NEW YORK – Major League Baseball is threatening to kick Alex Rodriguez out of the game for life unless the New York Yankees star agrees not to fight a lengthy suspension for his role in the sport’s latest drug scandal, according to a person familiar with the discussions.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized.
Whether Commissioner Bud Selig actually would issue a lifetime suspension was unclear and a permanent ban could be shortened by the arbitrator, Fredric Horowitz, to about 200 games, the person said.
The number of players likely to be disciplined stood at 14 on Wednesday.
Front and center is Rodriguez, baseball’s highest-paid player and the most prominent one linked in media reports over the past seven months to Biogenesis of America, a closed Florida anti-aging clinic that allegedly distributed banned performance-enhancing drugs.
The Yankees expected Rodriguez to be accused of recruiting other athletes for the clinic, attempting to obstruct MLB’s investigation, and not being truthful with MLB in the past. Baseball has considered suspending him for violations of its labor contract and drug agreement.
Even if he is banned from baseball, there is precedent for a shortened penalty: When pitcher Steve Howe was given a lifetime ban in 1992 in his seventh suspension for drug or alcohol use, an arbitrator reduced the penalty to 119 days.
A three-time MVP, Rodriguez acknowledged four years ago that he used performance-enhancing substances while with Texas from 2001-03 but repeatedly has denied using them since.
He’s been sidelined all season since hip surgery in January and then a quadriceps strain during a minor league rehabilitation assignment in July. The Yankees say he’ll start another rehab Friday — Double-A Trenton appeared to be the likely destination.
“Hopefully Alex will be back shortly thereafter,” Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said.
Rodriguez didn’t stop to talk with reporters after his workout Wednesday at the team’s minor league complex in Tampa, Fla.
At first, MLB and the union thought that talks on the Biogenesis probe could be completed by Friday, but negotiations to avoid grievances are likely to push back announcements until at least Saturday or Sunday.
Others who are accused in media reports of receiving performance-enhancing drugs from Biogenesis include three 2013 All-Stars: Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz, San Diego shortstop Everth Cabrera and Detroit shortstop Jhonny Peralta.
Most of the players face 50-game bans as first offenders. Both sides felt an urgency to complete the process because by the middle of next week, teams will have fewer than 50 games left. And that would force players to complete suspensions during the playoffs or at the start of next season.
Detroit General Manager Dave Dombrowski protected against a possible suspension of Peralta by acquiring slick-fielding infielder Jose Iglesias from Boston in a three-team trade Tuesday night.
“If it were a 15-day thing, like a typical injury, I think we could have comfortably dealt with it with the players we already have,” Dombrowski said Wednesday. “But when you start to talk about 50 days and a possible playoff run, we feel better going ahead with Jose.”
While MLB told the union which players it intends to suspend, it hasn’t issued formal notices of discipline. Because of that, the countdown hasn’t started under baseball’s Joint Drug Agreement, which says the suspensions are effective on the third business day after the notice is issued.
The sides also haven’t decided whether suspensions for first-time offenders who challenge the penalty can be announced before an arbitration decision.
If some stars knew their seasons were about to be cut short, they weren’t letting on Wednesday, at least publicly.
“I can’t talk about nothing right now. Just wait for the news,” Cabrera said Wednesday before playing against Cincinnati.
Peralta thinks he shouldn’t be on the list of players linked to Biogenesis.
“It’s wrong,” he said. “But whatever happens, I need to fight and try to move on.”
Toronto outfielder Melky Cabrera, Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon and San Diego catcher Yasmani Grandal were all suspended for 50 games last year for positive tests for elevated testosterone. MLB informed the union they won’t receive additional discipline for that violation, two people familiar with the probe said. They also spoke on condition of anonymity because no statements were authorized.
“Nothing’s been told to me,” Melky Cabrera said. “I served my suspension last year, but MLB has never told me that it’s OK now. I’m seeing it in the press but I don’t know.”
Texas was unable to find a replacement bat to fill a void a suspension of Cruz would create.
“I don’t think anybody’s comfortable losing a significant part of your club, but it’s out of our control,” Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels said. “We explored some deal like that. They just didn’t come to a head. It wasn’t for lack of interest or lack of effort. It was more lack of supply and lack of fit, really.”