As the curtain fell on a decidedly ignominious season for the New York Yankees, you could be forgiven for thinking that they'd won the World Series, such were the celebratory scenes as Mariano Rivera stepped out to pitch his final game at Yankee Stadium. Whilst the retirement of "the Sandman", quite possibly the greatest relief pitcher in the history of the sport, will leave a yawning gap in the Yankees' roster, it isn't the only one they must contemplate filling in the off-season.
Rivera's glittering career was celebrated even by the Yankee's arch-rivals in Boston, but this winter third baseman Alex Rodriguez will be questioning if his own franchise want him back at all. A superstar in his own right, Rodriguez is very much still a force to be reckoned with - just last month, he claimed the all time Grand Slam record from Yankee great Lou Gehrig. However, the Yankees are now facing the very real possibility of losing Rodriguez until mid-2015 after he was handed the longest individual suspension in the history of the sport following his involvement in the Biogenesis doping scandal.
This week, Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman stated that Rodriguez was "irreplaceable", quashing the notion that he may welcome the $25m in annual wages that would be freed up should Rodriguez be unsuccessful in his appeal against the 211-game ban, which is especially severe due to the league ruling that as well as violating PED rules, he also attempted to obstruct their investigation into the Florida clinic.
However in the event that Rodriguez is ordered to serve his ban, despite Cashman's assurance of his pivotal role in the organisation, it's hard to imagine the Yankees losing much sleep over it. Whilst he is still a formidable offensive talent, question marks remain over his often indifferent form, particularly in the post-season, and his abilities at third base are far from irreplaceable, with the likes of Vernon Wells and Eduardo Núñez (both Rodriguez's juniors by several years) more than capable of filling in for the former-Seattle star. Age and injuries also play their part; much of the 38 year old's 2013 campaign was curtailed by persistent hip and quad issues.
The franchise have been looking to trim their wage budget, the second biggest in the MLB on which Rodriguez is the highest earner by a considerable distance, and they would be under no contractual obligation to pay should he be suspended. The Yankees stand to save $34m if the entire 211 game sentence is upheld, plus a $6m bonus owed to Rodriguez should he surpass Willie Mays' career home runs, a total now just six slugs away.
It isn't just the money that may encourage the Yankees' reticence about A-Rod's return. His already troublesome reputation - he has admitted using PEDs earlier in his career, that time escaping a ban and pleading for forgiveness on grounds of naivety - has earned him the nickname "A-Fraud" both from the bleachers and within the clubhouse. Former New York manager Joe Torre claimed that he "monopolised all the attention" upon his arrival to the team.
His previous failed test came to light after the results of an anonymous, league-wide survey from 2003 were leaked. At that time, steroids were still a murky area. With widespread use (the test showed a 5% positive result across the league), there was undoubtedly something of an "everyone else is doing it, why shouldn't I?" mentality. This time, however, there's nowhere to hide, with Commissioner Bud Selig striving to rehabilitate baseball's image (David Howman, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, says that Major League Baseball can now consider itself "the leader in anti-doping within the major leagues") by making harsh examples of anyone who dares break the rules.
This less forgiving outlook is not restricted to baseball's upper echelons, either. A significant number of Bronx natives called for his ban to be made permanent, thus allowing the team to rip up the remainder of his contract. Similarly, it's hard to envisage the New York teammates who flanked Rodriguez in support during his first admission of guilt being quite as accommodating when he returns to the team this time.