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A-Rod faces difficult decision

NEW YORK NY - OCTOBER 11:  Alex Rodriguez #13 New York Yankees reacts after striking out sixth inning with

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 11: Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees reacts after striking out in the sixth inning with runners on base during Game Four of the American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on October 11, 2012 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez could avert a potential lifetime ban from Major League Baseball if he accepts a suspension that would prohibit him from playing until 2015, one baseball official with knowledge of the investigation told USA TODAY Sports.

The official was unauthorized to speak publicly about the situation since the talks are private.

It remains to be seen whether Rodriguez and his team of attorneys will soften their stance of no negotiations and accept a ban that would result in a 217-game penalty -- if implemented Friday -- and a loss of $34.5 million in salary. Rodriguez would still be due $61 million in from 2015-2017, as well as a possible $30 million in bonuses -- if he averts a lifetime suspension.

At this point, Rodriguez is intent on playing this season. The Yankees announced Thursday night that he’s scheduled to play in rehab games Friday and Saturday night at Class AA Trenton (N.J.). He could be activated next week when the Yankees play against the White Sox in Chicago -- if not suspended.

“I would imagine that (MLB has) told the union, ‘This is what we have on him,’” New York labor attorney Joseph Farelli told USA TODAY Sports. ‘”If you want to cut a deal, this is what you got. If not, we’ll go for the whole ball of wax, the lifetime ban.’”

MLB is expected to announce in the next 72 hours that at least eight players have been suspended 50 games for their role in the Biogenesis clinic, with virtually all of them accepting their penalty. Ryan Braun, the 2011 National League MVP, accepted a 65-game suspension last week. Yet, while all of the names in the Biogenesis probe are expected to be revealed, Rodriguez’s fate could remain undecided if the sides negotiate.

“The evidence (MLB has) must be overwhelming for these other guys to accept it,” said Farelli, a partner at Pitta & Giblin LLP. “If it was not overwhelming, the union would fight it.

“I think it really comes down to A-Rod’s finances, whether he thinks he can still play in two years, and his legacy. And his legacy is probably nothing right now.”

It’s his legacy, those close to Rodriguez say, that makes him so persistent in his return to baseball. He refuses to acknowledge that he cheated since joining the Yankees in 2004, although he admitted to performance-enhancing drug use during his days playing for the Texas Rangers from 2001-03.

If he accepts any penalty imposed by Commissioner Bud Selig, he would have to acknowledge guilt, although he could avoid specifics, just like Braun’s public admission.

But if Rodriguez fights Selig, he runs the risk of MLB investigators exposing the dirty details they’ve collected in talking to Tony Bosch, head of Biogensis who has provided baseball with information about his operation.

Rodriguez, insecure by nature, must decide which process is less painful. Most important, he must determine which avenue provides him the best opportunity to restore his image.

Rodriguez is convinced he would win an appeal -- at least reducing his suspension -- and he’s probably right. It’s unlikely that an arbitrator would allow Selig to toss Rodriguez out of the game, becoming only the third person in history to be banned by the sport -- joining “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Pete Rose, who received lifetime bans for gambling on baseball.

If Braun received a 65-game suspension for his role in the Biogenesis clinic, Rodriguez wonders how deserves a suspension nearly three times in length, let alone a lifetime ban.

The trouble with an appeal, and, in particular if Rodriguez decides to file suit against MLB, is it takes time, which is not on his side after turning 38 on July 27. If he sues MLB, the case may not be heard until next summer, possibly stripping him of another season.

“The Commissioner is in a no-lose situation,” Farelli said. “What happens if the commissioner loses? Big deal. The legal case would stretch out until next season.”

If Rodriguez accepts a penalty covering next season, he would be four months shy of his 40th birthday on opening day in 2015. Considering he has not played a major-league game since October after undergoing his second hip surgery in four years, Rodriguez may not be able to walk to the grocery store, let alone play baseball.

Rodriguez knows he needs to come back before next year’s All-Star break if he’s going to have a real chance of playing again.

“I’m getting a little more gray, and starting to lose my hair,” Rodriguez told USA TODAY Sports last month. “But I’m at a point in my career where I’m playing with the chips of the house. If I go out and something happens to me, well, I know I did everything I possibly could. I know that any day could be my last. I’m just going to let the chips fall where they may.

“And you know something, I’m OK with that.”

Perhaps his best strategy is to truly come clean and enter a rehabilitation center in hopes of getting off PEDs once and for all.

It’s no different than a recreational drug user or alcoholic. Go to treatment center for 30 days and throw yourself at the mercy of Selig.

Maybe there would be compassion, with Rodriguez telling everybody he is scared of failure and playing the game without chemical assistance.

Certainly, it’s not about the money for Rodriguez. He was guaranteed $275 million when he signed his 10-year deal on Dec. 13, 2007. There was no financial gain to dope.

Can’t baseball give him a second chance? Texas Rangers minor-league outfielder Manny Ramirez is on his third chance after twice being suspended for testosterone use. Steve Howe was suspended seven times with his cocaine problems.

“I know it sounds crazy,” Farelli said, “but A-Rod could be made out to be a martyr in all this.”

It may be his only hope.

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