Yesterday, we had some fun at the Orioles expense, looking over their offseason acquisitions and deciding that the future isn’t bright for those in Baltimore . . . and their baseball team doesn’t look much better either.
Around the same time, an interview with Andy MacPhail began making the rounds in which the Orioles GM claims that Alex Rodriguez’s first contract with the Texas Rangers was the worst free agent signing of all time.
Alex Rodriguez to Texas was the worst signing in the history of baseball in my view. Why? Because he played as well as you can possibly ask the kid to play. He had great years. And the needle didn’t move at all. The team didn’t improve. Attendance didn’t go up. But hey, they got the lead story on ESPN. Well, if that’s what motivates you, you’re going down the wrong path. You want to put 35,000 people in the ballpark, win the games. That’s what [fans] are there to see. That’s what the Orioles need — to win some games.
Rodriguez signed a ten year $252 million contract with Texas, but only played there for three years before he was dealt to the New York Yankees, with the Rangers agreeing to pay $4 million in signing bonus money that hadn’t been doled out yet and $67 million of remaining $179M in salary. As MacPhail mentions, Rodriguez played as well as he possibly could, or for that matter, better than just about everybody has ever played the game of baseball over those three years in Arlington.
However, MacPhail seems to be insinuating that no matter Rodriguez’s performance, it was the contract that sunk the Rangers. You may be able to make an argument that Alex Rodriguez was involved in the worst trade in the history of baseball, but you can’t fault the contract to the same degree.
As Dave Cameron from FanGraphs points out:
In 2001, USA Today lists the Rangers with an $88 million payroll – seventh highest in MLB – with $22 million of that going to Rodriguez. Removing Rodriguez from the picture, the Rangers’ remaining $66 million in expenditures would have still ranked as the 13th highest payroll in baseball that year, and that’s only removing the highest paid player from the Rangers. If you remove the highest paid player from every team, the Rangers move back into the top 10 in payroll.
Cameron then compares the 2001 Rangers with their AL West rivals in Seattle who tied the Major League record for most wins in a single season. Where the Mariners spent wisely, Texas showed a knack for making terrible decisions. You might even say that not only was Rodriguez’s 2001 contract not the worst in history, it wasn’t even the worst on the Rangers that year.
The Rangers, on the other hand, paid Kenny Rogers and Darren Oliver a combined $14.5 million for a whopping +2.7 WAR, and that’s a generous assessment based on their FIP, as they each posted an ERA over 6.00 that year. They also gave Andres Galarraga $6 million for -0.1 WAR, Rusty Greer got $4.6 million for +0.1 WAR, and Ken Caminiti got $3.5 million for +0.1 WAR. The Rangers essentially flushed a huge chunk of their payroll down the drain on players who produced around replacement level, and I cannot come up with any rational way to blame that on Rodriguez.
Cameron goes on to explain the similarly ridiculous expenditures of the team in 2002 and 2003 before coming to the conclusion that Rodriguez’s contract had far less to do with putting the Rangers in financial trouble than just about every other contract that the team handed out.
I think it’s best looked at like this: Over three years, Rodriguez cost the team $66 million put together a 23.9 WAR, everyone else on the team over that same span of time cost the team $232 million (more than 3.5 times as much as Rodriguez), but only collected an accumulated 48.8 WAR (barely twice as much as Rodriguez)
Sure, attendance didn’t go up and the team didn’t win after the contract was signed, but that had nothing to do with how much money was being spent on Rodriguez. The situation would’ve been even more dire without him, with less wins and presumably even less attendance. MacPhail’s reasoning for blaming Rodriguez is like blaming a cop for murder, after he goes to investigate the scene. ”Well, he’s there, so he must be to blame.”