The Texas Rangers weren’t wrong about Alex Rodriguez
It must have been roughly as Tom Hicks envisioned it, back when he signed Alex Rodriguez to a ten-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers in the winter of 2000: Rodriguez, now an aging veteran, launching a three-run homer into the stands during a Rangers game.
"Roughly," of course, because Rodriguez is now a Yankee, and his home run put his team up 6-1 against the Rangers in a game that they would go on to win. Rodriguez hasn't been a member of the Rangers since 2003, and Hicks, who went bankrupt, was forced to sell the franchise back in 2010.
The conventional wisdom now is that the contract Hicks gave Rodriguez was a massive overpay and a boondoggle. But that's probably not true.
The original contract, had it simply been allowed to run its course, ran from 2001 through 2010. And what made Rodriguez the most valuable free agent in history, both to date or since, was how young he was, and how talented. An elite defensive shortstop with an OPS+ of 162, which was Rodriguez's total in 2000, simply doesn't come along very often. And the Rangers got that shortstop in time for his age-25 season, meaning that even a ten-year deal only took Rodriguez through age 34.
Had Rodriguez simply stayed in Texas for the duration of his ten-year deal, his productivity would have been extremely useful. Fangraphs began estimating player value in dollars with the 2002 season, and has Rodriguez as worth $222.7 million from 2002-2010. His excellent 2001 lifts that total to right around $250 million, or roughly the value of the contract.
Instead of holding onto Rodriguez, the Rangers traded him to the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano, who had two mediocre seasons in Texas, and then they traded Soriano for the package of Armando Galarraga, Termell Sledge and Brad Wilkerson, none of whom did much for the Rangers. Had they held onto Rodriguez, he'd have still been productive by the time the team contended again in 2009. And Rodriguez easily outhit the third baseman, Michael Young, on the 2010 Rangers team that won the American League pennant.
Rodriguez, however, had an opt-out clause from his contract after the 2007 season, and used it to great effect. The Yankees, not willing to let him go and test the market, signed him to a new ten-year, $275 million contract. The economics of this one are far dicier. Rodriguez's new contract covers his age 32-41 seasons, none of them part of a typical peak in a ballplayer's aging process. Through four full years, he's been worth $81.8 million, according to Fangraphs, and $28.3 million of that came in year one of the deal.
But the great thing about being the New York Yankees is that as Rodriguez's contract becomes an albatross, they can simply build around him. In the meantime, the declining but still useful Rodriguez can do what he did Monday night, and continue to hit home runs in a supporting role, to beat a Rangers team that never should have let him go.