Rosenthal: MLB, Yankees might be asking themselves same question

Was it really worth the trouble?

Both Major League Baseball and the New York Yankees soon might face that question, though for entirely different reasons.

If Alex Rodriguez does not receive a sufficiently lengthy suspension, baseball’s decision to play rough in the Biogenesis scandal — paying for information, associating with ex-cons and other lowlifes — will look all the more questionable.

As for the Yankees, no matter what happens with A-Rod, they will blow past the $189 million luxury-tax threshold if they win the bidding for Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, making all of their cost-cutting efforts since the 2011-12 offseason look like a waste.

The A-Rod saga figures to end first, perhaps even this week. Arbitrator Frederic Horowitz’s ruling on Rodriguez’s appeal of a 211-game suspension could amount to a verdict not just on A-Rod but also on baseball’s conduct during its investigation.

Baseball likely will claim victory on any suspension of more than 105 games, which would be the longest ever for performance-enhancing drugs. Anything less, and the sport will be embarrassed — perhaps even more embarrassed than it was in 2012 when Ryan Braun won his appeal of a 50-game ban.

Braun tested positive but avoided suspension by challenging the collection process. Rodriguez did not test positive but was suspended, baseball said, for his alleged use and possession of banned substances, and also for a “course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation.”

A recent story in New York magazine detailed just how far commissioner Bud Selig’s office went to implicate Rodriguez, paying $125,000 to an ex-convict, Gary Jones, for stolen documents and committing at least $1.8 million to provide security for and cover the legal fees of Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch.

Baseball officials say they needed to engage in such conduct to gather evidence on not just Rodriguez but also 12 other players who accepted 50-game suspensions and a 13th, Braun, who agreed to a 65-game punishment. Rodriguez’s camp also was courting the same witnesses. Baseball, if it was going to pursue this strategy, had little choice but to roll in the mud.

The question is whether baseball should have pursued this strategy, which — to the sport’s harshest critics — was little more than a witch hunt.

The end will justify the means for Selig’s office if Horowitz upholds the majority of A-Rod’s suspension. Selig could claim that he did everything possible to clean up the sport, even going beyond the testing program — and succeeding.

But again, what happens if A-Rod gets 100 games, or 50, or — gulp — nothing at all? Would baseball ever fight like this again? Should baseball ever fight like this again, regardless of the outcome?

Next to those questions, the Yankees’ luxury-tax issues seem rather trivial. Yet, here is a team that spent more than two years strategizing to get under the $189 million threshold in 2014 and now is willing to abandon a plan intended to save tens of millions.

This goes back to December 2011, when Joel Sherman of the New York Post first reported that the Yankees would not pursue free-agent left-handers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buerhle because they wanted to keep their costs down in ’14. Righty Yu Darvish also became available that winter. The Yankees didn’t get him, either.

Last offseason was more of the same. The Yankees operated as if they were in luxury-tax jail, losing catcher Russell Martin to the Pirates, failing to make a serious bid for outfielder Torii Hunter, passing on right-hander Zack Greinke, outfielder Josh Hamilton and the rest of the prominent free agents.

The only two-year contract the team awarded a free agent was to outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. Their most expensive free agent in both ’12 and ’13 was right-hander Hiroki Kuroda, who in separate one-year deals signed for $10 million and $15 million.

The party line was that the Yankees did not view any of the top free agents as good fits. But general manager Brian Cashman at one point acknowledged, “We are not going to be over the $189 million.” Hal Steinbrenner, the team’s managing general partner, said of the threshold last spring, “I’m looking at it as a goal, but my goals normally are considered a requirement.”

Well, the results weren’t pretty.

The Yankees scrambled to put together a competitive roster, taking one-year fliers on older or oft-injured players such as Travis Hafner, Kevin Youkilis and Vernon Wells. A number of the team’s stars then got hurt, and manager Joe Girardi did perhaps his best job coaxing 85 wins out of his depleted outfit. But for only the second time since 1995, the Yankees missed the playoffs.

So, now the Yankees are prepared to go over $189 million? Club officials acknowledge that if they get Tanaka, the answer is “yes.” A season-long suspension of A-Rod — and removal of his $27.5 million commitment — wouldn’t save the Yankees. Back-loading Tanaka’s contract also wouldn’t save them; the pitcher’s average salary figures to exceed $20 million, and it’s the average that counts for tax purposes.

At this point, who’s counting? The Yankees are in an urgent position with their rotation, and perhaps even with their entire business model. They need Tanaka, need him desperately, and that is that.

Heck, the Yankees might exceed $189 million even if they do not get Tanaka. If they go past that figure — once they go past it — club officials will need to explain why they essentially punted two straight offseasons when in the end they failed to execute their stated plan.

Ah, so much for a quiet January.

The A-Rod ruling is expected before the Hall of Fame announcements on Jan. 8. The deadline for Tanaka to sign with a major-league club is Jan. 24. Meanwhile, the Rays continue to explore trades for left-hander David Price, and free-agent pitchers such as Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez remain on the open market.

The tension is considerable. The answers are coming soon.