Friday, July 13, 2007

Waiting Game

The Yankees changed their position of not negotiating with players during the season as they looked to ink Alex Rodriquez to a contract extension. Before the start of the season, the Yankees stated publicly that they would not negotiate with players during the season, but would wait until after the season to decide what the needs of the team where and whether it made sense to resign the players. Both Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada can be free agents at the end of the season. The Yankees position on Arod was that he was already under contract so there was no reason to even discuss negotiating even though they were well aware of the opt out clause in his contract.

Arod is currently in the midst of what may very well turn out to be his finest season. In fact, if he continues at his current pace, he will finish with numbers that haven't been seen in the bronx since the days of the M&M boys in 1961 (Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris both made runs at the single season home run record that year with Mantle ending up at 54 and Roger breaking the record with 61) . It is very clear that Arod is going to opt out of his contract at the end of year. He would be 35 at the end of his current contract and a 32 year old free agent is a much more attractive target. Although he is currently the highest paid athlete in the history of North American sports, he will be in line for an even bigger contract at the end of the season. His agent, the reviled (by management) Scott boras, has already stated that Arod will be paid over $30 million a season in the last two years of his current contract and so it seems certain that the bidding for Arod's services will start somewhere in that neighborhood.

Arod certainly hasn't been treated particularly well during his time in New York. The fans and the press have been particularly hard on him. He changed positions when he came to the Yankees and while he struggled in '06, his defense for the most part has bordered on spectacular. He was seemingly never given credit for having made that concession in order to play here. He currently sits one home run away from the record for most home runs hit by a shortstop. I'm not sure that he is overly concerned with it, but I'm sure the Cubs, White Sox, Red Sox or Angels would be happy to have him man that position for them. There are very few clubs that are in a financial position to sign Arod, but the the four or five clubs that are, will put on the full court press in order to get him on their side.

The Yankees will have 10 days after the end of the World Series to have exclusive negotiating rights with Arod. They are still in the best position to sign Arod to a contract. The Yankees will look to sign him to an extension because if he plays under his current deal for the next three years, the Texas Rangers would be on the hook for a significant portion of $81 million that would be remaining on his contract at the end of this year. Given his current position, Arod would probably be able to extract a 5 year extension in the neighborhood of $125- $150 million. That would bring his total baseball earnings to a staggering $400 million. Of course he could opt out of his deal and then look for an 8 year contract in the $240 million range. At this point, the ball is totally in Arod's court. He has reestablished himself as the best player in baseball and he is clearly the most indispensable player in the Yankees lineup.

I'm not really sure what Arod is going to do. He has of course stated publicly that he wants to stay in New York, but he couldn't really say anything else without incurring the wrath of the fans and the media. His legacy would certainly be cemented if he were to win a World Series or two in the Bronx. There would be a plaque in monument park, a retired number hanging on the wall, he would go in to the hall of fame wearing a Yankees cap and he would forever be linked to the Yankee greats of the past. I have no idea if this means anything at all to him though. The prospects of a new start might be more appealing to him. If he signed with the Angels, the press would be too busy following the hijinks's of Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton to worry about what strip club Arod was visiting or what woman he was seen with. Signing with the Red Sox would put him in another baseball obsessed town, but he could be a constant thorn in the side of the Yankees. Even signing with the Mets might be an option if he really wanted to get back at the Yankees.

The bottom line is that this was a major blunder by the Yankees front office. While Arod said before the season that he was not planning to opt out of his contract, you, me and the American people all knew that he would. The Yankees were under some sort of group self delusion that Arod wouldn't at least test the free agent waters at the end of the season. I don't know if they could have gotten an extension done in the pre-season, but at least they could have gotten the wheels in motion. Perhaps they were hoping that Arod would have a sub par year and would decide to honor his contract. That mistake is about to cost the team a lot of money. They have been down this road before however. When Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra were the hot young shortstops in the American League, Nomar signed a 4 year deal that paid him an average of about $10 million a year. The Yankees should have followed suit with Jeter, but instead went the arbitration route with him every year until they had to sign him to a contract. By waiting two extra years, they were forced to give him a contract that averaged $20 million a year. They were shortsighted then and they are now. They have the money to get it done, but it remains to be seen whether Arod has the will to get it done.

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