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He Won't Negotiate Until Season Ends. Should New York Really Care?
Rodriguez can opt out of his contract after the 2007 season. By telling the Yanks that he won't discuss an extension during the season, is he saying goodbye to New York?
When the New York Yankees traded for Alex Rodriguez in February of 2004, many believed they had the player that could return New York to the glory days of 1996 through 2001, when the Yankees won five pennants and four World Series titles. But since they signed the superstar slugger, nothing has gone according to plan.
2004 Season Disappointment
Despite acquiring the game's best all-around player, the Yankees have not returned to the promised land in A-Rod's three seasons. In 2004, he put up statistics well below his regular season averages. He hit .286 with 36 home runs and 106 RBI. Good numbers for a normal human, but at $25 million, the Yankees were probably expecting 50 homers and 130 RBI. But it was his first season, and much was forgiven.
But then the Yankees lost to the Boston Red Sox in humiliating but historic fashion in the 2004 American League Championship Series. After taking a 3 games to none lead, the Sox stormed back and won the Series 4 games to 3. A-Rod hit a mediocre .258 in the series, and went just 2 for 13 in the four straight losses.
That's right, in A-Rod's first season, the Boston Red Sox broke the Curse of the Babe as they got past the Yankees and then won the World Series by sweeping the Cardinals.
2005 Regular Season Most Valuable Player and Post Season Least Valuable Goat
A-Rod rebounded in 2005, hitting .321 with 48 home runs and 130 RBI. He won the American League MVP award, and it looked like A-Rod would finally break through in the post-season to win his first World Series. Again, it didn't happen. Instead of moving forward, the team took a step backwards, losing to the Los Angeles Angels in in American League Divisions Series. During the five game ALDS, Alex Rodriguez hit just .133 with 0 home runs and 0 RBI.
The Nadir: the Miserable 2006 Campaign
In 2006, things turned ugly. Although he had played a solid third base the two previous years, when the month of June rolled around, A-Rod suddenly looked like he had forgotten how to field. He committed 10 errors that month, which led to his American League high of 24 gaffes among third basemen. His repeated flubs sparked the ire of Yankees fans, who mercilessly booed him both on the field and when he came to the plate. It was an ugly scene for one of the game's true greats. Although he did finish with a .290 Batting Average, 35 HR and 121 RBI, many believed that Alex Rodriguez had just suffered through his worst season as a player and as a man.
The postseason was even worse. The Yankees fell to the Detroit Tigers in the ALDS, three games to one. Alex Rodriguez had just one single in 14 at-bats. No RBI. No runs scored. As the Yankee team walked off the field at Comerica Park in Detroit after their Game 4 loss, one couldn't help but notice that since he had arrived in the Bronx, A-Rod and his team were going backwards. The year before he arrived, they were two games from winning their fifth World Series in 8 years. Now they couldn't get out of the first round of the playoffs.
2007 Begins to Change Everything for Alex Rodriguez
When the 2007 season rolled around, speculation was rampant as to how A-Rod would bounce back from the trials and tribulation of the prior year. There were questions about his physical, mental and emotional abilities to handle the New York pressure. Most surmised that until he left the Bronx, A-Rod would never regain his true form.
But when he had one of the greatest Aprils in baseball history, the cheers returned. The love was back. Even when he slumped briefly through May, and even when he got involved in a public infidelity scandal, the fans still had his back. Those fans were rewarded when Alex started smacking the ball in June like he was Sammy Sosa in 1998. As the All-Star break arrived, he led the league in home runs (30), RBI (87), runs scored (79), and slugging percentage. Clearly, A-Rod was back and better than ever. He was even fielding much better, getting recognition as a Gold-Glove caliber player at the hot corner.
But as well as he has played, the Yankees have not. At this point, 89 games into the season, the Yankees have a 45-44 record. They are 9.0 games befind Boston for the Eastern Diivision, and about 7.5 games behind the wild card leader. In other words, unless they go on a tear, right now, they will not make the playoffs.
In other words, if the Yankees continue on this pace, they will have to face the fact that since they acquired Alex Rodriguez, they have gotten worse every year. Which brings us to Mr. Rodriguez's current contract situation.
A-Rod Declines Contract Extensions Talks
When Rodriguez signed his famous 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers in 2001, one contractual provision allowed him to opt-out of the deal and become a free agent at the end of the 2007 season. In an effort to lock up their most statistically productive player before that happens, Yankees management approached A-Rod and his agent to discuss the possibity of signing a lucrative extension while this season was still going on. A-Rod and agent Scott Boras declined.
