November 06, 2007

If Alex Rodriguez Was a Rich Man

Alex Rodriguez, formerly of the New York Yankees, is now a free-agent.

It was reported on Friday, November 2 by ESPN.com that Rodriguez is seeking a minimum of $350 million for ten-years. This would be a yearly salary more than $10 million per-year above his current value as well as that of other top earners in the game.

Rodriguez was the second-highest paid player in Major League Baseball in 2007, slightly behind Jason Giambia and ahead of Derek Jeter, both teammates, according to figures on Baseball-reference.com.

Few argue that he is one of the best players in Major League Baseball.

He has played no fewer than 154 games per-season since 2001. In his career, he averages 44 homeruns per-162 games, 128 RBIs, 23 stolen bases, and a .306 average. At age 31, he has at least another five solid seasons and then maybe another five years where he is just good and not incredible. He could remain among the very best through the 2012 season.

Rodriguez chose free-agency with three years remaining on his current contract.

But not since, well, since Barry Bonds, has a player so good presented so many reservations for signing him. He enters the off-season having jilted the Yankees, and with fans, media members, and even the Commissioner of Major League Baseball angry at him for declaring his free-agency during the World Series.

The problem with all of our complains about Rodriguez is that it falls on deaf ears.

Rodriguez has a singular goal which is to make a lot of money.

Writing for the Associated Press on Sunday, Ronald Blum quoted Rodriguez as saying in Spring Training, “"I love being the highest-paid player in the game. It's pretty cool. I like making that money."

That is it.

He wants top dollar and cares less about the team for which he plays. In this sense, Rodriguez is the ultimate professional baseball player. I use “professional” not as a synonym for “class” but as the opposite of “amateur”. He is a mercenary of the truest type.

The problem is that the more he shows himself to be the mercenary he actually is, the less attractive he makes himself to potential employers.

On January 26, 2001, Rodriuez signed a ten-year contract with the Texas Rangers which would pay him $252 million. He was the highest paid player in Major League Baseball in 2001, 2002, and 2003. He hit no fewer than 47-homeruns per season with the Rangers and was named American League Most Valuable Player in 2003.

With Rodriguez in their lineup, the Rangers went 73 and 89 in 2001, 72 and 90 in 2002, and 71 and 91 in 2003. Figuring that they could lose without Rodriguez’s $22 million per-year salary, the Rangers traded him to the Yankees in February 2004.

Without Rodriguez, the Rangers won 89 games in 2004.

In the postseason, Rodriguez has been merely so-so. He hit .133 for the Yankees in the 2005 American League Division Series against the Los Angeles Angels and then hit .071 against the Detroit Tigers in 2006. He improved to .267 this season against Cleveland including one homerun that came too late to make any difference in the game or series.

In Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, Rodriguez swatted at Boston Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo’s glove to knock the ball loose. Not only is this interference for which he was automatically ruled out, it looked about as a professional as a second-grader playing t-ball.

The New York Times reported on May 31, 2007 that Rodriguez showed equal class in the previous day’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays when he shouted in distraction at Blue Jays third-baseman Howie Clark. The Blue Jays were furious at Rodriguez breaking one of baseball’s unwritten rules while Rodriguez stood on third-base grinning like, well, a second-grader.

Rodriguez originally played for the Seattle Mariners. His final year in Seattle was 2000 when the Mariners went 91 and 71. In their first year without Rodriguez, the Mariners won 116 games.

Playing for the Yankees, he had public feuds with team captain Jeter, and this year, a public feud with his wife. She filed for divorce after Rodriguez was seen at a Toronto strip club with a former Playboy model.

Rodriguez could not even leave the Yankees in a positive way.

The Red Sox played the Colorado Rockies in game four of the World Series last Sunday night, October 28. Rodriguez’s agent, Boras, announced that Rodriguez was leaving the Yankees during the game itself.

Major League Baseball has a blanket moratorium on its thirty franchise clubs on announcements of managerial hires and player trades during the World Series. It is a nice tradition because it keeps the focus on the World Series and the two competing teams.

