Could the Yankees void A-Rod's contract if he gets suspended for doping?
Alex Rodriguez hasn't played a single game for the New York Yankees this year, and depending on how the Biogenesis case turns out, he may never play another one again.
When the Miami New-Times reported in January that A-Rod and other ballplayers had been linked to a shady Florida clinic accused of peddling performance-enhancing drugs, the Yankees reportedly starting exploring how they could negate the remainder of Rodriguez's contract.
The team considered "20 different things" that would allow them to do so, according to an ESPN source, such as whether Rodriguez had broken the law or breached his contract by seeking medical treatment from a non-team doctor.
That all came before the latest developments this week, which had the league eyeing a 100-game suspension for A-Rod thanks to the sudden cooperation from Biogenesis head, Tony Bosch. (For more on the latest in that case, read our coverage here.)
So should the league really suspend Rodriguez, will the Yankees go through with those termination plans?
There's no question they'd like to do that. Rodriguez has become a pariah in New York, and he would be a walking representation of the team's aging, bloated payroll and misguided spending if he were actually walking on the field.
His production has steadily fallen since signing a blockbuster contract with New York in 2007. Since last season, he's been just the 26th-most-valuable third baseman in the league in terms of WAR (wins above replacement).
That, despite the fact the he's by far the game's highest-paid player. He's making $28 million this year (again, without having played a single game), and is owed at least another $86 million over the next four years.
Even Yankees General Manager Bran Cashman has admitted A-Rod's contract is terrible.
"It's an enormous contract, and I think that, I would say probably, he couldn’t live up to it," he said this week.
The question of whether the Yankees have the authority to dump their enormous financial obligation to Rodriguez is another matter entirely. According to MLB's drug-testing agreement, only the league can discipline players for using banned substances.
Here's the relevant passage:
All authority to discipline Players for violations of the Program shall repose with the Commissioner's Office. No Club may take any disciplinary or adverse action against a Player (including, but not limited to, a fine, suspension, or any adverse action pursuant to a Uniform Player's Contract) because of a Player's violation of the Program. [MLB]
The policy does give teams a small exception, but only if a player is either physically unable to play due to drug use, or incarcerated or embroiled in a legal case over banned drugs. Rodriguez currently fits neither of those conditions; the hip injury that currently has him sidelined was the result of a congenital deformity.
That doesn't mean the Yankees won't try to cut him loose. When Jason Giambi admitted in 2004 to taking steroids, the Yankees thought about cutting ties with him, but language in his contract prevented them from doing so.
Depending on how a so-called "moral" clause in Rodriguez's contract is taken, the Yankees could conceivably try to say he violated those terms and thus negated the whole deal. However, there is nothing in his contract that specifically mentions steroids, according to ESPN's Andrew Marchand, so that case would be a tough sell.
A more likely scenario is that the Yankees hope the nearly-38-year-old Rodriguez, with a little quiet prodding, calls it quits and retires. Should he do that, they would be able to recoup up to 80 percent, according to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman.
The only sure thing is that if the league does suspend Rodriguez, the Yankees could withhold payment for the duration of his suspension. Beyond that, though, they'd have to craft a unique interpretation of his contract to try and cut him off, something that would assuredly prompt an expensive fight with the players' union.
But given the Yankees' truckloads of money and Rodriguez's outsize deal, litigation may seem cheap, especially when you consider the roughly $100 million the team could pocket if they win the case.