Monday, May 21, 2007

Giambigate: The Yankees Wag the Dog

Since it's New York and it's steroids, there isn't going to be any shortage of verbiage about the Yankees' purported desire to void Giambi's deal over his admissions of steroid use, so I will attempt to be brief:

February 2005: Giambi's grand jury testimony, in which he admits to using steroids, is leaked and reported on in the San Francisco Chronicle. After Giambi apologizes, albeit vaguely, and his agent, in response to reports that Giambi was apologizing for steroid use, says "The answers are there if you look for them," the Yankees admit that they took any references to steroids out of Giambi's contract, and decide against trying to void his deal.

May 2007: Giambi says he was "wrong for doing that stuff," but provides no further specifics. Now the Yankees are hot to void the deal.

What has changed so much that the Yankees now wish to change course? Nothing that I can see.

If the Yankees thought they could void his deal, they had every incentive to do it in 2005. He was coming off a horrific, illness-laden season, many speculated he would never be a productive major leaguer, and the Yankees were still on the hook for $104 million. The Yankees were armed with grand jury testimony that, while perhaps unusable in a legal proceeding, was damning, and statements from Giambi and his agent that, taken together, amounted to an admission. While I think the effort would have ultimately been unsuccessful, the Yankees at least stood a puncher's chance of getting his contract voided.

Now they have that same information, but its usefulness in any kind of an adversary proceeding is greatly diminished due to the passage of time and the Yankees' willingness to go into battle for the past three seasons with Giambi on the team. "I was wrong for doing that stuff" doesn't seem to add anything else to the party that wasn't there before, and thus the case for voiding the deal doesn't seem any more compelling.

What has changed is that, unlike 2005, the Yankees are now 10 1/2 games back and sinking like a stone. There is open speculation that their manager and, possibly, their general manager are going to be fired. If I'm Yankees' brass, I need a scapegoat and/or a distraction and I need it fast. Putting the heat on Giambi does both of those things, and keeps the back pages off my case.

What I wouldn't do if I'm the Yankees, however, is to move beyond the bluff stage and actually try and go after Giambi's contract. Aside from it not likely being successful, it will expose the team to ridicule. even if Giambi becomes a pariah over steroids and never plays baseball again, he has every incentive to try and protect the close to $50M left on his deal, so you can bet that he will fight an attempt to void it tooth and nail. His legal team's first line of defense will be to inquire about what the Yankees knew and when they knew it regarding his steroid use, with the hopes of establishing that they knowingly assumed the steroid risk.

If I'm sitting across the table from Brian Cashman at a deposition, my first question would be whether Giambi's demands that references to steroids be stricken from his contract in 2001 put him on notice that maybe, just maybe, Giambi had a steroid problem. If his answer is no, I ask him if the 2005 release of grand jury testimony and the subsequent hubbub made him wonder about it any more.

If he still says no, it means that Cashman is an oblivious imbecile and the Yankees are hanging their whole case on "I was wrong for doing that stuff," which is no case at all. If he says yes, the Yankees are hypocrites that were happy to turn a blind eye to steroids when they thought they were going to get seven years of .343/.477/.660 out of it, but find it appalling at .268/.384/.431.

Eureka! I just thought of a more coherent position for the Yankees to take! They should admit that they knew Giambi took steroids before they signed him, and thought that were contracting for was a player who would continue to do so for the whole seven year deal! When he quit juicing, he changed the basis of the contract, suffered diminished production, and cost the Yankees millions!

Frankly, I'd rather go into court with that one.