The oldest player on the New York Yankees roster is currently the team’s best hitter. No, it’s not 35-year-old Mark Teixeira, who is currently going through his annual April slump with a batting average of .183. It’s not 37-year-old Carlos Beltran either, who hasn’t even played the last two games due to an illness.
Somehow, some way, the best hitter on the New York Yankees is none other than 39-year-old Alex Rodriguez, who is actually turning 40 years old in July.
The sheer magnitude of that statement resonates in that it seems utterly impossible. Coming off not one but two hip surgeries, Rodriguez is probably exceeding his own expectations. Nobody in their right mind believed Rodriguez would be able to turn on a fastball, let alone hit four home runs in the month of April.
In fact, Rodriguez has been so proficient at the plate in the Yankees’s time of need offensively that Joe Girardi moved him up from the seventh spot in the lineup to second by the third game of the season.
Looking at his outstanding stat line thus far, one wouldn’t be able to distinguish whether or not Rodriguez is in the prime of his career. He’s currently hitting .308 with 4 HR and 11 RBI in 12 games, which include one game as the starting first baseman and one game as the starting third baseman. To put that into perspective, this puts Rodriguez on pace to hit 54 HR and about 149 RBI this season.
One would think the Yankees would be ecstatic about this newfound offense in their aging DH. After all, he is being paid about $22 million this season, which is roughly $6 million higher than David Ortiz is being paid as the full-time DH of the Boston Red Sox. If anything, the Yankees would love to milk out as many hits and HR’s and RBI as they can from Rodriguez, right?
Unfortunately for Rodriguez, his offensive output this season has been exactly what the Yankees hoped wouldn’t occur. The reason why is because Rodriguez is two home runs away from tying Willie Mays on the all-time home runs list at 660, and three from passing the Hall-of-Famer.
If Rodriguez does achieve this milestone, the Yankees had agreed to a $6 million bonus in his contract in the form of a marketing agreement, as outright milestone clauses aren’t allowed in baseball contracts.
The idea behind the marketing scheme was simple: fans would flock to the Stadium anticipating Rodriguez’s every at-bat, which would bring direct hype and revenue back to the Yankees. In reward of his efforts, the Yankees originally planned to grant Rodriguez a $6 million bonus had the milestone been reached.
Other milestones include reaching 714 HR’s (Hank Aaron’s record), 755 HR’s (Babe Ruth’s record), and tying and breaking the all-time home run record, each of which invoke a $6 million bonus for one Alex Rodriguez.
However, in light of all his relatively recent performance-enhancing drug scandals, including Biogenesis and all that ensued after, the Yankees have made it crystal clear that they do not intend to pay Rodriguez if indeed he reaches those milestones. With Mays’ record only two home runs away, there appears to be the possibility of an impending disagreement between the two parties.
From the Yankees’s point of view, Rodriguez’s behavior off the field, including both his use of PED’s and his verbal battle with the organization during his suspension, gives them reason to object to awarding him a bonus. Not only would it appear to be unethical because he obviously cheated the game in order to reach the milestone, but it would deplete them of $6 million that they would rather not part with anyway for reasons related to their payroll.
The Yankees have long argued that the language existing in Rodriguez’s contract only applies ‘in good faith’, meaning it would theoretically become null and void in the event Rodriguez dupes the Yankees, which he clearly did. This wouldn’t be the first instance in which the Yankees attempted to become clear of monetary obligations towards Rodriguez; the 162-game suspension Rodriguez served last season allowed the Yankees to remove him from the Yankees payroll, thus saving them roughly $22 million.
The battle between the ballplayer and the organization post-scandal has transcended even across the country, in the case of Josh Hamilton and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Hamilton had relapsed in his recovery from a drug addiction this offseason, and openly admitted so to MLB and the Angels organization.
Instead of supporting their beleaguered player, the Angels have been attempting to void themselves of the money they owe him this season, which is about $25 million. The harsh reality exists that had Josh Hamilton produced in the fashion he produced offensively as a member of the Texas Rangers, winning the 2010 AL MVP in his tenure there, the Angels would certainly have no issue with paying Hamilton the money he is owed. Unfortunately, Hamilton has struggled as a member of the Angels, merely hitting a combined 31 HR’s in his first two seasons in Anaheim.
The fact that professional sports franchises are attempting to void themselves of contracts in order to save money by scapegoating their players is unethical in and of itself. Alex Rodriguez wasn’t the one who created the idiotic contract that the Yankees signed in 2007. He wasn’t the one that included incentives for baseball milestones in order for the Yankees to earn more money at the turnstiles. In fact, at the age of 33, Alex Rodriguez would have been a fool to not agree to the exorbitant contract he was offered and is currently fulfilling.
If the Yankees manage to avoid paying Rodriguez the money he is contractually obligated to receive, it will become one of the biggest disgraces in the team’s history. As the premier sports franchise in baseball and in basically all of U.S. sports, the Yankees have an inherent requirement to do what they agreed to do when signing on the dotted line. That means paying Rodriguez $20 million+ for each of the last three years of his contract.
That means supporting their only attendance-draw post-Jeter, regardless how much they rather not associate with him. That means paying the man the bonuses he will have earned, steroids or not, once he reaches those milestones.
Nobody thinks that Rodriguez actually deserves to receive bonuses for cheating baseball. However, is Alex Rodriguez to blame for the massive contract he signed eight years ago? Is it not the Yankees’s M.O. to overpay aging superstars and watch as their production value slowly decreases? Ironically, this doesn’t even apply to Rodriguez at this point in the season, as he’s actually producing AND helping the Yankees win valuable division match ups.
Rodriguez has publicly been humbled by the entire ordeal. He served his 162-game suspension last season, and promptly returned to Spring Training this offseason early, wanting to put the situation behind him. It’s about time that the Yankees do so as well.