A-Rod goes from neglected to needed in a New York minute Print
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Thursday, 12 July 2007 20:59
MLB Headline News

 Talk about a U-turn: All those New Yorkers who volunteered to drive Alex Rodriguez back to LaGuardia Airport within weeks of his arrival, and almost every day since, suddenly can't imagine life without him.
Remember the tank top A-Rod's wife wore to Yankee Stadium nearly two weeks ago? The one with the two-word obscenity printed on the back that the New York Post splashed on the front page and the locals found so offensive?
Well, the only thing that would offend most of them at the moment is finding out that Cynthia Rodriguez borrowed it from her husband's closet. Because now that the New York dailies again are speculating whether A-Rod could be going, going, gone at season's end, it might be easier to ship the Statue of Liberty out of town instead.
The Yankees are 10 games behind AL East-leading Boston. But fans understand that without Rodriguez's off-the-charts contributions so far, calculating the ``games-behind'' figure would have required the use of their toes as well. That explained why unidentified team executives have been quoted as saying the club is willing to negotiate an extension for Rodriguez whenever his agent, Scott Boras, gets around to calling.
The first time the subject was broached in March, Boras said he was instructed to hold off on contract talks during the season, and that remains his stance in public.
``We have always been under the plan that it's something we would talk about at the end of the season, and we've had no discussions with anyone,'' Boras said Thursday, then quickly added, ``Don't expect to.''
Wily as he is, Boras knows the current panic has more to do with slow news days than a real shift in the Yankees' negotiating stance. But he also knows the longer it drags on, the easier his work likely will be come November, not to mention much more lucrative.
The funny thing is that A-Rod never had it quite this good in New York. For all the things he's tried to win over fans and teammates - moving from shortstop to third, trash-talking opponents, even baring his soul about visits to a shrink - nothing has made him look better than being surrounded by similarly high-priced, but woefully underperforming teammates. And because details of his salary have been published over and over the last few days, even the most committed A-Rod haters have to concede he's a bargain.
Rodriguez gets a $27 million salary this year, but thanks to the shrewd deal general manager Brian Cashman cut to bring him to New York, Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks still has to kick in about $11 million of the total. As one of the tabloids noted, that means the Yankees are getting A-Rod's services for about 60 cents on the dollar.
For purposes of comparison, Andy Pettitte, who's 5-6 with a 4.27 ERA, will cost the Yankees about the same. And Jason Giambi, who's parked on the 15-day disabled list, driven in one-quarter as many runs and appeared in roughly half as many games, will take home $21 million.
So, New York, how do you like A-Rod now?
And how do you like your chances of keeping him?
Despite the headlines of recent days, the answer is actually very, very good - thanks to that long ago boo-boo by Hicks.
Because of a clause Boras tucked in there long ago, A-Rod can opt out of his deal within 10 days after the last pitch of the World Series - but that would let Hicks opt out, too.
Few baseball people doubt that A-Rod could command the $30 million or more a year that Boras indicated will be his starting position with any clubs thought to be potential bidders - San Francisco, Anaheim, Chicago and even Boston. But there's also no question that the Yankees, with Hicks' still on the hook to contribute for another three years, can afford to be more generous than any of them. And given the Yankees' track record of paying stars - see: Clemens, Roger - it's hard to imagine them letting A-Rod leave.
Of course, that assumes Rodriguez will continue motoring along at his MVP pace and, almost as important, delivering big hits in the late innings. He's already hit seven home runs in the ninth inning alone, two of them game-ending.
``I think it would be selfish on my part to talk about my contract status when our team desperately needs wins,'' he said before the Yankees opened a four-game series against the Devil Rays. ``My goal is to win as any games as we can, focus on my teammates and really play at a real high level in the second half.''
Loved as Rodriguez is at the moment, however, all it will take is a big drop in production or another subpar playoff performance, and he'll be loathed again. And that tank top his wife wore to Yankee Stadium could become a hot-selling item in the Bronx, with the word, ``too,'' tacked on the end.
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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org
 

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