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The Yankees and A-Rod

Over time, it seems, everyone has become somewhat immune to the huge dollars spent in sports. Sure, people may gripe about it — do gripe about it all the time — but the numbers themselves are somewhat surreal. They are just cartoon bags filled with money.

For instance, when we talk about Josh Hamilton’s 5-year, $125 million deal with the Angels, we might think about it as being a ridiculous deal or a serious overpay or we might think about it being the deal that could make the Angels World Series contenders. But I would say that while we certainly know how much $125 million is, we don’t really think about it that way. We don’t think about what it could buy you in Washington lobbying or what extraordinary lengths people would go to to make — or save — that kind of money.

It’s just: Josh Hamilton — $25 million per year — wow, that’s a lot of money — is he worth it?

I bring this up because — and everyone’s talking about it — the New York Yankees still owe Alex Rodriguez $114 million for the next five years. You also know the New York Yankees would do just about anything to get rid of Alex Rodriguez. They don’t even think he’s a good player anymore. They would give Alex Rodriguez and his contract to any team in baseball for nothing. That’s a given. More than that, they would unquestionably pay a lot of that contract just to get rid of him. Maybe they’d pay $25 million (not enough). Maybe $55 million (still not enough). At this point, essentially, they see Alex Rodriguez as a negative asset — like owning a diseased tree. And so does everyone else.

For a while now, everyone saw A-Rod’s contract being a burden — but he could still play, at least a little bit, and it just seemed like the Yankees were doomed to ride it out, get as much as possible out of A-Rod and keep paying the bill.

But — here’s the thing: While $114 million sounds like a lot of money, it is, in actuality, A LOT OF MONEY. All capital letters. Corporations will do all sorts of amazingly awful, horrendous things to save $114 million — you read about those things all the time.

So when the Miami New Times broke the huge story about a Miami clinic that allegedly supplied drugs to athletes, and A-Rod was smack dab in the middle of it, it was obvious what was coming. Well, I thought three things were obvious:

  1. A bunch of the named athletes were going to go to their Twitter accounts to deny any knowledge. Check.
  2. A bunch of people were going to go to their Twitter accounts to pile on A-Rod because it’s fun. Check.
  3. The Yankees were going to try to figure out if this could help them get out of the A-Rod deal.

Check. The third of these is obviously the most complicated. The stories have been pouring in about how the Yankees will explore voiding his contract, how A-Rod will never play again and so on.

Look, the Yankees will not be able to void A-Rod’s deal — not over PEDs and notes in a clinic. There is no precedent for it and no mechanism for it. The Yankees at one point explored voiding Jason Giambi’s contract for PED use — heck, he ADMITTED it — and it never even got past the exploration stage because, even though millions were at stake, the Yankees didn’t see a way to win. They paid the money because they couldn’t figure out how to get out of it.

But, well, this is MORE money. Like I say: $114 million is A LOT OF MONEY. I have to believe that the Yankees will look under every rock, behind every lamp post, in between every line in the contract to save money. Voiding the deal won’t work. One prominent theory is they will try to use A-Rod’s injury as a chance to have insurance pay him … sort of a baseball version of the film noir classic Double Indemnity.

But even beyond the, “Hey, let’s try a little insurance fraud” scheme … the basic rule still applies: $114 million is A LOT OF MONEY. Insurance companies — I’m pretty sure of this — are more skilled and more determined than the New York Yankees are at not making big payments. Insurance companies never would have given A-Rod that deal in the first place.

So what else is possible? Well, the Yankees are not without options — and because of that I think they quietly will try to settle with A-Rod in some way. Yes, I have no doubt that if A-Rod wants to go to the mat to collect every penny of that $114 million, he can legally do it. But the Yankees could make his life all sorts of miserable in his effort to collect. He’s hurt. He’s diminished. Fans hate him. His teammates don’t seem too crazy about him either. These things will only get worse over time. I don’t know what the contract allows the Yankees to do, but like I say — it won’t be pleasant in any way for Alex Rodriguez the next five years.

