Alex Rodriguez opts for free agency…

Let there be no doubt among Yankee fans … Alex Rodriguez’s statements about wishing to remain a member of the Bronx Bombers were genuine. We have all heard the expression about putting our ‘money where (our) mouth is’ and A-Rod did just that.

For those who feel that all this was simply a ploy by Scott Boras, consider…

Back in 2000-2001 Scott Boras laid the foundation for a contract where the baseline was $200 million and the target was 10 years/$250 million. He got the years and $252 million for his client. Many Boras supporters think that Rodriguez’s soon-to-be-signed 10 year/$275 million contract was the result of Boras’ genius in making noises about $350-$400 million. The agent was not using those numbers to get a team to settle for a lesser amount. His modus operandi is to plant in the media the expected target and reach it. He accomplished it in 2000 but fell short in 2007. Boras was not aiming for $275 million; he was shooting for $350-$400 million, aiming high as he had the previous time Rodriguez was a free agent.

If his goal was simply to get a package worth $275 million why bother opting out? The Yankees were already in the ballpark (factoring in the Rangers’ money and the three years remaining on the previous deal) with their extension offer. Something else that has to be kept in mind is seven years ago, A-Rod did not agree to terms until late January 2001. Boras feels time is an asset in increasing offers; that is why he wanted Rodriguez on the market—to get a bidding war going that would last a month or two.

Another thing to consider is how quickly Boras announced the opt-out coupled with making sure A-Rod had no contact with the Yankees whatsoever. Reports indicate that the future Hall of Famer had to be convinced by Boras to exercise the clause in his contract. It appears that Boras felt that any interaction between his client and New York’s front office/ownership could result in a quick agreement on an extension. To get Rodriguez into the marketplace meant ensuring that such a meeting not take place. While part of the timing of the opt out announcement was to make a point about how A-Rod could match the Fall Classic headline-for-headline, the other part evidently was to guarantee there would be no opportunity for the Yankees to make an offer that the third baseman would probably accept.

Every indication is that Rodriguez wished to remain where he is and his agent convinced him that even after opting out the Yankees brass’ proclamation about not negotiating simply was not the case.

Might the Yankees have re-entered the bidding even had A-Rod not made the gesture of making contact? We will never know, but one thing we have learned is this: Rodriguez did not want to take any chances. It gives us an idea of how important remaining in pinstripes was to Barry Bonds’ heir apparent as home run king.

We do not know what the final numbers of the new deal will look like yet; however while it will be a new record deal, it is nowhere near as impressive as it was seven years ago for several reasons. To begin with, back in 2000 the next highest contract was $92 million less—the deal that Manny Ramirez received from the Red Sox. A-Rod’s new deal will be just $23 million higher than the old record. Further, after Ken Griffey Jr. was traded to the Reds, he signed an extension with Cincinnati. While it was perceived that Junior gave the Redlegs a hometown discount, the total package was the highest given a player to that point in time.

Still another consideration is factoring in inflation, the value of the dollar, and that baseball’s revenue increased from under $4 billion to over $6 billion since 252 was signed. Rodriguez’s aggregate salary rose from $25.2 million to $27.5 million—a raise of just $2.3 million. Does anybody actually think that Scott Boras opted out and created this many headaches and bad publicity for his client just to get an extra $2.3 million annually?

It is inescapable that this was the work of Alex Rodriguez and not Scott Boras.

Free agency

Some days a guy can’t win. For once, it appears it really wasn’t about the money for A-Rod. Many writers have been gleefully typing columns about how Rodriguez finally received his comeuppance and was forced to come crawling back to the Yankees. Unbelievably, some even wrote that the Bronx Bombers should have kicked A-Rod to the curb anyway to make a point. (What point, that one should cut off his nose to spite his face when such an opportunity arises?) Again, the media have gotten it wrong. What has happened is this: Alex Rodriguez opted out of his contract before the end of the World Series. He became a true free agent last week.

In the early days of the current incarnation of the players union Marvin Miller had a goal. That goal was a major league player should at some point during his career be able to test the market and choose where he wished to play. Miller at the time never envisioned the level of compensation that players would one day receive—nor did he care. It wasn’t about the money, it was about the freedom to choose, to decide the direction and location a player’s career should go. Curt Flood sued MLB, not because he wanted more money, but because he did not wish to play in Philadelphia where he had been traded. Flood wished to choose for himself where he would work.

Flood and many other players sacrificed to make it happen.

Sadly, what has happened in recent years is that where once before, owners and general managers decided where a player would work, now that decision has been deferred to player agents and the MLBPA’s servitude to the salary bar. All too often we see a soon-to-be free agent player emotionally distraught at the thought that he may have to move on.

Whaaa?

Who says a free agent player has to leave his old club? Is it impossible for a free agent to remain with his current team? Obviously not, but it has become common practice to allow a player’s representative to find top dollar and that will decide his next destination. Back in 2000, Manny Ramirez had to decide between his heart and the $160 million waiting for him in Beantown. In 2001, his contract with the Giants set to expire, a tearful Barry Bonds said he didn’t know where he would be playing next even though his heart was in San Francisco. Shawn Green wished to be traded to a club where he could make what the union felt he was worth. He didn’t wish to make his colleagues angry by ‘hurting their earnings.’

It appears that Alex Emmanuel Rodriguez had an epiphany: he was a free agent with everything that it implies. He didn’t want another earth-shattering contract, Rodriguez wanted to stay in New York and win a World Series with a club that goes all out every single year to make it happen. He already has money and lots of it, but he doesn’t have a World Series ring. Boras and the MLBPA would prefer the $350-$400 million contract regardless of which team offered it and doubtlessly would have nudged A-Rod in that direction—even if it meant never playing in the Fall Classic.

Miller, Flood, and many others did not go through what they did just so players could trade one master for another. As Curt Flood once famously said: “A $90,000 slave is still a slave”—the same can be said of somebody making $300-400 million. Alex Rodriguez took his free agent rights and exercised them the way they were meant to be used. All I can say about that is…

Well done Mr. Rodriguez!

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