DALLAS A-Rod has a new nickname: A-Lot.
That’s what Alex Rodriguez is getting from the Texas Rangers a quarter-billion dollars in a deal that doubles the previous richest contract in sports history.
The Rangers lured the four-time All-Star shortstop from the Seattle Mariners with a $252 million, 10-year contract yesterday.
“Alex is the player we believe will allow this franchise to fulfill its dream of continuing on its path to becoming a World Series champion,” Rangers owner Tom Hicks said.
Hicks paid $250 million to buy the entire franchise three years ago from the group headed by George W. Bush and Rusty Rose. Now the Rangers have A-Rod and I-Rod catcher Ivan Rodriguez, the 1999 American League MVP.
“The Rangers are serious about winning,” Texas general manager Doug Melvin said. “I know expectations will be high. We’re ready for that challenge.”
The free-agent contract calls for a $10 million signing bonus paid over five years and salaries of $21 million in each of the first four years well above the $15.8 million Minnesota paid its entire team this season.
The 25-year-old Rodriguez gets $25 million a year in 2005 and 2006, and $27 million in each of the final four seasons. A total of $36 million is deferred at 3 percent interest, the money to be paid from 2011 to 2020.
Sandy Alderson, an executive vice president in baseball’s commissioner’s office, called the deal “stupifying.”
“This amount of money spread out over 10 years could probably buy three franchises or so at the bottom end of market value,” he said.
“I’m the whipping boy for ‘baseball games will destruct,’ ” said Rodriguez’s agent, Scott Boras.
The contract is exactly double the previous record for a sports contract: a $126 million, six-year agreement in October 1997 between forward Kevin Garnett and the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves.
And it was finalized 11 days shy of the 25th anniversary of an arbitrator’s decision that ended the reserve clause and led to free agency in the Andy Messersmith-Dave McNally case.
Back then, the average baseball salary was about $45,000. This year, it was about $1.8 million, leading some owners to call for another overhaul of the sport’s economic structure which could lead to another work stoppage after next season.
“At first they were talking about 200 million 250 [million] came out of nowhere,” said Rodriguez’s new teammate, Rafael Palmeiro. “It’s just incredible.”
The previous high for a baseball player was set just Saturday: a $121 million, eight-year contract between left-hander Mike Hampton and the Colorado Rockies.
Until then, baseball’s largest deal had been a $116.5 million, nine-year contract agreed to in February by Ken Griffey Jr. and the Cincinnati Reds when Seattle traded the center fielder last February.
“Alex made an owner decision,” said Boras, who called Hicks “someone he could communicate with, someone who could put him in position to achieve his goals as a baseball player.”
Rodriguez, who can opt out of the agreement after seven years and become a free agent again at age 32, came away with an average salary of $25.2 million 48 percent higher than the previous top, the $17 million Toronto first baseman Carlos Delgado agreed to in October as part of a four-year contract.
But Rodriguez fell short of the highest average salary in sports. Los Angeles Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal will average $29.5 million in an $88.5 million, three-year extension that starts with the 2003-04 season.
Michael Jordan made about $33 million in 1997-98, his final season in the NBA.
“People are talking about the money, but you have to recognize the type of player he is and what he can accomplish,” Oakland general manager Billy Beane said. “And he’s only 25 years old.”
The lanky infielder from Miami he’s 6-foot-3 was highly prized because he became a free agent at such a young age. In seven seasons with the Seattle Mariners, he has a .309 career average with 189 homers and 595 RBI.
This year, he made $4.25 million in the final season of a $10.6 million, four-year contract he signed against Boras’ advice in 1996.
“Yes, he’s special because he can hit a baseball. Yes, he’s special because he can hit it a long way,” Rangers manager Johnny Oates said. “We’re talking about more than hitting a baseball. We’re talking about marketing an area.”
Seattle and Atlanta were the other known finalists. The Braves did not make an offer, one senior baseball official said of the condition of anonymity, saying that it pushed Boras to name a price. The amount of the Mariners’ offer was unclear.
“There would have had to have been a major hometown discount to get us into the ballpark,” Mariners general manager Pat Gillick said.
“The ownership was not here,” Boras said. “It was in Hawaii. It was very clear to us.”
In February, Seattle traded Griffey to Cincinnati rather than risk him becoming a free agent after the 2000 season. The Mariners decided they would keep Rodriguez and try to re-sign him.
Seattle won the AL wild card and swept Central Division champion Chicago in the first round. But the Yankees beat the Mariners 4-2 in the AL championship series.
Asked what was next for Seattle, manager Lou Piniella said: “We’ll go upstairs and take a close look.”
In Texas, Rodriguez joins a team that has never gotten beyond the first round of the playoffs. The Rangers already had signed three agents in the first three days of the winter meetings: first baseman Andres Galarraga ($6.25 million), third baseman Ken Caminiti ($3.25 million) and right-hander Mark Petkovsek ($4.9 million).
The Rangers already have a powerful lineup but starting pitching is weak, with Rick Helling going 16-13 last year and Kenny Rogers 13-13.
“We will build our pitching,” Hicks promised.
After winning the AL West in 1999, its third division title in four years, Texas dropped to 71-91 and finished with a 5.52 ERA, the worst among the 30 major league teams.
“This will mark the beginning of a national prominence for a franchise,” Boras said.