NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Yankees got $22 million in extra spending money Saturday.
Alex Rodriguez’s season-long suspension gives New York some space under the $189 million tax threshold just as coveted free-agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka is negotiating with major league teams.
But arbitrator Fredric Horowitz’s decision Saturday leaves many questions:
—Who will play third base for the Yankees?
—Will Rodriguez be with the team at spring training?
—Exactly how much space has been created in their luxury tax payroll?
Among the internal options at third base, Kelly Johnson has played 16 major league games at third — all with Tampa Bay last year, and Brendan Ryan has played 29 games at third but none since 2008. While Eduardo Nunez has appeared in 78 games at third, he seems more comfortable as a shortstop.
Mark Reynolds became a free agent but could be re-signed, and Michael Young also is on the market. New York might ask free-agent Stephen Drew whether he’d be interested in moving to third.
“A number of teams have spoken to Stephen about playing positions other than shortstop,” said Drew’s agent, Scott Boras.
Rodriguez has a record $275 million, 10-year contract that calls for him to make $25 million this year, $21 million in 2015 and $20 million in each of the final two seasons. The ruling relieves the Yankees of most of his 2014 salary.
“The New York Yankees respect Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, the arbitration process, as well as the decision released today by the arbitration panel,” was all the team said in its only comment.
Before the decision, New York’s luxury tax payroll stood at $175.7 million for 13 signed players. Add in Brian Roberts’ pending $2 million deal and about $11.5 million for benefits, and the total was $189.2 million. That figure also doesn’t include five players eligible for salary arbitration: outfielder Brett Gardner, pitchers Ivan Nova, David Robertson and Shawn Kelley and catcher Francisco Cervelli — who is returning from a 50-game drug suspension. And then there are the rest of the players who fill out the 40-man roster.
Horowitz ruled Rodriguez is entitled to 21-183rds of this year’s salary, or about 11.5 percent, a person familiar with the decision said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the ruling was not made public. That’s because the drug agreement sets the number of days of lost salary based on games suspended over the 183-day season regardless of the total of days a player is banned.
Rodriguez will receive $2,868,852, and the $22,131,148 in lost salary lowers Rodriguez’s contract total to approximately $252.87 million. The suspension does not impact the final $3 million payment of Rodriguez’s $10 million signing bonus, which is due Wednesday.
He has counted for $27.5 million on the Yankees’ luxury tax payroll in each of the last six seasons, and the Yankees could argue they should be credited for the difference between that figure and the new $25.3 million average, either as refunds for tax payments in the last six years or as an additional amount to be spent without incurring tax in the future seasons. The decision would be up to MLB and the players’ union.
Also unclear is whether Rodriguez will be at the Yankees’ spring training camp, which starts in mid-February at Tampa, Fla. The drug agreement specifies spring training games are not included in any suspensions, and players getting ready to serve suspensions have appeared in exhibition games — such as Philadelphia catcher Carlos Ruiz and Oakland pitcher Bartolo Colon, both last year. But MLB and the Yankees could attempt to keep away Rodriguez, arguing he has no season to prepare for.
A-Rod has spent parts of the last six years on the disabled list due to a string of injuries, and he made his 2013 debut on Aug. 5 — hours after his suspension was announced. He hit just .244 with seven homers and 19 RBIs in 156 at-bats and will be 39 when he is eligible to return.
Whether Rodriguez ever plays for the Yankees again is a matter to be decided later. In addition to his remaining pay, he can earn $6 million for each of five milestone accomplishments. They were contemplated to be tying the home run marks of Willie Mays (660), Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755) and Bonds (762), and breaking Bonds’ major league record. Rodriguez has 654 homers.
Given his pride and the monetary incentive, it’s hard to envision him leaving the baseball without trying to add to his on-field accomplishments.
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