As a diasporic Yankee fan living in Tampa, I really like Alex Rodriguez. Rays fans hate him. They boo him at their stadium, they refer to him as “A-Fraud” or “A-Roid” on a.m. sports-blather, and I have personally heard them pray to their gods to have him destroyed. And still, each time up to bat, he crushes it. Against Tampa, his numbers are quite impressive. Versus “Big Game James” Shields (their “Ace”), his slash figures are 317/404/634. Against Wade Davis, he’s 267/353/667 and against Jeremy Hellickson and David Price he’s posted a .929 and .773 OPS respectively.
In this way, though, Tampa fans are very much like their edgier, funny-accented, cold-weather-enduring brethren in New York City. Neither fan base likes A-Rod, and to be fair, A-Rod hasn’t helped his cause much. First, there was that nasty comment about erstwhile friend Derek Jeter that he made to Scott Raab in an Esquire Magazine feature on Rodriguez and (then) agent Scott Boras in 2001. Rodriguez noted, amongst other things, that “Jeter’s been blessed with talent around him. He never had to lead. …And he hits second – that’s totally different than third or fourth in a lineup … You go into New York, you want stop Bernie and O’Neill. You never say don’t let Derek beat you. He’s never your concern.”
And, then he had this to say, recently, about the new stadium in Miami: “So I’m very proud of the city of Miami and the Marlins to be able to achieve this in my hometown.” He may well have felt it, it may well have been true, but when YOUR team is forking out $23 million and you are actually a native New Yorker, maybe – and I’m just spit-balling here – maybe your inner monologue makes that statement and what you actually tell the press is “it was really, really, um, good.”
Speaking of money, the Yankees owe Alex Rodriguez an average of $23.3 over the next six years, with an additional $6 million for achieving one of several different milestones like tying the homerun marks of Willie Mayes, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds. In other words, the Yankees still owe A-Rod $143 million through 2017, when he’s (gulp) my age. He’s one of four players who will consume $118 million of next year’s payroll, along with fellow geriatric Derek Jeter and the young’uns (as they say in Tampa) Sabathia, and Teixeira. There is no doubt the Yankees can afford A-Rod’s contract though, as the Yankees’ revenues regularly exceed the GNPs of half the nations of the world.
In fact, while we’re at it, let’s knock off a few more questions. There’s no doubt the Yankees got a good deal on him – they only had to give up Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias to get him. The Rangers were also interested in Robinson Cano back in 2004, then ranked as the 6th best Yankees prospect. Had they taken Cano, my column might have taken on a less A-Rod friendly tone. Here are a few more statements that begin with the phrase “There is no doubt”
- He was the best shortstop in the game when they traded for him in 2004.
- He’s been a great regular season player, up until his hip surgery.
- The Yankees can/could easily afford him.
- He’ll be a future Hall of Famer.
All that stated I still hate this contract. Before Rodriguez (a period of Yankee history that I refer to as BR), the Yankees had won six AL pennants and four World Series championships. Since 2004 (SR or “Since Rodriguez”), we have exactly one AL pennant and one World Series ring. Perhaps there are those out there who take solace, if not pride, in “making” the playoffs in 16 of the last 17 years, but too many of the nine non-pennant years resulted in ALDS exits.
2004 really sucked. The cosmic conspiracy against Yankee Universe began in late October, as the Yankees lost the 2003 World Series in six games at home to Josh Beckett who pitched a 2-0 shutout. That January, then-third baseman Aaron Boone tore his knee ligaments while playing pick-up basketball with some friends. Shortly thereafter, Brian Cashman received a phone call from A-Rod’s agent Scott Boras. The Rangers wanted to dump A-Rod’s huge contract (ten years, $252 million) when they realized that they only had enough money left over to staff the other nine positions on the field with the Harlem Globetrotters’ foils, the Generals. Boras, though, “suggested” to Cashman, in the way that a stripper “suggests” what delights might await one in the infamous “champagne room”, that A-Rod might be willing to play third base. At that point, Hank Steinbrenner absolutely had to have A-Rod and initially the deal looked good. The Rangers agreed to kick in $67 million of the $179 million that remained on A-Rod’s contract. The Yankees were getting the 2003 AL MVP, leader in homeruns, runs scored, and a gold glove shortstop. To get him, they only had to give up Soriano and Arias.
From that moment, the culture of the Yankee clubhouse changed. In October of 2004, matter touched anti-matter somewhere in a distant quantum universe and history came to an end. The Red Sox not only won an ALCS against the Yankees, but came back from 0-3 to do it. Joe Torre had lost control of the team to Cashman and Steinbrenner the younger. There was the infamous “pop-up” incident versus Baltimore in 2006 and then there was A-Rod’s infamous “opt-out” of his contract in 2007. Whereas A-Rod was re-signed to his current, ten-year, $275 million in 2008, Joe Torre’s contract was allowed to expire.
A brief glance at A-Rod’s performance as a Yankee shows a fantastic regular season player, especially on offense, but one who routinely underperforms in the post season.
As a Yankee, he’s a two-time AL MVP, and has been selected to the All-Stars every year except 2009. Compare that to his post-season numbers:
Last year, his post-season numbers were abysmal. Aside from being the last strike out in both the 2010 ALCS and in last year’s early exit at the hands of the Tigers, his slash numbers were 111/261/111.
I don’t fault the Steinbrenners for wanting arguably the best shortstop since Honus Wagner. Here’s what Baseball Prospectus had to say about him back in 2001: “Alex Rodriguez added the only weapon missing from his arsenal last year by doubling his career walk rate. He is the first player in the 25-year history of free agency to be established as one of the game’s top few players and still have his peak seasons ahead of him at the time he entered the market.”
However, getting A-Rod resulted in losing Joe Torre. The Yankees’ heavy investment in A-Rod meant that the rest of the team and coaches would have to work around him. When they re-signed him in 2008, his contract was laden with narcissistic platitudes that betrayed his obsession with his own place in baseball history. Even the manner in which A-Rod signed his extension (prior to the end of the season in 2007, during the World Series, negating the final Rangers’ payment on his original contract) was stomach-churning.
In the end, we have a productive, but not $23-million-per-year-‘til-2017-productive, baseball player. His defense is above average thus far in 2012, though he is slumping somewhat. By 2017, the Yankees will have the highest-paid DH in the game. As a Yankee fan living in Tampa, I enjoy watching A-Rod silence his critics here at Yankee Stadium South, er, Tropicana Field. As a Yankee fan, though, I wish his contract extension reflected his actual performance as a Yankee and not his pre-Yankee hype. Ten year contracts are a bad idea.