On Tuesday evening, ESPN (DIS)broke the news that Major League Baseball will seek to suspend about 20 players allegedly connected with a South Florida clinic that allegedly distributed performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Tony Bosch, the clinic’s founder, is reportedly ready to name names for the league. One of those names, according to ESPN, will be New York Yankees injured third baseman Alex Rodriguez. The news has reignited speculation that Yankees might try to void the remainder of A-Rod’s 10-year, $275 million deal. The team still owes him $86 million over the next four seasons. We called Gabriel Feldman, director of the Tulane Sports Law Program, to discuss what might happen. It’s not good news for Yankee fans.
Is there any way the Yankees could use this suspension, if it happens, to get out from under the burden of A-Rod’s contract?
On their face, the allegations seem to present the classic case for termination—breaks the rules and lies about it multiple times—but even assuming the allegations are true, the collectively bargained drug policy is clear that a team can’t take any adverse action against a player for violating the drug policy. The right to punish a player for using PEDs lies exclusively within the Commissioner’s office. And the penalties for violating the policy are carefully spelled out in the drug policy. The Yankees have the right to withhold payment [only] during the suspension.
So there’s no wiggle room?
The only potential exception in the policy is if the violation of the drug policy led to an injury that prevented the player from playing.
Couldn’t the Yankees try to make that argument, given A-Rod’s injury history?
They could. I think you might see the Yankees try to terminate and argue that there are exceptions here, and this is fraudulent, and this goes beyond what was contemplated by the terms of the drug policy. When you’ve got $80 to $100 million at stake, I think you try every legal avenue you can.
Do you think that would work? Could they maybe get a settlement from A-Rod?
I think that the Players Association and the players would argue that that this is a clear case. The league bargained for one result and that’s the result they are getting. It may seem unfair on its face, but it’s an unfair result that the league bargained for. And if they want to change it, they can change it the next time around. I would be surprised if A-Rod’s team said: “You’re right, this does seem unfair. Here’s $20 million back.” If [the Yankees] start to get some traction in litigation, then you might see a settlement. But based on the policy, unless they can prove that connection between the drug use and the injury, this is going to be a difficult one for the Yankees to win.
Do you think outrage will lead to a rule change during the next round of bargaining?
It may be on the table next time around, but the question is: How much is it worth to you to change it? It’s not as if the Yankees went in completely blind to this possibility. A lot of people looked at his contract and said it was excessive, putting aside the possibility of a drug suspension. The Yankees went into this with their eyes wide open.