Baseball’s greatest matador

Wow.

Is it just me or is Scott Boras salivating like a starving dog outside a dumpster at the prospect of Alex Rodriguez opting out of his contract? I can picture him right now thumbing through the Bible looking for passages that can be interpreted as meaning that A-Rod is indeed the Second Advent. He’s busily penning the second epistle to the Gulliblelians on the glories of signing his client. He’ll resurrect your team’s World Series dreams, heal umpires’ blindness, teach your team’s lame hitters to walk and cause the dumb to talk even less. (Why is everybody suddenly looking at me?)

In addition, this time he ain’t gonna be sold for 30 stinking pieces of silver. No siree, not this time baby; he’ll be paid big denarii’s for allowing your city’s scribes to crucify him.

Look, I know that Boras knows his business way better than yours truly; but I can’t help but wonder if he’s overplaying his hand a bit.

OK a whole lot.

Maybe he’s floating trial balloons before recommending A-Rod opt out to see if there are any potential Hicks out there. Who knows?

The thing is, first time through free agency Rodriguez was a 24-year-old slick fielding shortstop coming off his third consecutive 40-plus home run season and had batted .316/.420/.606 in 2000—on top of all this he had surpassed the century mark in runs scored, RBIs and walks. He had accomplished this while playing half his games in a park that favored pitchers and his team had played for the AL pennant. Speaking of which, he batted a lusty .409/.480/.773 with four runs, two home runs and five RBIs in a losing cause in the ALCS.

Rodriguez was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a chance to land potentially the greatest shortstop ever through his prime years.

Things are a little different this time. Despite a tremendous seven years when he batted .304/.391/.591, hitting 329 home runs it’s hard to say he hasn’t been worth the money. Nevertheless, over that same span Barry Bonds is .325/.526/.689 with 268 home runs. Yes, I know about the steroids and have touched on it here and there, but Bonds did all this since he turned 36 and played in just 270 of 486 games. OK forget Bonds, how about Albert Pujols then? He’s .332/.420/.620 with 282 home runs over that same stretch with only 27 fewer runs scored and 47 fewer RBIs (with almost 200 fewer at-bats). Manny being Manny is .313/.409/.593 with 254 home runs in 3588 at-bats.

In other words, he hasn’t been unique by a good stretch. A-Rod’s value in his next contract is as a hitter and while he’s been terrific, his greatest asset is his durability coupled with his high level of production. However his level of production isn’t on a different plane from mere mortals—it’s his counting stats that are. He’s at the top-level performance-wise but he is not alone there.

Granted, his 1501 runs, 1503 hits and 518 home runs, while beyond amazing for a 31-year old won’t help his new team much. Those totals have zero impact on his team’s chances for success in 2008 and beyond. They’re in the past. What’s noteworthy in all this is that Boras is selling Rodriguez’s value as a player who will reach incredible milestones and not being a key puzzle piece for a World Series contender. He spent the last four years playing for a team that considers anything short of winning it all a failed season and is perceived as being unable to put that very club over the top. Also, those milestones are years away, but most fans are hoping for World Series glory in 2008, rather than being around for Rodriguez home run No. 800. The fan base want something right now, not something that will happen towards the end of the line for A-Rod.

Other differences include the fact that in 2000-01 he was a shortstop, now he’s a third baseman. The first time through free agency he was coming into his prime years, now he’ll be entering his decline phase. As a Seattle Mariner he was viewed a feared clutch hitter, now he’s regarded (however unfairly) as a postseason flop. He was viewed as a leader with the Mariners (remember the: ‘We are on a mission—sir!’ t-shirts in 2000?) but has been looked upon at various times as a clubhouse problem and has been called “the cooler” by ex-teammates. Finally, and most damning, while he has won the MVP three times (I’m assuming) over the seven years of his contract, his teams haven’t won the World Series yet, alone reached one, worse still, he is the scapegoat and enduring image of the greatest post-season choke in baseball history.

In other words, this ain’t your 2000-01 version of Alex Rodriguez. There is baggage that wasn’t there before; there is a potential downside that didn’t exist back in 2000. He wasn’t A-Fraud, A-Lot, A-Wad, or “Slappy McBluelips” then. Fans loved him in 2000; he was considered everything that was right about baseball. Now’s he’s Mr. 252 and on the prowl looking for more with one of the most despised men in baseball. It appears if more money means leaving a winning situation for a second time as a free agent—so be it; he can always trigger an opt out or demand a trade (which the contract will likely have written provisions for). He’s become almost radioactive.

Something else to consider is that Boras’ current demands are based on the market set by Tom Hicks bidding against himself. Boras wouldn’t be talking about the current level of compensation had he not gotten Hicks to overbid. Clubs will be more wary now.

He’s also selling a bill of goods (milestones) that have already been bought recently and the damages not fully assessed. The Giants paid big money for Bonds’ pursuit of Aaron, yes it filled the ballpark but it resulted in no World Series championships. They made roster decisions solely with Bonds in mind, and are now looking at a major rebuilding effort.

What has to be borne in mind as well is that Boras will insist on opt-outs in the next contract as well in case Rodriguez sets the world on fire again. Just because you sign him through home run No. 800, base hit No. 4257 or feeding No. 5001 with a few loaves and a couple of fishes doesn’t means he’ll be there when the time comes. Not if there’s a shot at still another payoff between now and then.

In addition, I can’t help but wonder if Boras’ claim of A-Rod’s worth will scare off what few bidders for his services that he has. If Rodriguez does opt out, I do believe Cashman won’t re-sign him unless the market isn’t as robust as Boras thinks. They lose about $21 million from the Rangers’ subsidy, and they have to be the highest bidder and be willing to take the 40% luxury tax hit on top of that. Put another way, suppose the Yankees are told (after the opt out) that it’ll take 10 years/$300 million to sign him. Forty percent of that is $120 million; add in the lost Texas money and the Bronx Bombers end up paying $441 million for Rodriguez’s decline phase.

Even the Yankees have limits. That would leave the Cubs, Red Sox, and Angels as most likely targets.

The Cubs are trying to sell and any buyer has to have the approval of Selig who would frown on a club setting a new record salary. That’s what allegedly cost the Dodgers and Frank McCourt Vladimir Guerrero. Besides, the Cubs have holes, but third base isn’t one of them. John Henry and company are also staunch allies of the commissioner and owe him for accepting their lower bid for the franchise. They wanted Rodriguez to reduce his contract before putting him in red socks and now they’re going to set a salary benchmark that tops a deal that Selig absolutely loathes?

Are the Angels willing to cough up that kind of coin to get Rodriguez?

Who knows?

The Mets could make a run but they’d have to shuffle their infield to accommodate him. The Giants or Dodgers possibly? It could happen I suppose. Despite recent statements, I wouldn’t rule out the Tigers either. I view their disinterest as more of a bargaining position than rejection of the idea. Heck, maybe J.P. Ricciardi can lure him to Toronto for $30 million a year and a promise that his visage will replace the queen on the Canadian dime. That was we’ll have the Bluenose on the back and the Blue-lips on the front (Yeah, yeah, cheap shot I know, forward the flames to the usual location … I just wanted to see if I can generate hate mail without using the word “bunt.”) Again if Boras has overreached himself and the market doesn’t materialize then that would bring more teams into the picture.

Regardless, the more Boras runs his mouth, the fewer bidders he’ll get for his client. I still think Boras’ best bet for getting Rodriguez the coveted target of $30 million is to sign an extension with the Yankees starting in 2011 that enable them to keep the Rangers money.

Ole!

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