I’m sure I’ll have more about Bud Selig’s attempted bailout of the Yankee front office soon. But to actually talk about baseball for a second, since this point is going to come up a lot I wanted to make a point about A-Rod’s first big contract. The second big contract has certainly been a really bad one, although I don’t agree that it could be possibly the worst ever. (Flags fly forever, and in the first year of the deal he had a WAR of 6 and the next year he had a very good regular season and was by far the Yankees’ best player in their World Series run. No matter how much dead money there is at the end, I don’t see how that can be worse than a contract like Mark Davis or Ryan Howard that consumes a substantial portion of a team’s payroll in exchange for almost nothing or worse than nothing.) The first one, though? Even the great Jeb Lund, in an otherwise excellent piece, buys the conventional wisdom:
And, Lord, did he ever fuel mockery. I missed much of his Seattle tenure due to college poverty, but that contract in Texas was comically awful in the way it hamstrung his team’s options.
I just completely disagree with this. The first A-Rod contract was in fact an unusually good free agent contract, because it represented an immortal player signed through his peak years. In his three years with the Rangers he was worth something like 26 wins above replacement, and except for the injury year in 2006 he played at that level throughout the contract. A $20 million dollar player who’s worth $25 million is insanely valuable.
And nor is it true that the Rangers didn’t have any money left to acquire pitching. They gave Chan Ho Park $65 million for 5 years. They gave $2.5 million a year to Ismael Valde(s)z. They gave $2 million for a season of the 83-year-old Dave Burba. They gave 2 years at $4.5 million to massive bust with cool name Todd Van Poppell. They gave Jay Powell $3.5 million to give up 58 runs in 58 innings. They gave Proven Closer (TM) Ugeth Urbina $4.5 million to be a mediocre pitcher in the 9th inning.
The problem, in other words, wasn’t that having spent $20 or so million a year on Rodriguez that the Rangers were out of money. The problem was that the Rangers were being run by people who had no idea what the hell they were doing. The 2003 Rangers, playing in a tremendous hitter’s park and with a shortstop slugging .600, were only 5th in the league in run scored, because in addition to A-Rod they were playing people like Einar Diaz, Shane Spencer, Ryan Christenson, and a parade of other stiffs. The inability to fill out a quality core with even passable major league players isn’t about A-Rod’s contract. The team did improve after trading A-Rod, but that was based on the good years of several young hitters and an exceptional performance out a cheap bullpen, not having the extra money to spend. (Alfonso Soriano, who the Rangers acquired for A-Rod, was a worse value.) Trading A-Rod probably cost the 2004 Rangers the pennant.
There’s not a lot of positive things to be said about Tom Hicks’s tenure in Texas, but the A-Rod contract was very shrewd, and the Mets and Mariners were fools not to make him a serious offer. I exempt Jeb from the charge, but in the vast majority of cases it’s just ye old sportswriter resentment of players being paid their fair market values rather than the money being retained by the taxpayer-subsidized plutocrats who deserve to keep it.