And why not? New York hasn't exactly treated him well. Except for this season, of course. And if Alex Rodriguez goes into a protracted slump, you can bet your bottom dollar that the boos will be heard once again. The headlines will turn ugly. And life will become miserable for Alex and his family. So, one has to agree with A-Rod that he should play the season out, see how the Yankees do, listen to the fans and the media circus, examine the teams plans going forward, find out how much money over how many years they are offering as compared to other suitors such as the Angels and the Red Sox (and the Cubs if Mark Cuban can complete that sale). So, if he waits until the end of the year, he guarantees himself a bidding war, one that will start at $28 million a year and go higher depending on just how strong his second half is. A-rod is doing the right thing for himself. No doubt about it.
But what should the Yankees do to protect their team and their fan base?
As I explained earlier, Alex Rodriguez has made it clear that he will become a free agent at the end of the 2007 season. This creates the very real possibility that he could leave New York at the end of the year. Given the treatment he has received from the fans, the New York media and his former buddy Derek Jeter, one could hardly blame A-Rod for bolting Yankee Stadium come November. Since they have no leverage to use against Rodriguez -- he has a no trade clause in his contract so New York can't even move him before July 31 for prospects or middle relievers -- they just have to wait and wonder.
Or Maybe They Don't
Here is one idea that the New York Yankees brain trust should think long and hard about. Forget about him. Just forget A-Rod. Let him opt out of his contract and let him go. Hope he keeps playing at his current MVP-level for the rest of the year and can help New York somehow win now, but don't worry about him after that. Here's why:
1. It is not worth it to the Yankees to bid against other teams this November in the hopes of landing Rodriguez for $30 million or more a year from 2008 through about 2014. Remember, if things keep going the way they are in 2007, A-Rod will be 0 for 4 in his efforts to capture a World Series title with the Bronx Bombers. Can the team really justify paying $30 million to a player who is not putting them over the top? Scratch that. Can they justify paying that much to a player whose team has gotten worse each season he has been on the roster?
2. This is especially true because there is a lot of young talent out there, and if the Yankees play their cards correctly, they could free up more than $100 million in salary at the end of both the 2007 and 2008 combined seasons.
3. For example, if the Yankees simply forget about A-Rod the day after he declares himself a free agent, Mr. Rodriguez will still be able to land a filthy rich contract, probably for seven or eight more years. But without the Yankees in the bidding, it is hard to belive that any other team will give him the $30 million he is seeking. So, it's nice way to kind of stick one in his craw before he heads off to Boston or Los Angeles or wherever he is going.
4. Moreover, by simply letting Alex Rodriguez go, the team will free up $25 million per season over the next three years (or $75M total). They will also be free of the $18 million they are currently spending on Roger Clemens. That means they will have $43 million to spend on free agents this off-season without even having to dip into George Steinbrenner's treasure trove.
5. Morever, after the 2008 season, the Yankees will be free of Mike Mussina's $11 million, Jason Giambi's $21 million, Andy Pettitle's $16 million, and the $25 million that had been earmarked for Rodriguez in 2009. That's another $73 million in new money.
6. In just two years, the Yankees will have more freed-up money to spend than all of the Balkan states combined.
Where to Spend the Money?
Torii Hunter. The best free agent who will be available in November 2007 is Twins centerfielder Torii Hunter. Given the Yankees defensive problems in the outfield, he may be a logical choice. A left-handed batter with good power, great speed and six Gold Gloves. Hunter has even indicated that he would like to play in the Bronx. The Yankees should get him, place him in center field, and allow the promising Melky Cabrera to play right field in 2008.
Miguel Cabrera. This kid may be just as good as Alex Rodriguez, and he is almost a decade younger. Cabrera is a .313 career hitter who averages 43 doubles, 31 home runs and 117 RBI per season. And he just turned 24, compared with A-Rod, who is 32. Plus, Cabrera has played well in the post-season, batting higher and hitting more home runs than Rodriguez. Oh yeah, and he won a World Series in 2003 with the Marlins.
The only problem here is that Miguel Cabrera is not a free agent until after the 2008 season. He could sign with Florida, but it's doubtful that they will have the type of money that Cabrera will command. So, early in 2008, the Yankees should trade for Cabrera and then sign him to a five-to-seven year deal worth about $15-$17 million per season.
Bottom Line. Over the next 6-8 years, the Yankees could have two stars for the price of what they would have to pay A-Rod. They should think about it. They should think long and hard about it instead of getting caught up in a bidding war that they can win, but that may not win for them.
- vince young, Bloggers' Domain MLB contributer