MLB

Rosenthal: A-Rod case a window into future labor strife for MLB

Image: Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez (Anthony Gruppuso/USA Today Sports)
Alex Rodriguez's case highlights labor strife baseball soon could face.
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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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Well, even a blind squirrel running around like a chicken without its head will stumble onto something once in a while.

Alex Rodriguez used performance-enhancing drugs and lied about it, then used and lied some more. He disgraced his legacy and his team, his union and his sport.

But say this — A-Rod, even in one of his patented delusional rants, correctly identified Saturday the formation of a major storm cloud and identified it in the statement he released after arbitrator Fredric Horowitz suspended him for 162 games and the entire postseason.

Baseball, by the end of its current collective-bargaining agreement in 2016, will have enjoyed labor peace for 21 consecutive years. The next round of negotiations, however, already is shaping up to be quite contentious, though not for the self-serving reasons Rodriguez described.

While serious talks are likely more than two years away, sources say that the union already is preparing for management to pursue an aggressive, ambitious strategy, seeking concessions on everything from the Joint Drug Agreement to the game's salary structure.

The players, to be sure, are more vulnerable than in the past — and both sides know it.

The union is under new, less experienced leadership. The owners could try to take advantage if the players show increased flexibility on drug testing. Management also has negotiated restrictions on domestic and international amateurs and a cap on the posting fees for Japanese players, and no doubt is eyeing the final frontier – major league salaries.

Against such a daunting backdrop, Rodriguez's grievances seem inconsequential. The man-of-the-people sensibility he wants to project to his peers is downright amusing. But players, while dismissing the messenger, should not entirely ignore the message. Now more than ever, they need to fight for due process and protect their rights.

Indeed, baseball might only be emboldened by the results of its Biogenesis investigation — 12 players agreeing to 50-game suspensions, Ryan Braun settling on a 65-game ban, Rodriguez receiving by far the longest suspension for PEDs in the game's history.

None of those players tested positive, adding to baseball's triumph. That triumph, however, came with a price.

Baseball’s investigative tactics included paying an ex-convict for stolen documents and committing at least $1.8 million to provide security for and cover the legal fees of Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch, according to New York magazine.

Rodriguez, while continuing to accuse baseball of misconduct, raised yet another diversion in his statement. Seeking to rally his union brothers like a modern-day Samuel Gompers, he contended that the owners would seek major concessions from the players in the next labor negotiations.

The "injustice" of his suspension, Rodriguez said, was "MLB's first step toward abolishing guaranteed contracts in the 2016 bargaining round, instituting lifetime bans for single violations of drug policy, and further insulating its corrupt investigative program from any variety defense by accused players, or any variety of objective review.''

Rodriguez's concerns are extreme. The clubs might seek to convert guaranteed language to non-guaranteed in the contracts of players who are caught using PEDs, but they will never get away with abolishing guaranteed contracts. They also might seek harsher penalties than the current 50-100-lifetime formula for positive tests, but will never get away with lifetime bans for first-time offenders.

Details, details. Rodriguez does not actually care about any of this; he's trying to save his own butt, as most players will figure out immediately.

The point is, there are battles ahead.

The union lost one of its greatest minds when its executive director, Michael Weiner, died of brain cancer on Nov. 21. Weiner's replacement, Tony Clark, is the first former player to hold the position — a position once occupied by Marvin Miller and Donald Fehr.

Clark could prove a worthy successor — he is extremely intelligent, a natural leader. Kevin McGuiness, newly appointed as the union’s chief operating officer, is a 30-year veteran of the Washington, D.C., lobbying scene who will add heft overseeing the union’s day-to-day operations. But few would dispute that the union, without Weiner, will be weaker initially.

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Of course, the owners also will be under different leadership by the next round of labor negotiations — Commissioner Bud Selig has said he will retire when his contract expires in January 2015. The promotion of chief operating officer Rob Manfred, the owners' longtime labor negotiator, might be the best hope for continuing the peace. A commissioner without Manfred's background might be more inclined to flex his muscles, and what better way to do it than by taking on the union?

A storm is brewing, all right. And while it will have nothing to do with Rodriguez, it will center around two issues with which he is quite familiar.

Drugs. And money.

Tagged: Yankees, Alex Rodriguez

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