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Texas-Sized Deal

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Redefining sports contracts, the Texas Rangers on Monday made free-agent shortstop Alex Rodriguez the nation’s highest-salaried athlete, agreeing to a record 10-year, $252-million deal that heightened concerns about the future of baseball.

The host Rangers made many moves at the winter meetings here and completed the biggest deal with arguably baseball’s best player, luring Rodriguez from the Seattle Mariners--their American League West division rival--with a package worth more than the individual estimated values of 18 major league franchises.

The deal surpassed the previous U.S. athlete record for total value and average annual salary--the six-year, $126-million contract Kevin Garnett signed with the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves in 1997.

Rodriguez, who did not attend a news conference to announce the agreement, is scheduled to meet with reporters today at The Ballpark at Arlington.

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News of Rodriguez’s contract was not well received by baseball officials concerned about payroll disparity and dizzying spending.

The Rangers were criticized for being the first sports team to break the $200-million barrier, but they got the player they coveted.

“Obviously, you do not ever make a commitment of this nature unless you’re talking about a very special individual,” said Texas owner Tom Hicks, who negotiated the stunning deal with Rodriguez’s agent, Scott Boras.

“It’s a big contract and a very unique contract, and he’s the only player in baseball who deserves this contract. Alex is an unusual player, and we felt this was something we had to do to take the Texas Rangers to the level we want to reach.”

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Rodriguez is to receive a $10-million signing bonus to be spread over the first five years of the contract, making his salary $23 million annually during that span.

The four-time all-star, 25, will have salaries of $27 million in 2005, $25 million in 2006, and $27 million each over the last four seasons, with the Rodriguez having the option of becoming a free agent in 2007.

After the eighth season, the contract includes an “escalator” clause that assures Rodriguez of being among baseball’s top-paid players during the remainder of his contract. The clause gives Rodriguez the option of either a $5-million bonus or $1 million more than the top-paid player in the ninth and 10th seasons of the contract.

Rodriguez had a salary of $4.25 million last season.

His new package, of which $36 million is deferred with 3% interest, topped the previous record of $121 million over eight years, set Friday in an agreement pitcher Mike Hampton reached with the Colorado Rockies.

“We have to be concerned with what we’ve seen,” said Sandy Alderson, major league baseball’s vice president of baseball operations.

“What we have done, what the commissioner has done, is take a public position on this and made a commitment to change. Those of us who are also concerned about this must work with the commissioner to make changes because ultimately this has to be changed.”

With Rodriguez agreeing to terms, the Rangers are committed to paying $81 million to only 15 players after having a $70-million payroll last season.

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The Rangers also agreed to terms with third baseman Ken Caminiti, first baseman Andres Galarraga and reliever Mark Petkovsek at the meetings, trying to surround their new leading man with a better supporting cast.

“We went into this with an ambitious plan after not having much fun last season,” said General Manager Doug Melvin, whose club finished 71-91, last in the AL West. “Alex Rodriguez is the kind of player we feel sends a message that the Rangers are serious about winning.”

Rodriguez joins a lineup that includes all-star catcher Ivan Rodriguez and other productive everyday players, but there are rotation and bullpen questions.

“When you pay one player a lot of money you sometimes have to sacrifice in other areas,” said New York Met General Manager Steve Phillips. “Obviously, it’s an extraordinary contract for an extraordinary player.

“Texas thought it was the right thing to do for them. Clearly, with the other acquisitions they’ve made, they’re going to have a strong team.”

The Mariners is expected to have a good club as well, despite losing their third franchise-caliber player in as many seasons, having traded pitcher Randy Johnson and center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. before they could depart as free agents.

The Mariners will receive a draft pick as compensation for Rodriguez signing with the Rangers, but that won’t minimize the sting.

“The Mariners have done everything possible to keep Alex in Seattle,” the club said in a four-paragraph statement. “We are disappointed that he could not remain a leader for us but, of course, we wish Alex well.

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“We thank him for his efforts with the Mariners and for the memories he has provided for sports fans in the Northwest. Now it’s time to move on.”

It didn’t go over well with many of the small-market teams.

