The New York Yankees are exploring multiple avenues in an attempt to void their contract with Alex Rodriguez based on new allegations of illegal performance-enhancing drug use reported by a Miami newspaper, but the odds may be against their ability to do it.
According to several baseball sources who spoke to ESPNNewYork.com on the condition of anonymity, Rodriguez may be in little danger of having his contract voided, even if the charges turn out to be true. There is no precedent to successfully void a contract in baseball over PEDs.
If Major League Baseball finds cause to discipline Rodriguez based on allegations made in a 5,400-word story published by the Miami New Times, the Yankees will try to find an escape hatch from their remaining five-year, $114 million obligation to the three-time American League MVP.
If nothing else, it illustrates how deep a rift has developed between the Yankees and Rodriguez, who has won two MVP awards as a Yankee and whose play was instrumental in their 2009 World Series championship.
According to an industry source, the Yankees “are looking at about 20 different things,” including whether Rodriguez breached the contract by taking medical treatment from an outside doctor without the team’s authorization, and the possibility that he may have broken the law by purchasing controlled substances from a Miami “wellness clinic” run by nutritionist Anthony Bosch.
“(The Yankees) can’t do anything until the MLB investigation is concluded and they take action, if any,” the source said.
MLB is in the process of investigating Bosch, who has been linked to Rodriguez and several other players. The Miami New Times had specific details and records of Rodriguez’s alleged PED transactions with Bosch. Rodriguez released a statement Tuesday afternoon through a spokesperson denying the authenticity of the evidence.
“The news report about a purported relationship between Alex Rodriguez and Anthony Bosch are not true,” said a statement released by Sitrick & Company, Rodriguez’s publicist. “Alex Rodriguez was not Mr. Bosch’s patient, he was never treated by him and he was never advised by him. The purported documents referenced in the story — at least as they relate to Alex Rodriguez — are not legitimate.”
Rodriguez also has hired famed Miami criminal defense attorney Roy Black to represent him.
According to the Miami New Times, Rodriguez’s name appeared in Bosch’s records 16 times as the recipient of HGH and other PEDs banned by Major League Baseball.
According to two baseball sources — one of whom is familiar with the wording of Rodriguez’s contract — even if it is proven that Rodriguez received steroids and HGH from Bosch, the Yankees would not be able to impose a punishment greater than the mandatory 50-game suspension stipulated for a first-time offender by baseball’s collectively bargained Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
Section 7, paragraph M of the agreement states, “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.”
“Baseball’s drug policy was specifically written so that teams can’t do things like this,” one of the sources said. “You can’t use this to try to get out of the last years of a contract.”
The paragraph does not preclude a club from taking further action against a player who is unable to play because of injury or disability “resulting directly from a physical injury or mental condition arising from his violation of the Program” and allows a club to withhold a player’s salary if he is unable to play due to legal proceedings or incarceration due to a drug violation.
However, Rodriguez’s surgeon, Bryan Kelly, recently said in several media interviews that Rodriguez’s latest injury, a torn hip labrum that required surgery that will keep him out of the lineup at least until after the All-Star break, was the result of a congenital deformity and was not related to steroid use.
According to a source, the fact that the Yankees continued to honor Rodriguez’s 10-year, $275 million contract extension after his public admissions of steroid use in 2009 may further weaken their case to void the contract.
By their failure to act in 2009, the Yankees can be legally found to have “ratified” Rodriguez’s behavior, defined as one party “accepting and approving the conduct of the other.”
The Yankees, however, are likely to argue that Rodriguez’s admission covered only the years from 2001-2003, when he was a member of the Texas Rangers, and they were unaware of any steroid use during his time as a Yankee.
The Yankees refused comment except to release a statement backing the commissioner’s office without mentioning Rodriguez.
“We fully support the Commissioner’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program,” the Yankees’ statement said. “This matter is now in the hands of the Commissioner’s Office. We will have no further comment until that investigation has concluded.”
After it was reported in 2004 that Jason Giambi admitted using steroids to a San Francisco grand jury in the BALCO case, the Yankees unsuccessfully tried to void his contract. But the language in Giambi’s deal would not allow the team to do it. According to the source with knowledge of Rodriguez’s contract, his deal contains no such language.
“All contracts have moral clauses,” a baseball official who handles contract negotiations said. “It will come down to the language in (Rodriguez’s) contract. If it is a normal moral clause, (the Yankees) won’t have much of a case. If there are specific clauses that went into steroids and performance-enhancing drugs, then I doubt he would walk away with his money.”
Baseball can suspend Rodriguez or any of the other players without a positive test. In what is known as a non-analytic positive, they will need documentary evidence — a sworn affidavit from Bosch, or a prescription from a doctor for a banned substance — that would convince an independent arbitrator.
In 2009, after his admission to using PEDs, Rodriguez reiterated to MLB investigators what he had said publicly — that he only used PEDs from 2001-2003 after he received what was then the largest contract in American sports history, a 10-year, $252 million deal.
Rodriguez was not disciplined by MLB after that admission and never has failed an MLB-administered drug test, which means that under the rules, he would receive a 50-game suspension as a first-time offender.