Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A-Rod, Scott Boras, let the MLB free agent frenzy begin

At the stroke of midnight any of the 30 Major League Baseball franchises became eligible to sign the best player in baseball, the biggest free agent Alex Rodriguez. The $350 or $400 million question: is there a Major League Baseball franchise prepared to pay a king’s ransom for a player who has never led his team to a World Series? If there is a team prepared to sign Alex Rodriguez, what impact will A-Rod have on that franchise? Another issue that needs to be addressed – from a business perspective, has Alex Rodriguez done anything wrong? But the bottom line – has Alex Rodriguez’s agent Scott Boras overplayed A-Rod’s hand (and if so what will that cost A-Rod)?

There has been a great deal of speculation that the mistake Boras made during game four of the 2007 World Series will cost Alex Rodriguez tens of millions of dollars when he signs his next contract. That remains one of the more preposterous statements associated with baseball free agency in recent years. Scott Boras may have made a mistake in leaking the news that A-Rod was going to opt-out of the last three years of his contract, but if a Major League Baseball franchise is considering investing more than $350 million in Alex Rodriguez, their last concern will be how Scott Boras deals with the media. It’s a pretty safe bet that Boras knew full well there was at least one MLB franchise interested in A-Rod’s services in or around a ten-year $350 million contract before he advised A-Rod to opt-out of his Yankees contract.

The Yankees have made it clear – they have no interest in dealing with Boras or Rodriguez, let’s start by clearing up that misconception. If the Yankees suddenly sign Alex Rodriguez, don’t be surprised. The Yankees have won 26 World Series (and if you check the Yankees history it’s always been ‘the Yankees way’) by doing whatever they have to do to win, and if that means investing $350 million in the best player in the game, the Yankees will consider the option. The bottom line, don’t count out the Yankees when it comes to A-Rod just yet.

A great deal of speculation has focused on A-Rod ending up with the Joe Torre and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Much of the speculation concerning A-Rod and the Dodgers revolves around the Dodgers decision to hire Torre as their manager.

"It's possible," Torre said Friday, repeating that phrase twice as a small grin crept across his face. "You've got four or five clubs maybe that figure to be in the sweepstakes. There aren't a lot of clubs that are going to be able to pay the money."

"All I know is it was very comfortable for both of us," the manager said. "And I think my being uncomfortable came from the fact that I didn't think he was as comfortable. This year he just seemed to be a different guy in spring training."

Torre spoke Friday night at a gala for his foundation. Could he have been ‘poking’ fun at the Yankees, almost baiting the Bronx Bombers? Maybe but the Dodgers are a big market baseball franchise and their owner Frank McCourt wants to win a World Series. It’s fair to say all 30 MLB team owners want to win a World Series, but McCourt’s motivation is based at least in part by the success the Boston Red Sox have enjoyed. McCourt, a Bostonian, was an unsuccessful bidder in December 2001 when John Henry’s group bought the Red Sox for $350 million. How better for McCourt to teach baseball a lesson that he should have been given the opportunity to own the Red Sox, than by beating the Red Sox. Signing Alex Rodriguez would be a big step in making that dream a reality.

"All I can tell you, I know the McCourts are certainly dedicated to putting the Dodger franchise on the right track. They understand the pride factor. We talked about that a lot,'' Torre said. "But again, they're business people. They're certainly going to take into consideration what they can do that makes sense. And the fact that they have a lot of young players certainly could help make their decision, too.''

The Los Angeles Angels, the Dodgers’ cross town neighbors, have made it clear they’re very interested securing A-Rod’s services. First from a baseball point-of-view, teaming Vlad Guerrero and A-Rod together could wreak havoc on the American League West, similar to what David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez have accomplished for the Boston Red Sox in the East. Ask the Red Sox (and those who have hit fifth for the Red Sox in the last five years how they feel about the three/four punch of Big Papi and Manny).

During last week’s MLB general manager meetings in Orlando Angels GM Tony Reagins met with Boras.

"We had an initial conversation with Scott, and it was introductory," he said. "He probably makes any team that he's a part of better."

The Angels have been the only MLB team to suggest they’re interested in A-Rod other than the comments Torre offered Friday night.

"With regard to Alex, we got some very clear direction from clubs as to where their interest is," Boras said Thursday after the four-day session ended.

The Red Sox, who believed they had successfully traded for Alex Rodriquez before the 2004 season (the best trade the Red Sox didn’t make), have once again been linked to Alex Rodriguez. The Red Sox remain determined to resign Mike Lowell and while Alex Rodriguez would be a nice upgrade at shortstop from Julio Lugo, it’s never going to happen if the BoSox resign Lowell. And even if the Red Sox don’t resign the World Series MVP, the Red Sox didn’t win a World Series for 86 years, and now have won two of the last four, all without Alex Rodriguez. The Red Sox aren’t going to upset their applecart by signing A-Rod.

The New York Mets remain one of the more interested observers in the A-Rod sweepstakes. Mets owner Fred Wilpon would see A-Rod as just the ‘ticket’ he needs to sell tickets for the Mets’ new stadium Citi Field, set to open in 2009, the same year the Yankees move into their new stadium. How better to one-up the Bronx Bombers than by signing the American League MVP, especially after he earned that MVP while playing for the Yankees. The optics alone might prove to be intoxicating to Wilpon.

