When the Yankees re-signed Alex Rodriguez in the fall of 2007, they envisioned the "clean" alternative to Barry Bonds - the knight in shining armor who would erase the stain of steroids from the all-time home run record, and they would bask in the glory of it with their brand.
Now that A-Rod's pursuit looks as counterfeit as Bonds', they should do what's best for the organization:
Cut him loose - no matter the cost.
As difficult as it is to imagine eating $270 million, the Bombers will be making a statement, not just for the Yankee brand but for baseball as a whole.
They will be applauded for it.
The Yankees operate under two basic tenets: The relentless pursuit of championships and the fierce protection of their brand. If they are going to remain true to both, then they have no choice but to sever ties with Rodriguez.
This winter the Yankees invested $423 million with the signings of CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. All of that figures to be offset now by the reports that A-Rod was a steroid cheat. Everywhere the Yankees go this spring and into the season, they will be greeted by choruses of "A-Fraud!" and "A-Roid!" And if you think A-Rod wilted under the pressure of big games before, just imagine his delicate psyche now under the heightened scrutiny of the media and fans.
Don't think for a minute that Derek Jeter and the rest of A-Rod's teammates are privately reveling in his exposure as a true phony, as some people are suggesting. This affects all of them, and their pursuit of championships is hindered by his being a constant source of unwanted turmoil.
Is this what the Yankee brass wants as the image of the new Yankee Stadium? If so, then it's just as well that they left the ghosts of Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle and DiMaggio across the street. It was embarrassing enough when the team's signature player was all over the tabloids squiring strippers on the road while his wife was home with their 2-year-old daughter, but now we're talking about the integrity of the game and the Yankees' association with it. They were concerned enough about Jason Giambi's involvement in the BALCO steroids scandal that they looked into ways of voiding his contract. Giambi, however, wasn't their marquee "brand" player chasing hallowed records.
In Joe Torre's book, in which the former Bombers skipper reveals the Yankee players' contempt for A-Rod, he talks about that last meeting with Yankee brass in Tampa as being one of the worst days of his life. I suspect when Brian Cashman gets around to writing his book, he'll cite Nov. 15, 2007, as the worst day of his life. That was the day Hank Steinbrenner proudly welcomed A-Rod back for $275 million. When A-Rod had opted out of the last three years of his 10-year, $252 million contract three weeks earlier, no one was happier or more relieved than Cashman, whose goals as GM were to significantly reduce the payroll and build a team in his own image. Cashman was also prepared to let Jorge Posada go, but was pressured by Hank into giving him an extra year when it looked like A-Rod was hitting the road and the Yankees would have a gaping power void in the middle of their lineup.
Not that Cashman's grand design of building from within wasn't a noble one. It's just that when A-Rod told Hank he wanted back in, Cashman was helpless to produce an alternative from the perpetually bankrupt Yankee farm system. There are still no third-base prospects in the system and in 15 years of fruitless amateur drafts, the Yankees have not produced a single impact position player since Derek Jeter.
So Cashman found himself remarried to A-Rod, for better or worse, for another 10 years in a deal that meant as much to the Yankee brass for the brand as it did for the pursuit of winning. They agreed to pay Rodriguez bonuses of $6 million when he reached each of the four milestone career home run totals of Willie Mays (660), Babe Ruth (714), Henry Aaron (755) and Bonds (762) en route to the record.
Now, everything about the pursuit of championships and the Yankee brand is a mockery if A-Rod is the centerpiece of this team.
As painful as swallowing that $270 million might be, there will be consolation for the Yankees when no other team elects to besmirch their brand by taking in A-Rod - even for nothing.