Of course, you and I might say that we could endure pretty much anything for that much money — we certainly could endure booing and spiteful teammates and embarrassing performances — but A-Rod (you would suspect) already has enough money to live whatever life he wants to live. How much misery is he really willing to endure? He turns 38 this year. If he gets healthy, he might have a couple of years left with some value as a player. Maybe. Then, it will really get ugly. I have to think A-Rod has some pride, and some unwillingness to deal with what will follow. And with this new PED mess swirling around, I just think he has some motivation to work out a deal with the Yankees.

Then again, maybe not. Jose Canseco and Pete Rose would scrounge for every penny.

Think for a moment about Alex Rodriguez in 2000. He was barely 25 years old, he was a Seattle hero, he had a .315 lifetime batting average, a batting title, he was a dazzling shortstop with three consecutive 40 homer years, he was the essence of baseball cool, he was a free agent about to get paid the largest contract in baseball history. There had never been a player quite like him. He was limitless.

And now? Well, he was a seminal baseball player. He has 647 career home runs, three MVP awards, five home run crowns, two shortstop Gold Gloves, more Wins Above Replacement than Lou Gehrig or Mickey Mantle or Frank Robinson or Mike Schmidt. He has had some major postseason disappointments … and some big postseason series. He has been as dominant as anyone in recent memory. Even so, the story will have a lousy ending. We just don’t know how lousy.

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33 Responses to The Yankees and A-Rod

  1. JohnG says:

    Brilliant post. Thanks Joe, good luck at NBC.

  2. Frank says:

    “Insurance companies would never have given A-Rod a contract like that in the first place.” Actually, whoever is insuring the A-Rod contract kind-of did, at least in the sense that it backed up the Yankees on their contract. Put it this way – The company may or may not end up paying on the policy, but I have no doubt there is an insurance underwriter who is on the hot seat at this very moment.

  3. Unknown says:

    I’m only saying this because I personally hate hyperbole (and thus, everyone should feel free to ignore this comment), but I take issue with this:

    “He has been as dominant as anyone in recent memory.”

    No, he hasn’t. ARod’s highest single season OPS+ is 176. His highest single season WAR (B-Ref) is 10.2. Barry Bonds had 10 (!) seasons of higher OPS+ (and if you look at each individual season of Bonds, he sort of embarrasses ARod, in whatever way a guy as great as ARod can be embarrassed). Bonds had three higher seasons of WAR and four more MVPs. Bonds was far more dominant–in practically the same era–than ARod.

    I love your writing, Joe, but you seem to do the sports hyperbole thing quite a bit. But, again: I love your writing! Sorry if I’m sounding nit-picky/mean.

    • Chris says:

      Take a look at that career WAR list at BBref and tell me how many people he is behind in his generation? I’ll tell you, just 2 and those two only overlapped about half his career. There are 26 players with 100+ career WAR and he’s one of them. I think its safe to say he was as dominant as anyone. Its somewhat misleading to say that because Bonds existed nobody else could be considered dominant.

    • Unknown says:

      You’re misreading what Joe wrote. Re-read this sentence:

      “He has been as dominant as anyone in recent memory.”

      Again, no, he hasn’t. Bonds was far and away more dominant than ARod. Joe assertion is that ARod is at worst tied with the most dominant players in recent memory. He’s wrong. Bonds was the most dominant, and Arod wasn’t particularly close. I’m taking what Joe said hyper-literally because it’s hyperbole. Sports hyperbole rarely–if ever–forwards any sports argument.

    • Chris says:

      Bonds led the NL in WAR 6 times over the course of his career

      Arod led the AL in WAR 5 times over his career.

      What more do you want. Your assertion only makes sense if there can be only one dominant player at any given time.

      So would Joe’s statement be invalid for anyone other than Bonds? If so that is kind of ridiculous

    • Unknown says:

      *Please* re-read this sentence:

      “He has been as dominant as anyone in recent memory.”

      That *does* literally mean that there can only be one player (or any number of players, provided that they display equal dominance) and that Joe’s statement *is* invalid for anyone other than the most dominant player “recent memory” (in this case Bonds). I’ll reword it: “ARod has been as dominant as Bonds.” Is that statement true? No, it isn’t. Joe is using hyperbole here, and it’s my opinion that sports hyperbole is always detrimental to the argument. I can’t believe I have to explain this so much, and I’m sorry to anyone who has to read this. This was just supposed to be a throw-away, nit-picky comment.