Monday night Mets third baseman David Wright, an All-Star, suggested as far as he is concerned he’ll be at the hot corner for the Mets this spring.

"I don't own any other gloves," the New York Mets star said with a smile Monday. Wright recently had his chat with general manager Omar Minaya and is preparing to stay put at third next season - whether or not the Mets try to sign Alex Rodriguez.

"When I spoke to Omar," Wright said, "he told me, 'Be prepared to be the third baseman in 2008.' That's what I took from it and that's the way I'm going about it.

"Alex Rodriguez's name did not come up at any point."

Wright, who was the National League golden glove third baseman and is generally regarded as one of the best players in the National League, suggested that he understands the business of baseball if the Mets do sign A-Rod, but at the same time suggested he expects the Mets to treat him professionally.

"I think it got kind of twisted the wrong way. By no way, shape or form do they have to go through me about anything," Wright said. "Those guys are the bosses. I just go out and play the game.

"I don't keep in touch with the front office, nor should they feel obligated at all to let any of the players know what's going on," he added. "I think it's good to have that separation there. But as a fan and, obviously, as part of the team, I'm interested."

At 24, Wright is eight years younger than A-Rod. And forget about the Mets moving A-Rod back to shortstop. Jose Reyes is the Mets shortstop. Most believe Reyes is one of the most gifted players in the game. The Mets may get style points if they sign A-Rod, but if they move Wright to first base as has been suggested, indeed they’ll be creating an issue where one didn’t exist before.

A-Rod and the Chicago Cubs would have been a perfect fit. A feature in The New Yorker suggested as much in late September, a report that was proven to be baseless.

New York Magazine reported Rodriguez’s agent Scott Boras had begun “secret negotiations” with one of the Cubs potential ownership groups. The (unnamed) group according to the report is talking to Boras about a ten-year $300 million contract that would have included Rodriguez receiving an ownership stake in the Cubs.

The report used unnamed sources, and it is well worth noting it is illegal and against the rules of baseball for anyone to conduct negotiations with a player while he is under contract to another team. That isn’t to suggest the practice doesn’t take place, but in this case, completion of the sale of the Cubs is still months away.

There is a strong favorite emerging in the sale of the Cubs, but a report in the Los Angeles Times suggested the process of selling the Cubs could move the sale of the franchise to 2008.

That would end any real possibility the sale of the Cubs, and A-Rod joining the Cubs could be tied together. That’s not to suggest it couldn’t take place, but it’s likely if A-Rod is going to sign with a new organization, he will do so in December. The financial implications A-Rod will have on whichever team signs him will force that team to make other roster moves to pare down their team payroll to lessen the overall financial impact A-Rod’s $30 million to $35 million annual contract would have on their payroll and how that might impact that team having to pay baseball’s luxury tax.

Sunday evening Boras tried to set the record straight on the New York Magazine report, and the New York Yankees shrugged off the suggestion.

"Great players with great demand create great rumors," Boras said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Sunday night. "While I would enjoy having lunch with Mark Cuban and [John] Canning, at this point of the year that conversation would not include Alex Rodriguez. I have not talked to anyone."

"It's a silly story, and we don't believe it," he told ESPN.com's Buster Olney on Sunday evening. "However, if it was true, it would be grounds to disqualify the applicant even before he went through the process, because it would demonstrate a disregard for major league rules and procedures, and we're confident the commissioner would feel the same way."

Given that no one knows who is going to own the Chicago Cubs, A-Rod isn’t going to the Windy City (White Sox included).

There have been suggestions A-Rod could be headed to the San Francisco Giants to replace Barry Bonds. A few issues with that concept: Giants owner Peter Magowan isn’t Tom Hicks, and if MLB owners should have learned anything, it’s signing Alex Rodriguez better be a whole lot more about the rest of your team than it is about Alex Rodriguez joining your franchise.

One of the stumbling blocks the Giants would face: the remaining six years and whatever’s left from Barry Zito’s $126 million contract. The Giants last year signed Zito to the biggest contract ever offered to a MLB pitcher; it’s nonsensical to imagine the Giants seriously considering signing Alex Rodriguez to a monster long-term contact.

The Giants have already committed $51.7 million to Zito, Randy Winn ($8 million), Ray Durham ($7.5 million), Dave Roberts ($6.5 million), Bengie Molina ($6 million), Rich Aurilia ($4.5 million), Lowry ($2.25 million), Steve Kline ($1.75 million) and Cain ($700,000). They simply can’t afford to seriously consider signing Alex Rodriguez.

So the question remains – is there a team seriously interested in signing Alex Rodriguez to a long-term contract worth at least $350 million, or did Scott Boras really overplay his hand? The $350 million figure reportedly is based as the number Boras told the Yankees they’d need to consider if they wanted to resign his client. Given his track record of being right much more often than not, it’s reasonable to believe Boras came up with the figure based on conversations he may have had before Rodriguez decided to opt-out of the last three years of his Yankees contract. Anything else, given Scott Boras track record, just doesn’t make sense.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: ESPN.com, The Sacramento Bee and the Associated Press

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