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Yankees vs. A-Rod: diffuse controversy with private negotiation

Sandy Sbarra

If you’re a Major League Baseball (MLB) fan living in the U.S., you would be living under a rock if you didn’t realize how often the terms “A-Rod” (Alex Rodriguez) and “controversy” have been strung together. This year has been no different, despite his surprisingly low profile.

When they last negotiated a contract with A-Rod in 2007, the New York Yankees figured that when he passed all-time leaders in home runs, they would reap great marketing value from higher attendance, advertising, merchandising, well….you get the picture. So both sides agreed that A-Rod would receive $6 million for passing each home run milestone, starting with Willie Mays at 660.

Then, on Aug. 5, 2013, MLB announced that A-Rod would be suspended 211 games for violating the policy on steroids a second time, a ruling that was appealed and eventually reduced to a full season. So A-Rod sat out 2014 and rejoined the Yankees before the start of the 2015 season. Many experts wondered if he could still hit, much less hit for power given his advanced age (39), prior surgeries, and one-year absence from the game. To the delight of a team in need of power, A-Rod has been very productive with home runs and runs batted in.

Now, back to that contract. Recently, it became known that the Yankees intended to renege on the commitment to pay A-Rod for his homerun milestones in light of his violation of league policy. Public opinion and sportswriters who earn their craft framing such records now saw these events as tainted with steroids and not deserving of celebration. The tabloids reported that the Yankees would refuse to pay these $6 million bonuses….so what would A-Rod do? Given his past lawsuits against MLB and even his own players’ union over the last steroid suspension, surely there would be more court dates, with A-Rod and the union vs. the Yankees and MLB.

 One consideration that dictates how competitive or cooperative any potential negotiation might be is how public or private the exchange becomes. When negotiations widely reported in the news media stall, they usually break down into deadlock and become quite acidic like other recent negotiations between players’ unions and major sports leagues. Yet many of these negotiations loosened back up when taken behind closed doors and the settled privately.

Once A-Rod passed Willie Mays at 660 home runs earlier this year, the Yankees owed A-Rod $6 million. Sensing another “A-bomb,” the media, especially the New York tabloids, have tried to drag this standoff into public view, hopefully to get both sides to start throwing things at each other (controversy sells newspapers). Interestingly, though, both parties have been reluctant to discuss the topic with reporters. The Yankees and A-Rod have each declined comment, suggesting that private negotiations are underway.

If these negotiations stay private, a negotiated agreement is much more likely. One rumored settlement is that the milestone payments will be given to charity, so both sides would win: The Yankees would satisfy the contract but in a way that avoids paying 100% luxury tax to MLB for the bonus, and A-Rod wouldn’t lose face because he would technically receive the bonus and then give it away—which could re-build public opinion in his favor and help save his legacy.

This potentially happy ending is only possible if the negotiation remains cooperative—and continuing to keep it private encourages such a productive process. Stay tuned.

Sandy Sbarra

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