There are a lot of words you could use to describe the back-and-forth mud slinging in the media between Alex Rodriguez's legal camp and Major League Baseball right now. Hilarious, ridiculous, and pathetic are a few that come mind. But how about problematic? While the verbal haymakers being thrown don't appear to have much impact on the Yankees as a team, the dragging out of the process is going to become a big problem now that the offseason and free agency have started.
Who knows what's going to happen with Alex's "witch hunt" lawsuit against MLB. I'm sure he and his lawyers thought filing it would help strengthen their suspension appeal case, but with the way things are going between both sides in the media you have to think the arbitrator won't be swayed too much by it. The real concern from the Yankees' perspective is the appeal hearing and the still lengthy amount of time until it starts again. The next session is scheduled for November 18th, at which time A-Rod's team will present his side of the case. That part of the hearing will likely take at least that whole week and maybe more. Whenever it does end, the arbitrator will take as much time as he needs to render his decision and given what's at stake it seems unlikely that he'll rush through that part of the process.
If a few more weeks go by before a verdict is reached, that puts the Yankees at the Winter Meetings still not knowing if A-Rod's salary is coming off the books in 2014 in any capacity. They would be over a month into free agency and if they are planning to take the "wait and see" approach with A-Rod before committing to signing guys, they could be screwed by that point. They've already built a pretty substantial offseason wish list and their perfect world scenario would be to have that extra $28 mil at their disposal to pick up a few players on that list without going over the $189 million luxury tax threshold.
Despite Hal's insistence on trying to sell everybody on the "it's a goal not a mandate" theme, anybody with half a clue can put the pieces of the last year plus together and realize that cutting the payroll down leans much more towards the mandate side than the goal side. The Yankees were hoping they could use A-Rod's suspension as a way to keep both the payroll goal and the goal of fielding a truly competitive team in play, but with that suspension not coming for at least another month they may have to abandon one or the other. They can't afford to wait around while the rest of the appeals hearing plays out and they certainly can't afford to go to the Winter Meetings with their hands tied on spending. Falling that far behind the rest of MLB in the free agent race would leave them in a position where they would have no choice but to follow last offseason's strategy of filling out the roster with cheap, declining veterans and scrap heap pieces. And with as many holes as they have to fill, choosing that method again would make for an ugly 2014.
When the suspension was first announced, it looked like the Yankees had been given a golden ticket to escape their financial constraints and start putting some real money back into the ballclub. Their chances of staying relevant on the field while achieving Hal's goal of resetting the luxury tax penalties would have been and still are very possibly without A-Rod's 2014 salary as part of the equation. The time being taken up by A-Rod's appeal hearing hurts those chances, however, and the Yankees can't afford to wait around until December to see how much money they have to address their needs. Something, either the luxury tax goal or their offseason shopping list, is going to have to be sacrificed and the decision on that needs to come sooner rather than later.
(Photo courtesy of Anthony Delmundo/NY Daily News)