Sources: Giambi being used as bargaining chip in Mitchell probe

Updated: June 7, 2007, 10:08 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Commissioner Bud Selig has asked Jason Giambi to speak with George Mitchell within two weeks, which would make the New York Yankees star the first active player known to cooperate with baseball's steroids investigator if he agrees to the meeting.

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But the Major League Baseball Players Association would not commit Wednesday to any meeting between Giambi and Mitchell.

"This sets the precedent for doing an interview," said Yankees relief pitcher Mike Myers, a member of the players' association pension committee and long-time union activist. "I think it's a joke. [They] want you to talk, but if they don't like what you say they will punish you more. There should be no punishment in the first place. [Giambi] spoke out against MLB and Selig doesn't like that. Now we are going to see what happens."

The New York Times reported Thursday night that Giambi had received a letter from Mitchell earlier asking to meet. Mitchell has sent two kinds of letters to players; one of the type Giambi received, another asking them to release medical records. No players have met with Mitchell or his investigators.

Sources have told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney that Giambi is essentially being used by the Commissioner's office as a bargaining chip to try to give credibility to the Mitchell Investigation. If Giambi refuses to talk to Mitchell, it gives Selig the option of suspending Giambi -- and then picking a fight with the players' union and possibly taking that fight before an arbitrator.

Sources also have told Olney that there are ongoing negotiations between Major League Baseball and the players' union about Giambi testifying, but not necessarily to act as a snitch. Giambi's testimony potentially would be used to confirm details from leaked BALCO testimony.

Two baseball sources told Olney that part of the reason the commissioner is trying to compel Giambi to talk to Mitchell is because Giambi is not playing. The Yankees first baseman was placed on the 15-day disabled list last Friday with torn tissue in his left foot that is expected to sideline him at least three weeks, and perhaps much longer.

A potential pitfall for Giambi would be that if he were to testify or give Mitchell any incriminating evidence during the time he's played for New York, it is possible Yankees officials might attempt to use that information to void his contract.

"Jason will determine how to respond to the commissioner's request ... after consulting with MLBPA counsel and his own lawyer," union general counsel Michael Weiner said.

Giambi is not on the Yankees' road trip. His agent, Arn Tellem, arrived in the United States from a European trip on Wednesday night and said he planned to speak with Giambi and the union before commenting.

Selig has deferred a decision on whether to discipline Giambi for recent remarks that many interpreted as an admission of steroids use.

Howard J. Rubenstein, spokesman for owner George Steinbrenner, said, "The New York Yankees support Commissioner Bud Selig, and beyond that will have no further comment."

Selig had been deliberating since May 23, when Giambi met with lawyers from Major League Baseball. Selig will take Giambi's level of cooperation into account.

"Any admission regarding the use of illegal performance-enhancing substances, no matter how casual, must be taken seriously," Selig said. "It is in the best interests of baseball for everyone, including players, to cooperate with Senator Mitchell in his investigation.

"Discipline for wrongdoing is important, but it is also important to create an environment so players can feel free to honestly and completely cooperate with this important investigation."

Mitchell, a former Senate Majority Leader, has been investigating steroids since he was hired by Selig in March 2006. He wouldn't discuss Selig's statement, saying only: "This matter is being handled by the commissioner's office."

Giambi told a federal grand jury in December 2003 that he used steroids and human growth hormone, the San Francisco Chronicle reported in December 2004. Before the start of spring training in 2005, the former AL MVP made repeated general apologies at a news conference but never used the word "steroids."

Giambi told USA Today in comments published May 18: "I was wrong for doing that stuff. What we should have done a long time ago was stand up -- players, ownership, everybody -- and said: 'We made a mistake.' "

According to the union, penalizing Giambi would also be a mistake.

"What are you suspending him for? That's the biggest question right now," Myers said. "What are you going to fine him for? Because he did an interview [with USA Today]? Then players will stop doing interviews and Selig doesn't want that."

Pitcher Mike Mussina, the Yankees' player representative, also was critical of the commissioner.

"To say either help us or you're suspended? I don't know," Mussina said before New York's 5-1 victory over the White Sox on Wednesday. "Bud Selig thinks he can do whatever he wants. It's like he is trying to do whatever he can."

Asked if he believed MLB was asking Giambi to be a rat, Mussina replied, "This is the first time I have ever heard of it."

To other Yankee players, Giambi shouldn't be punished for speaking his mind.

"I'm still trying to figure out what he's in trouble for -- freedom of speech?" Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon said. "You can always go back and get someone in trouble for what they did in the past, whether it's stealing a pack of gum or whatever. It smells fishy. I still don't know what he did wrong by talking."

As the Mitchell probe enters its 15th month, baseball sources told Olney that they estimate the investigation is costing about $2 million a month -- not including legal fees incurred by individual teams as they have sought representation and guidance for themselves and players. Some estimates put that amount in the range of $70,000 to $100,000 per team.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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