    • Vidor says:

      Somebody’s trying to win the Pedant Of The Day award.

    • Chris says:

      Funny that you mention what is supposedly “detrimental to the argument” by posting a “throw-away,nit-picky comment”

      I don’t think Joe was using hyperbole at all. I think he just a more loose definition of dominant. For example, your definition is Bonds and Bonds only, thus you changing the language of Joe’s sentence to reflect that. The fact that you have to make this change defeats your point. Joe didn’t write “ARod has been as dominant as Bonds”. You did.

  4. Ian says:

    Screw the Yankees. I hope they get stuck with all 114 million. They were all cheering their known roider in the 09 world series. Are they going to void that, too.

  5. manimal0 says:

    I wonder if A-Rod will like playing for the Charleston River Dogs.

  6. tharpy says:

    This will probably show what little about baseball contracts that i know. But what about this scenario?

    If the Yankees hate him so much..designate him for assignment to some crappy hole in the way single A team. (he’s going to need to rehab anyway). I think he has to pass through waivers (who’s going to claim that contract). If the Yankees have to pay him, free up a big league roster spot for someone useful.

    A-Rod’s ego won’t let him languish in the minors and he’ll decline the assignment and void the contract.

    • Ian R. says:

      I’m pretty sure that if a guy with A-Rod’s service time declines the minor league assignment, he becomes a free agent, but the Yankees are still on the hook for his contract. Plus the players’ union would most assuredly file a grievance on his behalf.

  7. Tom says:

    If WAR indicates that A-Rod was a more valuable player than Lou Gehrig or Mickey Mantle, something’s wrong with WAR.

    • nickolai says:

      Really? Arod’s got more career hits, runs, home runs and stolen bases than either of them. Are those stats wrong too? Plus he’s played more important defensive positions than either of them, and generally well.

      If it makes you feel better, then Fangraphs’ version of WAR shows Arod trailing both Gehrig and Mantle in career value.

  8. Sal Nunziato says:

    If the Yankees had balls, they’d eat the $114 million. Just pay him to leave. The financial loss would be paid back in karmic spades. The fans would have a field day. It would be like the ultimate sports laxative. We’d all feel better, especially the team. THAT’S how you win a championship. A nice dump, literally and figuratively speaking.

  9. soxmann says:

    In the best of possible worlds the Yanks are on the hook and salary cap for the whole $114mm but Rodriguez doesn’t get another dime. The money goes to education, women’s safe houses, or some other underfunded social good.

  10. Ebessan says:

    “If WAR indicates that A-Rod was a more valuable player than Lou Gehrig or Mickey Mantle, something’s wrong with WAR.”

    Rodriguez has 1200 plate appearances over both of them, and 1500 above Gehrig, and about half of them came as a shortstop. It’s pretty easy to see why he has more career WAR. However, he is behind both of them in the WAA category, though just barely.

  11. Before the 2004 season, A-Rod tried to renegotiate part of his contract in order to be traded to the Red Sox and the players union intervened to stop him, on the grounds that the MLB CBA did not permit it. Anything he tried to do to negotiate a settlement of his contract would be subject to the same objection. The Yankees are going to have to pay the piper. It’s sort of funny, really.

  12. BB Fanatick says:

    One of the reasons for the overly fat contract in the first place is that the Commissioner and the Players Union got in the middle of the negotiations when A-Rod got traded by the Texans. He was going to the Red Sox, but our esteemed Commissioner, with the union’s support, didn’t think the Sox were offering enough money. So he cancelled the deal and the Yanks were greedy enough to pony up for the biggest sports contract of all time.

    I hope the Commish sticks by his decision, and makes sure that all parties involved stick by the deal they made, and A-Rod gets every cent that he is owed. They all deserve it.

    • Sam Falkoff says:

      That was a different contract. A-Rod opted out of the last two years of the 10-year, $250m contract he had signed with Texas after the 2007 season. The Yankees signed him to a new, 10-year, $275m deal. Incredibly stupid, considering he’ll be 42 in the last year of the deal.

