's also possible we have not seen the last of him in pinstripes. That could change, of course, but the Yankees' options in this matter are limited. For one, the possibility of the Yanks voiding Rodriguez's contract is suspect, at best. They may want to void the contract, and their reasons for wanting to void the contract may be entirely understandable. But as was illustrated when the topic of voiding Jason Giambi's contract became a talking point six years ago, the club doesn't appear to have the legal grounds to do so. The Collective Bargaining Agreement stipulates that only the Commissioner's Office can take disciplinary action against a player for violating the league's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. If A-Rod is revealed to have violated the policy, the Commissioner can issue him a first-time suspension of 50 games. Beyond that, unless there is specific language in A-Rod's contract that addresses PED use, the Yankees would not appear to have a legal machination to deny A-Rod any of his future salary. Maybe the Yankees will decide to release Rodriguez outright. They'd still have to pay him, and any team would be able to swoop in and sign him essentially for the league minimum. But $114 million to not play? That would be the most expensive grudge in human history. What about insurance? That's become a popular subject in the A-Rod discussion. If the contract is insured -- and we are obviously not privy to the details of the insurance policy -- it is, indeed, "plausible," to borrow the word used in several reports, that the Yankees could recoup a great deal of the remaining $114 million if Rodriguez's latest hip injury proves to be career-ending. Keep in mind, though, that the initial reports after Rodriguez's left hip surgery were that the cartilage damage was "minimal." A New York Daily News report just last week quoted team president Randy Levine saying he had received periodic updates from Rodriguez's personal surgeon, Dr. Bryan Kelly, who assured him "as long as Alex does the rehab, he will be back [to] play… six months from the day of the operation." Now, that doesn't mean Rodriguez won't have setbacks, and perhaps those setbacks will be career-threatening. Albert Belle is a perfect example of a once-feared slugger whose hip troubles prematurely ended his career. At the moment, though, there has been no real indication that Rodriguez's future ability to take the field is compromised, and so the insurance discussion seems presumptuous and premature. The Yankees' best, most realistic option in divorcing themselves from A-Rod would appear to be an amicable agreement from A-Rod himself. The team and the player would have to agree that the contract has become such a burden and the public perception and negative attention has become such a distraction that it is best for both parties to come to a settlement. "My sense is that this one is so bad that they may get a settlement," one exec from another club said. "Maybe they could cut [the remaining $114 million] in half. That's still a lot of money. My guess is they're going to push things, and they may put him in a position where he doesn't want to deal with the magnitude of the issue." Would A-Rod accept a $57 million buyout and walk away? That's hard to say right now, considering he's in full denial mode regarding the latest allegations and his rehab schedule is still calling for a return to play in the second half of 2013. If such a divorce were to take place, it's hard to say what kind of market would develop for Rodriguez's services, if any. On the one hand, if he could repeat his production last year -- a .272 average, .353 on-base percentage and .430 slugging percentage -- he would certainly be worthy of a bare-bones contract loaded with incentives. On the other hand, he might be viewed as toxic and untouchable, given all that's transpired. All we know for now is that Alex Rodriguez is a Yankee. He may be unpopular, he may be routinely labeled a fraud, and his contract very well might go down as not only the most lucrative in baseball history but also the worst. But a contract is a contract, and the Yankees are bound to it, 'til expiration, amicable split or legal wiggle room do they part.