By Scott Soshnick Bloomberg News
NEW YORK — The New York Yankees are “basically stuck” with Alex Rodriguez and the five years and $115 million left on his contract, according to baseball executives, including the one who traded the three-time American League Most Valuable Player.
“If he falls off the end of the Earth next year, they’re stuck with a lot of money,” John Hart, former general manager of the Texas Rangers and now an analyst with MLB Network, said in a telephone interview. “That’s the end game.”
Rodriguez, whose 647 home runs are tops among active players, was limited to 18 this season and is batting .130 with nine strikeouts in the postseason. The Yankees trail the Detroit Tigers 2-0 in their best-of-seven American League Championship Series entering Tuesday night’s game at Comerica Park in Detroit.
The 37-year-old third baseman’s struggles at the plate have been so severe that manager Joe Girardi pinch-hit for him twice in late-inning situations in the AL Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles and left him out of the lineup for the decisive Game 5 and for Game 3 Tuesday night against the Tigers.
The 14-time All-Star known as A-Rod has become the object of derision from Yankees fans such as Chuck Ronson, a stockbroker at Northeast Securities who said in an e-mail that the player will never again be worth the paycheck.
“He is being paid for what he was,” Ronson said. “He is a lightning rod, roundly jeered and should be traded.”
The last-place Rangers traded Rodriguez to the Yankees following the 2003 season in which he won MVP honors with a .298 batting average, 47 home runs and 118 runs batted in. As part of that trade, baseball’s first involving a reigning MVP, the Rangers agreed to pay $67 million of the $179 million left on his record 10-year, $252 million contract. Texas’s payment was the highest associated with a baseball trade and required approval from MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.
Rodriguez exercised a clause in his contract after the 2007 season that allowed him to become a free agent, even though New York general manager Brian Cashman at the time said the Yankees wouldn’t re-sign the slugger if he voided the agreement.
A few months later, Rodriguez re-signed with New York for $275 million over 10 years, an agreement that includes bonus payments for milestone home runs leading up to Barry Bonds’s record of 762. Rodriguez is fifth on the home run list, trailing Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays.
Like Bonds, who was convicted of obstructing a federal investigation into steroid use in sports, Rodriguez has been linked to drug use, saying he used banned performance-enhancing substances while with the Rangers.
Trading Rodriguez won’t be easy, according to former Rangers President Michael Cramer. He said the Yankees would have to agree to subsidize at least $20 million a year of the player’s contract for another team to even entertain the notion of a swap.
“Here we are with a guy who has several years on his contract and it’s clear he doesn’t have much left,” Cramer said via telephone. “There’s an outside chance you’ll find him going to another team.”
The trade partners that make most sense, according to Cramer, are teams with hitter-friendly ballparks such as Boston, Baltimore or Atlanta, all of which with the right subsidy might take a chance that Rodriguez could return to form.
“If you could get a guy for 5-6 million a year that’s hitting 30 home runs — I’d take that,” Cramer said.
Rodriguez has a total of 34 home runs the last two seasons, after hitting at least 30 for 13 straight years.
“There’s always people that would be interested depending on the amount of money,” said Hart, who was general manager of the Rangers from 2001 until 2005. He doesn’t see much chance of a deal.
“They’re basically stuck,” said Hart.
Andy Dolich, a former Oakland Athletics executive who has held management positions in the other three major U.S. sports leagues, said the Yankees’ business model depends on winning. If a player, any player, doesn’t help to achieve that goal, management will seek a replacement.
“Whether it’s Babe Ruth, whether it’s A-Rod, your value is in the rear-view mirror,” Dolich said in a telephone interview. “The team’s job is to move on.”
Yankees President Randy Levine in a telephone interview wouldn’t speculate on whether Rodriguez would complete his contract in pinstripes.
“I only deal with realities if and when they’re presented to me,” he said. “Alex is a great player who is going through a very bad time. One at-bat can turn it around. He isn’t the only player responsible for our slump.”
Curtis Granderson, who hit a team-leading 43 home runs during the regular season, is batting .115 during the postseason. Robinson Cano, who hit .313 during the regular season, second among regulars to Derek Jeter’s .316, is without a hit in his last 26 at-bats, the longest hitless streak in a single postseason in baseball history.
Yankees management has said it wants to trim payroll to less than $189 million by 2014 for luxury tax reasons. As constituted, the payroll next season is about $192 million.
Cramer, director of a sports and media program at the University of Texas, says it’s unlikely the Yankees would reap a windfall from A-Rod’s pursuit of the home-run record because of his admission of drug use and declining production.
“It wasn’t very good for Bonds and it’ll be worse for A- Rod,” he said. “He’s got the same taint and he’s going to be struggling to the finish line.”
During Game 2 of the ALCS Monday at Yankee Stadium, in the team store near Section 120, there was merchandise for Jeter, Nick Swisher, Granderson, Cano and Mark Teixeira. There was even a Mickey Mantle T-shirt. No A-Rod.
That said, according to Hart, Yankees fans had better get used to the idea of Rodriguez being around.
“This is about as low a market as you would have for Alex Rodriguez,” he said. “Now is not the time to consider moving the guy.”