Yesterday, Bill Madden and Teri Thompson the Daily News published a report that Alex Rodriguez and Major League Baseball were considering a plea bargain of sorts that would see A-Rod accept a 150 game suspension over his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, in exchange for which MLB would not pursue a lifetime ban of the Yankees’ fragile third baseman. That’s quite the bombshell the be dropping on a Saturday night. Still, though the story is supposedly based on an account of information Anthony Bosch himself gave to MLB investigators, (A-Rod’s camp naturally denied it) there are more holes in this account than in the Yankees’ current lineup. In no particular order.
1. First and foremost, there is no such thing as a 150 game suspension under the Joint Drug Agreement. Punishment simply goes from a 100 game suspension for a second offense to a liftetime ban on your third strike. Though it might be theoretically possible for a new punishment to be carved out if the offending player agrees to it, you can bet the union is likely to fight that, given the long term consequences it could have for players who get caught up in the drug testing protocols. Put simply, if MLB is allowed to offer reduced suspensions in exchange for foregoing the appeals process, the system is going to be even more weighted against the players than it already is.
2. That said, MLB has thus far simply refused to do anything remotely resembling this. Indeed, it’s been baseball’s insistence all along that the zero tolerance standard was crucial to having the drug testing regime properly function. They reiterated that stance earlier this year when the union proposed a tiered punishment scheme that would go easier on players who could prove mitigating circumstances (such as accidental ingestion of a banned substance) in exchange for harsher punishment on flagrant rule breakers. For MLB to up and change that stance now in lieu of pursuing the first lifetime ban handed out for PED usage, a ban that would conveniently be going to the highest profile player to admit past usage of banned substances, would be an absolute stunning development in the history of MLB’s conduct since drug testing was put in place.
3. In the even more general sense, MLB has absolutely no use for plea bargains. A plea bargain is a tool a prosecutor, a public servant employed by the people of a jurisdiction, uses to avoid a full trial, usually (according to the civic book version, anyway) to avoid the cost and uncertainty a trial presents. The takeaway for the people here is an efficient allocation of limited taxpayer dollars, as well as a guarantee of justice being served (within the prosecutor’s discretion, anyway).
But the important point here is that a district attorney serving a public interest, while Major League Baseball is a private corporation serving nothing but the profit interest of its owners. I don’t say that as a bad thing, mind you, just a statement of simple fact. MLB is not a public institution with some generic interest in imposing punishments on people for breaking the law, their only motivation in all of this is maximizing profits. They go after drug users because the media and fans make a stink about it otherwise, and that can hurt the bottom line at the margins.
In other words, MLB’s only real aim in this case is a public relations one, so cutting a deal for lesser punishment is really counterproductive. People who don’t really care aren’t going to applaud them for it, or go out an buy an extra ticket or jersey in approval, and the people who do care, either because they’re drug warriors or just hate Alex, will almost certainly lambaste the league for cutting any deal for lesser punishment. That might not hurt the league financially, but it might, in theory, and it certainly won’t help anything. So, because there’s no greater good than PR that MLB is seeking to serve here, there’s just no reason for MLB to be considering this from their own perspective.
4. Finally, along those same lines, there’s just no way to align the incentives of both sides of the equation such that accepting the outline of this deal makes sense for both. To wit: the only reason for MLB to offer A-Rod a deal is that they aren’t confident they could win their case in front of an arbitrator, but then, if they’re so lacking in confidence that they resort to making a completely unprecedented offer of lesser punishment to the player, why on Earth would Alex accept the deal, rather than going to the arbitrator? I guess there’s the fact that even taking a small risk of a lifetime ban really skews the scales here (there’s ten of millions of dollars worth of difference between a lifetime ban and a 150 game suspension, if nothing else), but again, if that sort of logic does rule the day, MLBPA is almost certain to do everything they can to block the whole thing, even if they have to go nuclear.
5. Okay, there are a lot of other reasons to be skeptical of this (including the unlikelihood that A-Rod is the only player who visited Bosch more than once, raising the question as to whether MLB is going to apply this same standard to players like Jhonny Peralta or Francisco Cervelli), but I would be remiss if, at the risk of being accused of shooting the messenger, I didn’t point out that this was coming from my dear old friend Bill Madden, and his recent track record of accurately reporting these “big scoops” has been…scant.