There was a time when Alex Rodriguez was considered the best player in baseball. Now he’s essentially a pariah in New York. The fans want him gone, the Yankees would like him to be gone. The problem is they still owe him roughly $114 million dollars, and A-Rod doesn’t want to walk away from that.
And Alex may still be able to play baseball, even still be a very good player. But at 37 and coming back from hip surgery, he’s not an elite player. That’s not anything new. A-Rod hasn’t had an elite season since 2010. But how well he plays doesn’t really matter. He could be the worst player at his position and the Yankees have to pay him. He could be a bench player and the Yankees have to pay him. They could let him walk away and they’d still have to pay him.
Maybe that shouldn’t be an issue. The Yankees and their fans knew what they were getting into back in 2007 when A-Rod opted out of the last four years of his $252 million contract and became a free agent. The Yankees felt they couldn’t afford to let A-Rod go and agreed to sign him to a 10 year, $275 million contract (with additional incentives). A-Rod was 32 years old.
It was a contract that would keep A-Rod playing until he was 42. Fans moaned and groaned, sports radio jocks did the same. Sure, they groused, A-Rod might have a few good years left in him, but what would he be like towards the end of the contract?
The question probably should have been what would he have from the beginning of the contract, as 2007 was the last season that A-Rod managed to play a full season. It was also the last season he’d hit more than 35 home runs. By 2008 the slide had begun, gradual at first but slowly picking up steam as game totals per season declined due to injuries. The home run totals fell from 50s down to teens while the average dropped from .300 or close to it down into the .270s.
Even in decline A-Rod was a useful player for the Yankees, finally managing to hit well in the playoffs and at least temporarily shedding the nickname of “A-Fraud” that he’s earned by failing to hit in the playoffs throughout his Yankees career. It was the only World Series ring that came since he came to the Yankees despite six other runs in the playoffs.
But the grumblings among Yankees fans were growing. The fans stopped believing in A-Rod as his injuries mounted and numbers tumbled. And the news kept getting worse. Admission to steroid use, news of positive tests, gambling allegations and other dirt just kept getting shoveled on. And while A-Rod might have blamed the media, he was busy digging his own hole.
Yankees fans might have forgiven Rodriguez if he had continued to be productive and if he didn’t appear to be getting more and more selfish. But A-Rod seemed to be all about the money, fame, and glamor. While haters would have called A-Rod the embodiment of the Yankees, fans could have countered that his behavior was un-Yankees like.
His failure in the 2012 playoffs, when he was pinch hit for regularly and failed to even crack the lineup in multiple games, showed a lot about what the Yankees thought of his ability to contribute. It was obvious to the fans too.
The fans could have looked the other ways and shaken their heads over it if the Yankees still had a seemingly bottomless budget and could have shrugged off the rest of A-Rod’s salary. But a new reality has set in and the Yankees are trying to trim their budget to roughly $180 million -- and A-Rod will account for about 15 percent of that. With Derek Jeter accounting for another 10 percent, CC Sabathia another 15 percent, and Hiroki Kuroda and Robinson Cano another 15 to 20 percent, it doesn’t leave the Yankees with a lot of financial flexibility.
And so it comes to this. The Yankees would like A-Rod gone without having to eat all of his salary. The fans would like A-Rod gone no matter what, but they’d prefer to see his salary off the book too so the team could regain some financial flexibility.
A-Rod isn’t going to retire. He wants his money. Trading him is going to be hard, maybe even impossible as he has the right to veto any trade. That probably means the team is stuck with him or will be forced to pay him to just walk way.
Of course he might at this point be worth keeping when he returns from hip surgery, even as overpaid as he is at this point. He could be serviceable, he might even possibly be good. If so, at least the Yankees wouldn’t have to pay for another third baseman and eat A-Rod's salary to boot.
If not he’ll be the albatross around the Yankees neck, unless of course he finds the fountain of youth, which is something we recently learned he allegedly paid Anthony Bosch of Biogenesis to do for him. He’s also accused of trying to buy his records from Bosch to keep them out of the hands of MLB.
That might be the Yankees' best hope for saving some of the money that they owe to A-Rod, since they wouldn’t have to pay him during the time he was suspended for PED use. It might not be much, but a 50-game suspension could save them about $9 million and 100 games could save them over $18 million. It’s a small percentage of his salary, but at least it’s something.