Is A-Rod worth the money?
Slugger's got the stats, but he has yet to produce title
The question with the free agency of Alex Rodriguez is not only "where" but "why."
A-Rod will be the dominant character in this winter's free agent class, sort of the equivalent of Hamlet in "Hamlet," or, to put a happier face on it, Jerry Seinfeld in "Seinfeld." There will be other characters, and sometimes they will have prominent parts to play, but A-Rod will be the star of the show, until someone shows him the record-setting amounts of money.
But this is the thing: On the one hand, he might be the single most attractive free agent in the history of free agency. And on the other, he might be the single biggest waste of the largest amount money in the history of free agency.
There is no disputing his talent or his numbers. His timing, approaching the moment when enormous sums turn into unheard of sums, has not been bad, either. He is coming off a season with 54 home runs and 156 RBIs.
Not only that, he has 518 home runs. At 32, with a record of supreme good health in hand, the franchise that lands him presumably will have him in uniform as he chases and perhaps breaks the all-time home run record. And it doesn't matter whether you think the record belongs to Barry Bonds with an asterisk or Henry Aaron with pride. A-Rod has the best shot of any living human to soar into the home run stratosphere.
That is all on his side of the argument. And that is why he and his agent, Scott Boras, chose to opt out of the remaining three years of a contract that would have paid him a total of $252 million.
The numbers, the prosperity of the contemporary game and what Boras refers to as A-Rod's "iconic value," will in the best-case scenario for Boras and his client, make that $252 million look like the petty cash drawer compared to Fort Knox. And when you consider the reports that A-Rod's most recent employers, the New York Yankees, were asked to offer a $350-million bid just to have a shot at retaining his services, you understand that Boras and A-Rod are attempting to redefine the economic playing field.
But that's the free market, and if someone is willing to pay, this will only prove again how much A-Rod's talent is coveted and how Scott Boras is the most successful agent, not only in baseball, but in all of humankind.
Then there is the other side of it. What we are talking about here is not an individual endeavor. It is a collective venture. The success of a baseball team is not measured by the kinds of glowing numbers its players produce. The success of a baseball team is measured by whether or not it wins the World Series.
And in that regard, the record says that Alex Rodriguez is a waste of money.
He has never even been to the World Series as a participant. And this is larger than the fact that his postseason batting average is a pedestrian .279, and his October work includes abject failures in the 2005 and 2006 postseasons with the Yankees.
His nickname in baseball circles is "The Cooler," because teams have a tendency to improve immediately after he leaves them. The 2001 Seattle Mariners missed him so much in his first year of his mega-deal with the Texas Rangers that they promptly went out and won 116 games, an American League record. The Yankees may not get better without Alex Rodriguez, but that's because they have some other issues. But the perception remains.
Some of the problems that Alex Rodriguez encountered in New York were not his fault. Others were.
Other players resent him because of the money. Players continually say: "It's not about the money." But at the end of the day, it is about the money, not because the players are greedy, but because they are professionals and the final measurement of their worth is not merely their statistics, but their salaries.
And if one guy is making tons more than everybody else, that guy is going to be resented, unless he is a combination of Babe Ruth, Mother Teresa and probably Robin Williams, as well. He had better be the best in the game by miles, indisputably nice, and also a lot of laughs, just to get by the hard feelings.
There may be no one like that. But nobody said being the richest ballplayer in the world was going to be easy. And the clubhouse perception of Alex Rodriguez in New York was that he was basically engaged in striking poses, that he was not the most sincere of fellows.
In the end, it is not the fault of Alex Rodriguez that the Yankees didn't win, or even reach, any World Series in the four years he was with them. They couldn't pitch as well as the teams that ultimately won. He carried the 2007 Yankees for portions of the season. But he didn't lift the level of team chemistry, and that's the rap that sticks, fairly or not.
There will be intense interest in which team can acquire Alex Rodriguez, because a talent like this comes along, oh, maybe once in a lifetime. His talents are beyond the range of normal skepticism.
But along with that interest there will be debate about whether any player, particularly this player, can possibly be worth the money. And that debate will be sharpened because of the double-edged sword of his record. That record says that A-Rod can produce astounding personal statistics. But there is no record of him getting a team to where it really wanted to go.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.