MLB finally issued its Biogenesis suspensions today—the bloodthirsty masses had been told they’d arrive on Friday, but the league evidently wanted one last crack at bargaining with Alex Rodriguez—and it’s a parade of 50-game bans, which resemble the standard first-offender stuff.
Except for one suspension, that is, which sits at a meaty 211 games and runs through the end of the 2014 season. That suspension belongs to A-Rod, the man who leads active players in home runs and RBI, hasn’t played a game yet this season, and owns baseball’s biggest contract.
Rodriguez’s offense, the commissioner’s office said, was multiple years’ use of testosterone and human growth hormone, use the league learned of after bargaining for cooperation from former Biogenesis boss Tony Bosch. The additional 161 games were tacked on because he “engag[ed] in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation,” which is to say that Rodriguez engaged in a course of conduct functionally identical to the commissioner’s (buying evidence, surrounding himself with lawyers) but did not have the good fortune of being the commissioner.
The punishment should strike one as arbitrary, because it is: There is nothing in baseball’s joint drug agreement about obstruction of investigations, nothing in there about 161-game supplemental suspensions. Even the ostensibly standard 50-game suspensions handed out to everyone besides Rodriguez and Ryan Braun resulted from lengthy negotiations and (most importantly) agreements not to appeal. Rodriguez was the one player not to bite, so he got the big one, the empty threat made real, the suspension long enough that it could be halved by an arbitrator and still look tough. And that just might happen. The players’ union rebuked Bud Selig, and has vowed to support Rodriguez. The union’s statement:
For the player appealing, Alex Rodriguez, we agree with his decision to fight his suspension. We believe that the Commissioner has not acted appropriately under the Basic Agreement. Mr. Rodriguez knows that the Union, consistent with its history, will defend his rights vigorously.
Whatever happens with the appeal, Rodriguez will make his 2013 debut tonight and continue playing for at least a little while, so long as his hip cooperates. Only when arbitrator Fredric Horowitz makes a final ruling will the suspension begin. (The one downside of appeal: If Horowitz upholds the suspension at its full length, Rodriguez will be forced to miss the start of 2015, too.) It’s not bad news for the Yankees, though. If Rodriguez plays, he’s a near-lock to improve the team’s league-worst .557 OPS at third, and if he sits, they get needed relief from his too-big contract. Either way, they win, like they always do.