Game Four of the World Series did take 3-hours and 35-minutes. This is inexcusably too long for many reasons. And, it is not too long to wait to alert the world that you are a free-agent. Rodriguez could have even waited until Monday morning. Easily.

Many blame the World Series announcement and the $350 million demand on agent Scott Boras. I do not because structurally, Boras is Rodriguez’s agent. This is to say that Boras represents Rodriguez and only Rodriguez is responsible for Rodriguez’s salary demands, departures, and character.

Writing in the Times on Sunday, Jeffrey N. Gordon sees the mid-Game Four announcement as a conscious strategic move. In “Yankees Should Opt In for Rodriguez”, Gordon argues that Boras knew that the Yankees would announce the hiring of new manager Joe Girardi at the conclusion of the Series. Had Rodriguez announced following Girardi’s hire that he was opting-out, it could have appeared that he was leaving the Yankees in direct response to the hiring of Girardi. By announcing his free-agency prior to Girardi’s hiring, Gordon says that he left greater room for himself to resign with the Yankees.

It is a reasonable argument and could be true. Still, Rodriguez comes off looking very bad.

But I did not come to bash Cesar, but to defend him. Really.

I do not count myself among those Philadelphia Phillies fans who look at our hole at third-base this past season with Wes Helms, Abraham Nunez, and Greg Dobbs, and salivate at batting Rodriguez with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. I do not want Rodriguez on the Phillies.

One reason is that the Phillies had a lot of character this season. The team came together and seemed to enjoy playing together. At least the position players did. I am concerned about the team overspending for Aaron Rowand to return to play centerfield, and he was a tremendous on-field presence, and by all accounts, clubhouse presence as well.

The other reason is that $25 to $30 million per-year can buy the Phillies (and any other team), two very good players rather than one. I would take two-players hitting .300 per-season with 20 to 30 homeruns each over one-Alex Rodriguez.

Rodriguez chose to opt out of the last three seasons of his contract with the Yankees, forgoing $91 million in salary, because after his MVP-caliber 2007 season, he believes he can sign a new contract worth more money and for a longer period of time.

Rodriguez cares most for securing the richest pay-day and does not seem to value the particular team for which he plays, city where he works and lives, or championship prospects of the organization.

The only question therefore is about the nature of the market for him.

In 2001, the Rangers and owner Tom Hicks is said to have paid tens of millions more for Rodriguez than the next highest bidder. Now, agent Boras and Rodriguez are looking for the 2007-2008 Off-season version of Hicks.

The natural destinations for Rodriguez would have been, well, the Yankees and Rangers. The Baltimore Orioles love themselves high-priced big-name free agents. By signing with Baltimore, it would also ensure that Rodriguez could continue not winning World Series titles.

But he will not sign with Baltimore.

Pundits point to Rodriguez going to Los Angeles, to either the Dodgers or Angels. They both need big offense, have the financial resources to do a deal, and Rodriguez could hang out with David Beckham and be fabulous in SoCal.

He could also go upstate to San Francisco where the Giants need a new gate attraction to continue paying for their privately financed gem of a ballpark. Detroit is also a possibility if only because the Tigers are one of the few franchises that still have a positive working relationship with Boras.

If Rodriguez’s goal was to make more money over a longer time-period, he only needs one team willing to pay more than $91 million for more than three years to make his departure from the Yankees worthwhile.

All he needs is one team to sign him.

Remember, all he wants is to be the highest paid in Major League Baseball. Is that so wrong?

2 Comments:

Blogger David said...

I like the schilling idea: low base salary and lots and lots of incentive money. That's sort of how I pay my employees: medium base salary and huge bonuses. It seems to make everyone happy. High earning potential, but you have to EARN it. Schill will get his $8M if he sucks, but he'll get $14 if he rocks. He'll get $10 if he's just not a fat pig. I like this idea muchly. I hope more people take low base salaries with high incentives. Make baseball like a micro-payment market.

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