Shea It Ain’t So?

One of the more fun stories of this (and next) off-season is the opt-out provision in Alex Rodriguez’ contract. The bandwidth and destruction of woodlands to be enlisted in covering this event will be nothing short of staggering.

If you’re into baseball voyeurism, well this is your Xanadu, your El Dorado, the mother lode. The story lines, angles and characters involved will make executives of FOX network wonder if maybe there’s a reality show in there somewhere.

Just think, we have baseball’s flagship franchise—the New York Yankees. We have George Steinbrenner involved, not to mention the New York media. You have an agent who once purchased the soul of Beelzebub coupled with a player who desperately wants people to like him yet sticks his foot in his mouth so much that he brushes his teeth with Desenex.

We may witness the first documented case in history of human spontaneous combustion occurring on a baseball diamond.

Let’s look at some angles that might cause the duds containing the form of Alex Rodriguez to do an on-body impersonation of what happened to the uniform of Damaso Garcia:

We all know that most of A-Rod’s misery originates with three numbers: 252. He’s been portrayed as greedy, a phony, a choker. He’s made many statements to the effect that he wants to stay and win with the Yankees. If he opts out, and indeed goes elsewhere, the ever-sensitive Rodriguez knows that his decision will be greeted as confirmation of all of the above.

“A-Rod isn’t satisfied with three years/$81 million.”

“He couldn’t hack playing in New York because he isn’t a winner.”

“First he said Seattle was his first choice, then he said he wanted to be remembered as a Texas Ranger, then he said he wanted to help the Yankees win the World Series. What’s he gonna say next?”

Of course, David Wright is all for Shea-Rod and if Rodriguez goes across town, he can always fall back on his comments in T.J. Quinn’s Aug. 24, 2001 New York Daily News column where he was quoted as saying:

“I wanted to be a Met. I’ve always wanted to be a Met, I’ve been a Met fan since I was a kid. And I would’ve played there for less money and less years and they know that.”

We’ll get back to this in a moment. Before we proceed further, there are many logical reasons for A-Rod to opt out that have little to do with allegedly fleeing the Bronx with his tail tucked between his legs:

If he opts out he becomes a free agent at 31 rather than waiting until he is 34. Don’t forget we’re coming off a market where players like OF Gary Matthews Jr. (age 32), RHP Gil Meche (age 28), RHP Javier Vazquez (age 31 in July) and LHP Ted Lilly (age 31) became $10-11.5 million-a-year players, while oft-injured (and likewise Scott Boras client and opt-out lottery winner) OF J.D. Drew (age 32) went from three years/$33 million to five years/$70 million.

If OF Carlos Lee (age 31 in June) was worth $16 million a year, INF/OF Alfonso Soriano (age 31) $17 million and LHP Barry Zito (age 29 in May) $18 million, then what do you suppose a very durable 31-year-old infielder who has a career line of .305 BA, 464 HR, 1,347 RBI, 145 OPS+, who also has led the league in runs four times, who owns a batting title, four home run crowns and an RBI title, who has two A.L. MVP’s (with three other top-three finishes) and two Gold Gloves, who is a 10-time All=Star—and who enjoys the services of Scott Boras—is worth?

Don’t forget, he’ll be adding to those totals in 2007. If he has a typical year, it’ll be a case of a 31-year-old with 500 HR, almost 1,500 runs, 1,500 RBI and possibly three MVPs to his name.

Suppose he adds a decent postseason to his résumé and hits in October like he did up to Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS?

Is he worth at least $22-24 million a year in the current marketplace? Would a six-year deal be unreasonable? If he signed for six years/$144 million with the Mets, he’d accomplish three things:

  • He can claim he didn’t flee New York—after all, he didn’t leave the city.
  • 252 is kaput.
  • Since he’s dropped from $27 million a year (three for $81 million) to $24 million per (six years for $144 million) he can point to his comments in 2001: “I wanted to be a Met. I’ve always wanted to be a Met, I’ve been a Met fan since I was a kid. And I would’ve played there for less money and less years and they know that,” saying he did just that.

The question is: Come 2010 could A-Rod land a three-year/$63 million contract? That’s what Rodriguez would need to make if he turned down the hypothetical six-year/$144 million deal he could sign after this season (and waited for his current contract to expire). He’d be 34, and while he is durable, there’s no guarantee he’d be the offensive force he is now. We have no idea where the market would be in three years. And while it’s possible, it’s highly unlikely he could land a six-year deal at age 34, yet alone one that guaranteed more than $20 million a season.

