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.”

Comments (10)

  1. I think Cameron missed McPhail’s point. The point wasn’t that A-Rod didn’t deserve the money, or that it is A-Rod’s fault in some way that the contract turned out to be a bad idea.

    The point was that unless the pieces are set and you have a contending supporting cast, any money going to one big free agent is going to end up as money wasted, as one player is not going to make your team good. Also, fans don’t come to see one player they come to see a team. And I agree with that. It’s just another reason why the Nationals signing Werth to that massive contract is a terrible, terrible idea.

  2. Even if that’s so, it’s still completely overlooking how awful the Rangers handled everything else, and the fact that without ARod it would’ve been much worse, which kind of negates the argument that one player doesn’t make your team good. Imagine those Rangers teams without ARod.

  3. I don’t think anyone’s arguing that the Rangers front office didn’t reek stupidity at that point and time. And the fact of the matter is, when you have a veteran team that wins 75 games it’s time to go into rebuilding mode. But the Rangers kept trying to sign support players from the flotsam that was available during free agency and it worked out badly.

    And how does the fact that the team won 75 games instead of 65 negate the argument? They still weren’t good. In fact, without A-Rod, and having won 65 games, I’d argue the team was much more likely to go into rebuilding, which is what they desperately needed to do at that point.

  4. The Orioles are terrible because while it appeared they had a building plan in place, they seem to have panicked this offseason and decided to bring in non-1st tier veterans in an effort to soothe a restless (with good reason) fanbase. If these guys are stopgap measures and they have position players down on the farm ready to break through I can understand it. If not, they’ve panicked and allowed the fans to run the team, and soon (quite possibly) Andy MacPhail will be sitting with those fans, as the old saying goes.

    It’s like the Orioles, Rays, and Jays all had building plans in place (Tampa’s is kind of perpetual due to the lack of fan support/revenue), realizing that in order to compete with the big boys they had to build from within, and suddenly out of the blue, the Orioles blinked. I’m completely baffled by it. MacPhail has a sterling reputation and his family’s been in the game forever. The only explanation I can think of is that their maniacal owner has struck again because the moves don’t make much sense in light of what MacPhail was trying to do right up until this offseason.

    Regardless of them being a division foe, it’s still sad to see a once great franchise sputter along like this. Of course, maybe they looked at the post-Buck hiring record and overvalued it, or maybe they’re right on target and ready to strike in a season when the East appears a bit vulnerable. Appearances can be deceiving. Maybe they’ll prove all the doubters and “haters” to be a bunch of blowhards in the end.

    As for the topic of his rant about A-Rod’s original 10 year deal, as much as I dislike him, A-Rod was well beyond full value in the first three years of that contract with Texas. It was the overpaid deadweight that did them in, not the golden boy. Now the second 10 year deal is another story. It’s quite possible A-Rod will be using a walker towards the end of that one and he certainly won’t be worth the money on the field. That’s not even bringing into play all the other distractions that come with the dimwit that he is off the field. Rich dimwit, but still a dimwit.

  5. It’s a little different (well, more than a little) but after AAs recent genius move unloading Wells, I wonder if his “worst contract in baseball” can be revisited a little. The back-end loaded deal was probably originally conceived based on overvaluing one or two good years for the player. Wells turning into a reliable all-star rather than the superstar he certainly looked like he could be makes the signing look awful. But there was always the notion that if things didn’t work out (I’m guessing) the Yankees or someone else (Angels) with play money to burn might take him off their hands if it came to that. It did, and they have. So how overpaid has Wells been during the years of his contract that we’ve actually had to shell out on? I doubt it’s much, if anything.

  6. @Kevin: fangraphs is the best source we have to go on in terms of how much a player is worth at the moment, and according to them he was worth $22.6 million for the first three years of that contract (2008 to 2010) and he was paid $40 million plus the $5 million that the Jays may or may not have sent the Angels for this year. So yeah, he was overpaid quite a bit, but it is nothing compared to how overpaid he could be from 2011 to 2014. The main reason he was worth so little from 2008 through 2010 is his atrocious defense. The sterling Gold Glove reputation that he carries is just a reputation, although he was much closer to being an average defensive CF when he was finally healthy this season. At least that’s what the numbers say. The commentators, and to a lesser extent my eyes, say otherwise and maybe the truth lies somewhere in between, but I certainly don’t think he’s Gold Glove worthy anymore. The move to LF and the grass should help his defense, but his bat value will take a hit because more is expected from corner outfielders than CF. It’ll be interesting to see how he does over the next four years.

