Ivan Rodriguez: Will he take the money and run?

Despite the constant rumors that Ivan Rodriguez could land in Seattle, InsidethePark.com's Jared Poppel says the chances are slim.

On Tuesday, Kazuhiro Sasaki made his final appearance in Seattle to sign his termination papers, officially ending his tenure with the Mariners. The M's still have to wait for Sasaki to pass through waivers before they actually free up the $8 million in base salary to use this year. However, that will happen before the end of the week.

There has been a lot of speculation as to how the M's might use that money. General manger Bill Bavasi didn't waste time; shortly after Sasaki signed on the dotted line, Bavasi put in a call to Scott Boras to discuss the possibility of luring free agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez to the Emerald City.

However, I wouldn't start envisioning Pudge in Mariners colors just yet. In fact, I think that, based on Bavasi's statements, the chances of Ivan Rodriguez signing with the M's is remote, at best.

Rodriguez suffered through indignities between the 2002 and 2003 seasons. The Rangers let him go via free agency in a salary purge necessitated by the albatross that is the contract of Alex Rodriguez. Pudge was considered one of the greatest catchers of this generation, but he had suffered through three consecutive injury-plagued seasons. He was looking for an opportunity to prove he was healthy, yet he surprisingly had no takers. Then, from out of nowhere, the Florida Marlins signed Rodriguez to a one-year, $10 million contract.

The catch was that $7 million of that was going to be deferred, meaning that Pudge would only cost them $3 million for the 2003 season. It seemed like a reasonable chance to take; with a potent offense and a relatively inexperienced but talented pitching staff, it seemed that the missing ingredient was someone who could harness the abilities of the young arms and get them to fulfill their potential.

Well, Rodriguez came through and then some for Florida. Anchoring the No. 3 spot in the lineup all season, he hit .297 with 16 HR and 85 RBI, and stayed healthy enough to play in 144 games, his most since 1999. In addition, he provided veteran leadership on the team, and led them to their second championship in seven years, winning the World Series MVP award in the process.

But, then came time for free agency again, and this time, Rodriguez (and more importantly, his agent, Scott Boras) wanted to cash in. After all, he just turned 32, had a great comeback season, and proved he was healthy. In addition, he wanted long-term security, asking for a four-year contract from interested teams. And yet again, there were seemingly few takers.

The one team that seemed to be determined to land Pudge was the Detroit Tigers, coming off of one of the worst seasons a baseball team has ever endured. The Tigers were already dipping into the free agent pool, having signed 2B Fernando Vina, OF Rondell White, C Mike DiFelice and P Al Levine, and then trading for former Mariners SS Carlos Guillen after failing to sign Rich Aurilia.

It is reported that the Tigers have offered Rodriguez what he wants: a four-year, $40 million contract. Boras has reportedly tried to negotiated some "out clauses" in the contract, based on the Tigers performance (similar to the clauses Mike Sweeney got in his contract with Kansas City.) Yet, Pudge still seemed to be waiting for someone else to jump into the fray with an offer. Was this merely to drive his price up, or to have the chance to play for a team with a legitimate chance at going to the playoffs either this year or next?

Then came the announcement that Kazuhiro Sasaki was leaving the Mariners to return to Japan, forfeiting his contract that would have made him the highest paid member of the team in 2004. It was almost as if Christmas came a few weeks late in Seattle, but better late than not at all. The Mariners now had $8 million that they hadn't planned on for 2004.

So, Bavasi made his call to Boras yesterday, and this announcement surely raised the hopes of Mariners fans everywhere that a potential Hall of Fame catcher might be coming to Safeco Field. However, Bavasi also made very clear that there were limitations as to how far the Mariners were willing to go to get Rodriguez here.

Bavasi said, "Like anyone else, we have interest in him — on a short-term basis. In our opinion, he has had his best years in short-term bursts. In situations where he has a contract coming up in a year or two, he has done well. We wouldn't be comfortable in a four- or five-year situation. He's got a four-year offer, based on what I've read. But that does not mean he would preclude us, although he may have other deals out there and be far down the road with them."

With those words, Bavasi summed up fairly neatly the reasons why we probably won't be cheering on Pudge in Seattle this year. To begin with, the Mariners, in general, are loathe to make commitments to players longer than three years. The recent signing of Ichiro Suzuki to a four-year contract and the offer of a five-year contract to Miguel Tejada while he was still a free agent may have signaled a change in that strategy. Yet, when you note that they signed many players to three-year contracts (including options) this off-season (Scott Spiezio, Raul Ibanez, Joel Pineiro, Ryan Franklin, Randy Winn, Eddie Guardado, Shigetoshi Hasegawa), you might think that the Ichiro and Tejada situations were simply aberrations.

Yet Bavasi is correct in pointing out that Rodriguez does seem to thrive when he's "playing for a contract". In addition, while he was healthy all of last season, he is a catcher, which is the position that puts the most wear and tear on a player. And he is 32 years old, and quickly approaching the age threshold at which many catchers' offensive performance drops off suddenly. The Mariners are, understandably, proceeding with caution. They don't want to wind up blowing their windfall.

That being said, Rodriguez is looking for a long-term commitment, having turned down a three-year offer from the Marlins, and also possibly one from the Baltimore Orioles. He is also looking to finally get big money, having circumvented his own agent at the time to sign what was considered a below-market, five-year contract with the Texas Rangers in 1997. Those desires, combined with the Mariners' philosophy and the fact that Pudge already has an attractive contract on the table, does not bode well for a match between the two parties.

The only factor that might come into play is Rodriguez's desire to get to the post-season again. He just got his first World Series ring, but his chances of landing another one with the Detroit Tigers anytime soon seem to be remote. The Tigers are in a rebuilding mode, and so it might not be until the very end of that proposed four-year contract that they could contend for a playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Mariners have crafted a team for 2004 that seems to be geared for making the playoffs now. They have sacrificed their "pitching and defense" strategy to put more pop in the lineup. The addition of Pudge would solidify the catching spot and add even more offense to an already formidable group of batters, increasing their chances of competing with the improved Anaheim Angels for the AL West crown.

The real X factor is all of this is Scott Boras. His major clients do not appear to be getting what they had hoped for this off-season. Rodriguez is still unsigned. Greg Maddux is too. Kevin Millwood was forced to accept arbitration from the Phillies when no offers materialized for him. And, of course, Alex Rodriguez is still in Texas, though not by his choice. It is reported that Boras is an agent that many teams do not like to deal with, and he is also trying to get contract levels for his clients that might have been available in 2000, but are no longer available, given the 2004 economic profile of baseball. An agent's duty is to act in the best interests of his clients, but that duty is not merely restricted to financial considerations. By pushing I-Rod to simply "take the money and run", is Boras looking out solely for his client's best interests?

I don't believe that Boras will allow Rodriguez to sign for anything less than the four years and $40 million offered by Detroit, even with a contending team like the Mariners. The only way I see Pudge in a Mariners uniform in 2004 is if he once again takes control of the situation, as he did with Texas five years ago. If all I-Rod wants to do is draw a large paycheck, though, he'll do it in Detroit, but he'll also probably draw a lot of comparisons to another Boras client trapped on a losing team with a big contract: A-Rod.

Jared appreciates reading your feedback at marinersinsider@yahoo.com.

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