  13. ceolaf says:

    No one is acknowledging the possiblity that ARod might, like so many before him, think that he can come back, that he’s got another great season (or two) in him. That once he gets past this injury, that it’s there. Maybe not as great as he was at his peak, but still pretty damn good. Not just contribute, but really be a star.

    Maybe just one season.

    Do you think you could even count how many athletes have thought that, and been wrong? And every now and then, one of them is right.

    Surely, ARod might think that.

  14. Garrett Levy says:

    jeez, joe, you jobhop more than Ray Lewis prays

  15. Mark Daniel says:

    The amount of money involved in these scenarios is so huge that it’s no wonder many of these guys resort to cheating and illegal activities to grab as much money as possible. I mean, $100 million. People have been killed for much, much less than that. Perhaps baseball contracts and steroid use is more comparable to white collar crimes like Ponzi schemes or other fraud than it is to spitball-throwing.

  16. They better not get out of it, “Haha we can spend big and then just weasel out of it when the player starts to stink”

  17. jim says:

    No way in the world would the union allow the settlement of a guaranteed contract.

  18. Dinky says:

    Not that I like the Yankees. But ARod last year, injured though he was, had 2.0 WAR and a 112 OPS+, which is probably better than anybody else the Yankees have to play third base full time. Youkilis for the year had an OPS+ of 99 and was slightly worse than replacement, for example. The Yankees were in the playoffs last season, have to pay ARod either way, and there has to be some hope that his medical treatments will allow him to maintain his level of play of last year. ARod will be given a chance to come back because the Yankees want to win, and if he does well the fans will forgive him, or at least tolerate him.

  19. The best I’ve seen on this latest sports/ped/money nonsense. Joe, your writing is worth A LOT OF MONEY. I hope our economic system is seeing that you get your share of it.

  20. KHAZAD says:

    Screw the Yankees. If they owe him too much money now it is simply because of their own stupidity. The original Texas 10 year contract would have been a good one. It would have been done before he turned 35 if he did not opt out, and Arod had an OPS+ of 150 over an average of 669 PA’s per season. If he opted out, so much the better, a 154 OPS+ and 710 PA’s per season over 7 years.

    Arod tried to take a pay cut to go to the Red Sox and it was disallowed, was traded to the Yankees, accepted a position change, and opted out after the 2007 season.

    The Yankees then chose to give him an even bigger 10 year contract from his age 32 to 41 seasons. $275 million with $30 million on top in home run incentives. (If he comes back healthy, he will cash in the first $6 million of that extra money 13 home runs from now, but the decline in his play will probably save them $24 million.) I don’t feel any sympathy for them at all. If you give historically expensive long term guaranteed contracts to players headed into the down side of their careers, you can’t cry when the player (gasp!) actually declines in value, like 99+% of all the major league players in history have done. Everyone BUT the Yankees saw this coming 5 years ago.

    I won’t feel sorry for the Angels when they start crying over Pujols’ contract either. They wanted him, and they chose to overpay to get him now, knowing when they wrote the contract that there was almost no chance he would be worth anything near that type of money in the latter half of his contract.

    Both teams made their own beds.

  21. NYCD Online says:

    I’m so tired of my fellow Yankee fans carping about A-Rod. One particularly deluded bozo actually said to me in 2007 — A-Rod’s 3rd MVP season — “You’ve got to admit that Morgan Ensberg is better offensively than A-Rod.” GOT TO ADMIT. Another friend said that same year that “A-Rod is only hitting in the clutch because he hits a home run every time up.” As if that is a BAD THING.

    There’s something about Alex Rodriguez that drives otherwise sane people completely batty. What they need to realize is, yes, A-Rod is grossly overpaid. Most people probably wouldn’t want to hang out with him. But at his worst, he’s a better than average player, and at his best he’s historically great. No matter how awesome your childhood memories are, Celerino Sanchez was not a better 3rd baseman than A-Rod. And since A-Rod probably isn’t going anywhere for the next five seasons, maybe it would behoove us all to hope he does well rather than hoping he rots in hell.

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