We have to remember that the market is quite capable of reversing itself. Don’t forget that the off-seasons in which Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Mike Mussina, Darren Dreifort, Denny Neagle, Todd Helton, Mike Hampton et. al. signed their monster deals were followed up by markets in which a 27-year-old OF who was a career .323/.390/.588 hitter with 234 home runs and and five 100-RBI seasons could muster only a five-year deal worth an average of $13 million. What’s more, since Vladimir Guerrero wasn’t offered arbitration, he was a free agent who wouldn’t cost a draft pick that would’ve decreased his value in that year’s market.

In that same marketplace, a 27-year-old shortstop and former A.L. MVP was coming off four straight seasons averaging more than 30 homers and 115 RBI in a very tough park for hitters. For all that, Miguel Tejada could land only a six-year deal averaging $12 million per annum.

In short, there’s no guarantee the money available now will be available in 2010.

Objectively it would be a sound decision to use the opt-out clause. It was a right negotiated in good faith by Rodriguez/Boras. As far as spin goes, he can say he doesn’t want to leave the Yankees—it’s simply a “business decision” and he will most certainly consider re-signing with the Yankees.

Of course it won’t be quite that cut-and-dried. It never is with A-Rod—he draws bad publicity like Britney Spears draws paparazzi.

To begin with: While A-Rod’s annual salary would decrease, it still creates a problem if he truly wishes to stay with the Yankees. Over the next three seasons (under his current deal) Rodriguez costs a grand total of $48 million. So using the hypothetical six-year/$144 million contract, the Yankees will be, in effect, paying A-Rod $32 million a year for his age 34-36 seasons. They were counting on paying him $16 million a year over the next three years. A six-year/$144 million deal would technically make the Yankees pay an extra $96 million for the final three years of Rodriguez’s theoretical six-year contract.

I’m guessing the Boss wouldn’t like that idea—let alone Brian Cashman. In all likelihood, opting out means saying goodbye to the pinstripes.

Knowing this, A-Rod can try spinning this any way he wants (even if he signs with the Mets), but he cannot avoid the fact that it was (1) about the money and (2) getting out of the Bronx.

If he thought some New York fans and media were hostile before, well … he’s going to take their vitriol to the next level.

Other hazards he’ll have to navigate include dealing with the possibility that the Yankees win the World Series after Rodriguez’ departure—a distinct possibility with the way Cashman is re-stocking the farm system. Can you imagine the New York media if the Rod-less Yankees win it all and the Mets slip behind the Phillies or rebuilding Marlins?

Of course, he can avoid that if he doesn’t end up with the Mets. Naturally, people would focus on the entire “he couldn’t handle playing in New York” bit (despite winning an MVP there), which would dog him for the rest of his career.

So … will he or won’t he? I’m assuming that if A-Rod has his typical season he’ll opt out of his current contract. Despite his sensitive nature. he generally will follow Boras’ advice—and we all know what he’ll want to do. Despite any “baggage” that he may have, we shouldn’t forget that J.D. Drew came into this offseason with a lot more and still came out ahead.

Some call Rodriguez “Mr. December” since he always seems to perform best in the business end of the game. (It should be noted that it’s Boras, not A-Rod, who looks after Alex’ business interests and Boras undeniably is “Mr. December.”)

If Rodriguez decides to opt out, his best chance at avoiding a lot of anguish is for the Yankees to win the Fall Classic in 2007. He can then say that he accomplished what he set out to do in New York and it’s time to move on. Yes, he’ll still catch some grief, but that’s a burden he chose to carry back in January 2001.

Regardless, if A-Rod decides to test the free agent waters in 2007-08, expect both the percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the strain upon ISPs to increase.

On another topic…

Finally, the e-mails from Schilling-Smoltz are still coming in, coupled with a flood of messages from the Mussina-Brown column. I’m not ignoring you. I just wanted to make another column answering them (I’m lazy that way). I’m amazed—not just that I have so many readers, but that they’re apparently quite erudite. I always figured my articles would be more appealing to people who, if they were any more dense, would have to be watered twice a day.

My only theory is that (1) you’re slumming or (2) you’re related somehow. Regardless I’m grateful for all your terrific feedback. I’m getting quite an education, and to think my grade three teacher thought I couldn’t be taught. Fifteen straight years she felt compelled to remind me of that.

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