19 November 2007

Alex the MVP, Should Stand for Millions inVested Poorly

Well, maybe things are not going to be so bad for the Yankees after all.

It looks like Alex Rodriguez is going to re-sign with the team, despite his having abandoned the contract he had with them and the subsidy they had for him from the Texas Rangers, and despite the Yankees' insisting that they would not negotiate with him if he left. Not that anyone actually believed that, but still. Rodriguez and the Yankees got around the bad PR on that issue by having Alex approach the team through a different agent, in this case, a couple of guys the Yankees know from the investment firm Goldman-Sachs, who helped to broker the YES Network deals.

Does that strike you as odd? It did me. I don't usually think of investment bankers and baseball players in the same vein, but then, there aren't many baseball players who can get contracts that will guarantee them more than the Gross Domestic Products of about half a dozen small countries, are there? I suppose if you've got that much to invest, someone from Goldman-Sachs would love to talk to you, and if they can stake a claim, a "finder's fee" if you will, on the total value of that contract (and why shouldn't they?) then it's obviously worth their while. A finder's fee of 1/2 of a percent is still worth over a million dollars on that $275 million contract.

A fairly obvious, though as yet (I think) unstated observation from this development is that yet another of the long list of Scott Boras Lies has been proven false. Boras had said, among other things, that,

"Alex's decision was one based on not knowing what his closer, his catcher and one of his statured pitchers was going to do," Boras said. "He really didn't want to make any decisions until he knew what they were doing."

That quote came directly from an ESPN.com article, which got it from the newswire. Boras has not said that he was misquoted, and Alex has not denied this.

Trouble is, those three questions have not yet been answered. Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte. Posada has re-signed with the Yankees (to an un-recommended 4-year, $52.4 million deal), but to date, Rivera and the Yankees are still working on a deal, and last week, when Rodriguez came back to the table, Rivera was still holding out for a fourth year. Pettitte opted out of his $16 million offer, and is still undecided as to whether or not he'll come back. If he needed to know about those three before making a decision, how can he be back already?

The one solid piece of information Alex does have now that he did not have when he opted out of the contract is that Joe Torre, his manager for the last four seasons, will not be back. If anything, you'd think that would push him away from New York, right? Torre was so good at taking the heat for Alex, trying to get the sportswriters to put things in perspective, maintaining that whatever ills he was suffering were temporary, even when he was knoblauching the ball all over the infield last season. If Torre's departure wasn't enough reason for him to leave, what would be? (NOTE: I'm sure, that in the public relations love-fest that will inevitably follow the signing of the new, record-setting contract, Rodriguez will tell us how much he loves Joe Girardi, and always has, even though he's never before said a single word about the man in public. You just wait.)

In any case, this much is clear: There were not many, if any, other teams out there willing to pony up the kind of dough that Boras and Rodriguez were seeking when they hit the free agent market. CNNMoney.com's Chris Isidore, who apparently just believes anything Soctt Boras tells him, was wrong about that. As was Boras, for that matter. These days, teams have more money than they know what to do with, but even so, nobody else is rich enough to be able to afford the mistake of spending almost $300 million on one player.

That's right: Mistake.

As good as Alex Rodriguez is, and he's very good, there is no way that the Yankees do not regret this contract before it's over, maybe even before it's half over. As I pointed out a few days ago, when Alex Rodriguez is 38 years old, the Yankees will still have 5 more years and something like $150 million worth of payments to make on this contract, since they tend to be back-loaded. Does anybody in his or her right mind think that any player's age 38-42 years could be worth $150 million?

Think of the greatest "old" hitters in modern history. The ones with similar skills to Alex Rodriguez (average, patience, power, maybe some speed in their younger days) include Ted Williams, Barry Bonds, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Carl Yastrzemski, Dave Winfield, Edgar Martinez...pick someone, almost anyone. Very few of them have many full, healthy seasons after age 37. Many of them were productive, at least some of the time, when they played, but they just didn't play enough to justify this kind of money. Among those I listed, only Winfield ever played 150 or more games in a season after his 38th birthday (he did it twice), though several of them are in the 140's. Granted, Barry Bonds did win two NL MVP Awards after turning 38, despite not playing more than 147 games in either season, because he was so damn good when he played. But of course, Bonds had a little "help", i.e. better living through chemistry as Dow used to say, and I don't think we want to count on that in Alex's case.

The reality is that the man is going to get hurt. He's going to have an off year or two or three some time during this ten-year contract. And insurance companies are smart enough not to insure that much money that far off in the future, especially not on a commodity as volatile as a 40-year old baseball player. Which means that when the other cleat drops for Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees will have to eat all of the $30+ million he'll be making that year.

Good thing they can afford it. Sort of.

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