NEW YORK — Alex Rodriguez was speaking on a conference call.
“A huge debacle,” he said. “Distasteful.”
That was on Dec. 13, 2007, when he re-signed with the New York Yankees and was discussing his decision 1½ months earlier to become a free agent.
Now those words describe how some in the team’s front office feel about A-Rod’s $275 million, 10-year contract.
Once considered a player who could shatter the career home run record, Rodriguez has transformed from All-Star to annoyance for some in the Yankees organization. He hasn’t played a full season since he was voted his third AL MVP award in 2007, he’s out for at least the first half of this year following hip surgery on Jan. 16 and now he’s been accused of again receiving performance-enhancing drugs — an allegation he denies.
Even before the charges were published Tuesday by the alternative weekly Miami New Times along with accusations against Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Gio Gonzalez, Bartolo Colon and Yasmani Grandal, some Yankees executives were wishing Rodriguez would just go away. Speaking on condition of anonymity because the team isn’t publicly commenting on A-Rod’s latest troubles, they revealed their frustration with the slugger.
And they have a big incentive for A-Rod to disappear. If he doesn’t play again due to a career-ending injury, about 85 percent of the $114 million he’s owed by the team would be covered by insurance, according to one of the executives who spoke on condition of anonymity.
New York also might be able to free itself from having the $27.5 million average annual value of Rodriguez’s contract count in its luxury tax payroll in each of the next five seasons, a key factor as the Yankees try to get under the $189 million threshold in 2014.
If Rodriguez is on the disabled list, his contract is included. But if he’s on the voluntary retired list, it would not be part of the total.
And if the Yankees fall under that $189 million benchmark, their luxury tax rate would drop from its current 50 percent to 17.5 percent for 2015. That would give them far more flexibility to pursue pitchers Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander if they become free agents following the 2014 season.
New York is not likely to be able to void A-Rod’s deal. Baseball’s drug agreement between management and the players’ association specifies the commissioner’s office has all disciplinary authority for violations.
A-Rod’s poor health, however, may provide the path to savings for the team.
While Rodriguez rebounded from right hip surgery in March 2009 to help the Yankees to their first World Series title since 2000, Dr. Bryan Kelly said recovery from his operation on A-Rod’s left hip this month will be more complex if for no other reason than it receives more stress because Rodriguez is a right-handed hitter.
Even before the latest kerfuffle, A-Rod seemed to have worn out his welcome.
Yankees management tired of spotting him on the gossip pages with Madonna, Kate Hudson, Cameron Diaz and Torrie Wilson. They bristled when he was seen with a stripper in Toronto, at a swingers’ club in Dallas and at an illegal poker club in New York.
They made their displeasure public in 2010 when they said they never authorized Rodriguez to be treated by Dr. Anthony Galea, who said he prescribed anti-inflammatories to A-Rod following the first hip operation. Indicted in part for illegal possession of human growth hormone with intent to distribute, the Canadian doctor pleaded guilty in 2011 to one count of introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce with the intent to mislead a U.S. agency.
Then came last year’s playoffs, when Rodriguez was benched in three of nine games and pinch hit for in three others. He flirted with girls in the stands after he was removed from the AL championship series opener against Detroit.
Rodriguez’s 647 home runs are 115 shy of tying Barry Bonds’ career record but he has totaled just 34 the last two seasons and his 38th birthday is in late July. He has averaged 119 games, 21 homers and 81 RBIs over the last three years.
Before and after most games, when media is allowed to enter the Yankees’ clubhouse, Rodriguez spends little time at his locker in the back left of the oval room, not too far from the entrance to the inner sanctum that contains the players’ lounge, steam room, sauna, rubdown room, weight room, trainer’s room and swimming pool. He doesn’t have one of the prestige locations flanking the back entrance, held by Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano, who took over the spot when Jorge Posada retired.
He has never been accepted by Yankees’ fans the same way they adored Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada. And now, with his increasing tabloid notoriety and declining production, some of the team’s executives have concluded he’s more a handicap than a help as the team strives for World Series title No. 28.