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Don't expect A-Rod in spring training

1/12/2014

So Alex Rodriguez is "100 percent certain" he'll be teeing it up in spring training next month?

Really?

What spring training is that?

The training camp of the Suspended For The Year All-Stars maybe. If he can find it. Or invent it.

But New York Yankees spring training? At George M. Steinbrenner Field?

Really?

I'd bet there's as good a chance of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig suiting up at Steinbrenner Field this spring as there is of A-Rod setting foot on that field.

I've had a chance to talk this weekend with several industry sources who are eminently familiar with both baseball's basic agreement and its joint drug agreement. None are convinced that those agreements clearly give a player like this, who has been suspended for the season, the right to show up for spring training as if everything was cool.

For one thing, the wording of the joint drug agreement, when it addresses suspended players attending spring training, couldn't possibly be more vague. It's so vague, in fact, that it wouldn't be a bad idea for somebody to file a grievance over it, just so we can figure out what the heck it does mean.

But pending further legalities, that agreement says only that the definition of a "game" for which those players are suspended does "not include spring training games, extended spring training games or affiliated Winter League games."

Nowhere, though, does that agreement specifically give suspended players the "right" to attend spring training or to play in spring training games.

And that wording is "intentionally vague," said one source, because it's designed to give both a team and a player who is suspended -- but who is supposed to come back during the season -- an opportunity to find a way to get that player in some semblance of game shape for the season to come.

But there is no precedent, obviously, for a player who is not coming back at all that season to saunter into spring training and ease right back into cutoff-and-relay drills, live BP and bus trips to Fort Myers, as if he were just one of the guys.

Think about that concept for a second. A-Rod as "one of the guys." At this point, the Yankees are more likely to consider Kei Igawa to be one of the guys than A-Rod. Carl Pavano is more one of the guys than A-Rod.

So if this language is worded to provide mutual benefit for both parties, what exactly is in it for the Yankees to allow Rodriguez to march through that door?

As Andrew Marchand reported Sunday, even if A-Rod were able to demonstrate some legal right to attend spring training, there is no reason for the Yankees to permit him to attend major league spring training.

Why? Because major league spring training is for the major league roster. And thanks to that yearlong suspension, A-Rod is no longer on their major league roster.

So they could send him to minor league camp, I guess. Or point him toward some rehab facility in North Tampa. Or assign him to go pick honeybells at the Steinbrenner family's favorite citrus grove in Lake Alfred.

Remember, it's now their call, not his. Whatever the Yankees decide is imperative for him to do over the next year. In preparation for his heroic return in 2015, he has pretty much no choice. Or else, it's a violation of his contract.

And the last thing Rodriguez needs to do these days is risk any more of that $61 million the Yankees still owe him. Heck, he's got to be paying almost that much now in legal bills every month. Doesn't he?

A-Rod's side hinted Saturday, after the arbitrator's ruling, that he actually still needs to report to spring training. After all, the courts will be considering his impending lawsuit, which seeks a temporary restraining order preventing baseball from imposing the arbitrator's decision.

So what if the judge sides with him? Wouldn't he have to report, just in case?

Yeah. I guess. But lawyers familiar with these sorts of cases tell me two things: (1) He has next to no chance of winning, as Lester Munson wrote on this site this weekend. (2) The court is almost certain to issue a ruling in that case before spring training.

So unless something unforeseen happens, the only reason for this guy to arrive at spring training would be to -- what else? -- make sure we have enough A-Rod headlines next month to keep all our sites and networks from overheating.

But there is definitely no clause in the basic agreement guaranteeing any player the right to call as much attention to himself as humanly possible. So what's the point?

Now unfortunately, I can't tell you precisely where this story is leading after spring training. Nobody can.

Oh, there's an excellent chance we'll have more A-Rod trips ahead down to the nearest courtroom. And that's great news, because the media world and legal community just about depend on them for sustenance at this point.

There's also an excellent chance we'll have more A-Rod sightings on football sidelines, at posh Upper West Side dinner hot spots and in approximately 1.2 trillion TMZ/People/Page Six/Gawker headlines, because, well, just because.

But the next time you read one of those stories speculating on this fellow's spring training plans, feel free to chuckle to yourself. Or even laugh out loud.

Spring training? For Alex Rodriguez? At Steinbrenner Field? Right. And the Yankees will also be setting aside time next month to announce the date for the unveiling of Kyle Farnsworth's plaque in Monument Park.