“It makes it very tough to compete for the smaller-market clubs when this is happening,” said Kevin Towers of the San Diego Padres. “It’s a good day for the Texas Rangers, but it’s a bad day for baseball.”

Added Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics: “I’m numb to the whole thing. It’s just part of the business.”

The commissioner’s office wasn’t as reserved.

Alderson went on the offensive in the same manner as he did after the Dodgers’ industry-angering, $105-million signing of pitcher Kevin Brown in 1998 that has reduced to merely another contract.

Alderson said that baseball is on the road to ruin unless the system is changed soon, again stressing that the talent disparity between low- and high-revenue teams threatens the viability of the game.

“This is a crisis situation, I really believe that,” Alderson said. “This contract will affect every team’s ability to operate in this system. I’ve got a season-ticket application on my desk at my home and I’ve got to decide whether to pay for those tickets, and there are lot of season-ticket holders thinking the same thing right now.

“This is the kind of thing where people start to ask, ‘Gee, what am I buying?’ Is this a ticket to an Athletes in Action exhibition? Is this a real competition? Does this team really have a shot here? It raises a lot of issues, and that’s why I’m saying this is a crisis. This is sort of beyond economics. This is about competition and whether the fans believe they are going to receive a competitive event for the dollar they are paying.”

Not surprisingly, Boras disagrees with doomsday predictions.

He points to increasing revenue from new ballparks and a $2.5-billion TV contract with Fox as proof of the game’s financial stability.

“I was asked that question [about payroll disparity] in 1988 and the people asking it were the writers from Atlanta, Seattle, Texas, Baltimore and Cleveland,” said Boras, who also negotiated Brown’s contract with the Dodgers. “All of a sudden the have-nots are the haves. It has a lot more to do with management. The franchises that were in the bottom seven or eight in this game are now in the top seven or eight. The cities haven’t changed. Nothing has changed other than good business decisions are being made now.

“When I think of Seattle and Texas back in the early ‘80s we’re talking about franchises that had antiquated stadiums, very, very low revenues and the community was not involved in the game. Now, we have businesses run in appropriate ways and they are highly successful.

“Our major issue in baseball in the ‘80s and ‘90s was the ‘pie’ itself. Now the pie is grand and the question is, ‘How do we distribute it?’ That’s not such a bad question.”

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SUDDEN IMPACT

The Rodriguez deal sent tremors through an industry that is bracing for a work stoppage after 2001. A1

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

BY THE NUMBERS

Alex Rodriguez is now worth more than the estimated value of these major league teams*:

Chicago Cubs: $242 million

San Francisco Giants: $237 million

St.Louis Cardinals: $219 million

Detrot Tigers: $200 million

San Diego Padrs: $197 million

Anaheim Angels: $195 million

Cincinnati Reds: $175 million

Milwaukee Brewers: $167 million

Chicago White Sox: $166 million

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: $163 million

Toronto Blue Jays: $162 million

Pittsburgh Pirates: $161 million

Philadelphia Phillies: $150 million

Oakland Athletics: $134 million

Florida Marlins: $125 million

Kansas City Royals: $122 million

Minnesota Twins: $91 million

Montreal Expos: $89 million

*

Source: Forbes

*money in millions

*

Alex R%odriguez’s salary (based on 2000 statistics):

PER GAME: $170,270

PER AT-BAT: $45,487

PER HIT: $144,000

PER HOME RUN: $614,634

PER RBI: $190,909

AVERAGE U.S. INCOME: $28,500

SPORT BY SPORT

Highest salary packages by total guaranteed value, not including possible performance bonuses. List does not make distinction for money deferred without interest:

BASEBALL

Alex Rodriguez, Texas Rangers, 10 years (2001-2010), $252 million.

BASKETBALL

Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves, six years (1997-2002), $126 million.

FOOTBALL

Troy Aikman, Dallas Cowboys, nine years (1999-2007), $85.5 million.

HOCKEY

Jaromir Jagr, Pittsburgh Penguins, seven years (1998-2004), $48 million.

GOLF (2000 earnings)

Tiger Woods 9,188,321


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