Monday, October 22, 2007

Can I Have This Dance...

The Yankees and Alex Rodriguez are about to begin their high stakes game of Chicken that will ultimately lead to Arod signing a mega deal with the team or taking his chances on the open market. His agent, Scott Boras, has been in spin mode since well before the Yankees season ended and he has now kicked the spin into high gear. He's been talking about the Arod's value to the Yankees and to their regional sports network YES, and claiming that Arod is the reason that the network's value has tripled since he's been on the team. He is also claiming the Yankees boost in attendance can be directly traced to Arod. I believe that he even floated a figure of $40 million a year as reasonable for his client. His latest release to the press stated that the loss of Joe Torre and the accompanying turmoil may play a factor in Arod's decision.

While all of Boras' arguments are fairly transparent, his claim that the loss of Joe Torre will have an effect of Arod's decision may be the most laughable. Just last year, Torre dropped Arod to 8th place in the playoffs against Detroit and refused to defend him in a Sports Illustrated article. To think that Arod would hinge his decision on whether to come to the Yankees based on Torre's presence is a joke. While I'm sure that Arod and Torre were able to coexist peacefully in the clubhouse, to call their relationship warm, would probably be stretching the truth. During all of Boras' pronouncements, we have yet to hear a peep out of Arod. I'm sure this is all part of the grand scheme orchestrated by Boras to keep the Yankees guessing as to his real intentions.

Boras has a history of pushing the clock on negotiations. Just last winter he kept the Red Sox guessing about whether Matsusaka would sign a contract. In fact, in the end, it was Matsusaka who made the deal happen. He wanted to play for the Red Sox and so he took the last deal that was offered. Arod is in much the same position. The Yankees have stated publicly on various occasions that they will not pursue Arod if he chooses to opt out of his contract. They have said that they are simply unwilling to leave the money that the Texas Rangers are obligated to pay Arod over the next three seasons on the table. The Yankees will almost certainly offer Arod a long term extension in the $30 million neighborhood. The question is whether Arod wants to play for the Yankees or whether he would prefer to play somewhere else. In the end, it won't be about the money, but about Arod's comfort level with the city.

He may indeed get slightly more money over the next three seasons if he opts out of the Yankee deal (which will pay him $25 million a season), but over the life of the contract, the money will be fairly close. We may be talking about the difference between $240 and $250 million. It's a difference to be sure, but how much will that really matter to someone in Arod's position? We are about to find out. A lot of people have labeled Arod as a player who is only chasing money, but the difference in what he was offered (during his last foray into the free agent market) by his old team (Seattle) and the team he ended up on (Texas) was staggering ($90 million Vs. $250 million). He really had no choice but to take the offer from Texas. His stated reasons for moving were not believable (they were building a winning franchise, great atmosphere, etc.). He simply should have said what everyone knew, he went there for the money. I mean who could really blame him? He was singled out as the example of the greedy ballplayer anyway, so being honest couldn't have really hurt him much.

His situation with the Yankees is going to be much different. Arod knows that the Yankees are a franchise that is committed to winning and one that will spend money in order to guarantee a competitive product on the field every year. To walk away from the Yankees when they will make a great financial offer and practically guarantee a shot at the playoffs every season, would be an absolute repudiation of the team and the city. Perhaps he really hated his time here. The Yankee fans were certainly unkind at times and the papers here have followed his personal life with the reckless abandon. I certainly wouldn't hold it against him if he decided that he'd rather pursue his baseball life in another city as long as he was honest about the reasons for leaving.

I've always thought that the biggest problem with Arod connecting with the fans is that almost everything that comes out his mouth seems to be planned. He never really seems to speak from his heart. New Yorkers especially love an athlete who wears his heart on his sleeve. Arod is the definition of "maintaining an even strain". The Yankee fans were much kinder to Arod this year because of the phenomenal numbers that he produced, but I don't think that they really identify with Arod or truly embrace him. The contract is one of the reasons, but the other is that people perceive him as a player who keeps his distance from the fans. Arod is just a private person. It's the same kind of quality that Joe DiMaggio had, but in those days, baseball fans weren't privy to comings and goings of their stars. The majority of fans had no idea what a prickly and private person DiMaggio was. The press perpetuated his image by talking about how classy DiMaggio was. His teammates may have had a different opinion of him, but that was never conveyed to the public. There was no SI article talking about his relationship with his teammates. They looked at the numbers he produced and his on field demeanor and turned him into an icon. If Arod had been a star during those days, he may be viewed differently by the public, but given today's access and never ending stream of press, Arod is not viewed in that light.

I really have no idea what Arod's decision is going to be, but Yankees have about 3 weeks left to negotiate exclusively with him. I can assure you that in that time we are going to get a lot more from Scott Boras and probably very little from the only person who already knows whether the Arod show will continue on Broadway or whether it will be hitting the road again.

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