  7. @Tom. Thanks for that — I keep forgetting that extra 8 million plus for the signing bonus. I agree that VDub is not a GG defender any longer, but I wonder about the defensive stats sometimes, and specifically in the outfield, about how they’re affected by who plays on either side of a player. Vernon had his best defensive years with Rios (or Green) in right and someone better than Adam Lind or Freddie Lewis in left. It’s hard to break down a ball hit to the gap, because it doesn’t take into account defensive alignment, cheating one way or another to cover for a teammate’s weakness (a bigger issue for a centre fielder than either of the corner spots) etc. Wells definitely had a rough 2009 with the glove, part of it injury related, but the other years I’ve watched he still looks at least above average for a CF, though not up to his reputation.

    All that said, when a player ends up with a very good dWAR, you never need to wonder why. It identifies the elite defenders, I’m just not sure the middle of the pack’s numbers are always accurate.

  8. The Orioles are terrible because they let the one thing that used to define their success in the 60s and 70s go to waste – the farm system. Even when they won their last championship in 83 as that team aged they went the route of signing free agents instead of developing talent. (Fred Lynn,Lee Lacy and Don Aase) Aside from a miracle season in 89 the O’s spent the rest of the decade and most of the 90′s are also rans.

    Their return to the playoffs in 96/97 was due to a lot of money being spent on top free agents. In 98 when that group faded they were traded away and got little in return. Yet still the farm system did not procuce quality players.

    MacPhail’s point is just one that has been lost on fans for years. Your farm system sucks. Money would be better spent to invest in player development.

    Most outsiders or national writers like Law who don’t really follow the O’s (why would you since they haven’t been relevant in so long) look at the moves and wonder why. Aside from appeasing a restless fanbase (I’m one of the them) the moves made are all stopgap moves.

    Look in the O’s minor league system and you see very very few players ready for prime time. J.J. Hardy isn’t blocking anyone. Mark Reynolds isn’t blocking anyone. Derek Lee and so forth and so on. The Orioles have no one else ready for a shot in 2011.

    The Felix Pie/Nolan Reimold situation is the popular critcism of the Guererro signing. But Reimold should start in AAA anyway since last season he was dreadful due to an achilles injury and personal matters. Let him get right and if he tears it up for two months then he should be elevated. Pie makes the team as a 4th OF. Adam Jones will get hurt at some point and he also gives Buck an option to bench Jones if need be.

    Any gains made in 2011 will be temporary and they will need to re-assess yet again. But they must build the farm system. Last I checked it was ranked 24th in MLB – that’s the reason.

  9. @Jergs: Well thought out post from an obviously long suffering O’s fan. That 1989 O’s team that battled my Jays down to the final weekend should’ve been a team on the rise with the young stars (Olson, Milacki, Ballard) and future stars/solid contributors (Finley, Anderson, Hoiles, Harnisch, Schilling, and McDonald: can’t believe Hoiles didn’t go to the All-Star game in 1993: WTF?) in the fold.

    Two huge things, aside from the normal falling back to earth that can happen to young guys, stopped them from taking off: 1) What turned out to be one of the worst trades in MLB history: Finley, Harnisch, and Schilling to Houston for Glenn Davis and 2) Peter Angelos buying the team in 1993. Part of me wonders if his fingerprints aren’t all over this offseason, but then again he is 81. These guys are indeed stopgaps, but as you rightly point out, there’s not much in the system at the moment, which suggests that probably they’re going to need more stopgaps before the system produces the next wave of talent. That is something that has to be frustrating for an O’s fan who sees the consequences of not building for the long haul and using stopgaps to fill in, in the meantime, like yourself.

  10. Thanks Tom,

    I’ve tried to wipe away the Glenn Davis trade from my mind. But yes, no question about it – that deal was a huge mistake. I remember being more angry that they packaged Harnish in that trade and not Schilling. But imagine Schills, Harnish and Steve Finley in Orange for a good part of their careers. They did have some talent in the system and had just drafted Mike Mussina in 1990. But they fell to 5th that year.

    Another crime was how they rushed Ben McDonald. He signed with the Orioles on August 19, and on September 6, he made his major league debut. Ended his career with the O’s in 95 as a .500 pitcher.

    The O’s have been a stopgap haven for YEARS. I just feel better about some of the players they got this season as opposed to years past. Garret Atkins please return the 4 million you stole last year!

    I know that nothing will change long term until the farm system gets straightened out. I’m still waiting.

    Angelos is another huge reason this franchise is the worst. Can’t wait until he’s gone.

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