On January 26, 2001, the game of baseball irrevocably changed forever. Coming off a 41 home run, 132 RBI season that also saw an absurd .420 on base percentage, 25-year-old Alex Rodriguez signed a 10 year, $252 million dollar contract with the Texas Rangers.
Thanks to his new contract, Rodriguez was paid more than twice as much money as any baseball team had ever guaranteed a player. This was like placing a two million dollar offer on a home while all the other bidders and familiar real estate agents believed it to be worth a smidge over one hundred grand.
According to Tom Verducci's behind the scenes tell all in Sports Illustrated, the Mets were the original players in the deal and had they offered Rodriguez a slightly more reasonable 10 year, $190 million dollar deal, he'd still be in New York...only without the pin stripes.
On Nov. 13, three days into the free-agent shopping season, Mets general manager Steve Phillips announced that his club no longer had interest in signing Rodriguez. "The next day six other teams called," Boras says. "They saw a path open with New York out."
This 2001 deal was the golden gate and cobble stoned walkway towards something even larger. Something more outlandish.
A $300 million dollar perfect storm is brewing. One that will help the rich get richer and keep the poor mucking around their farm systems, developing prospects and recouping money in an endless cycle of losing seasons and false progression.
The backlash of one such contract would surely splash gasoline onto a pro salary cap argument and anger about two dozen fan bases who feel as if devotedly following a financially ill equipped baseball team is more hopeless than betting on an American born tennis player.
If the notoriously cheap Minnesota Twins can't reach an agreement with homegrown superstar and St. Paul native Joseph Patrick Mauer before opening day of the 2010 season, he will enter free agency as arguably the most sought after player of all-time.
This is where the perfect storm conundrum comes in to fold. At that point, the two most profitable organizations in baseball will both be searching for a stud signal caller. The Jason Varitek/Jorge Posada eras will officially be at an end and both Boston and New York will be bidding against each other for the rights to a 6' 5", 220 pound, 26-year-old, three-time batting champion.
What primarily makes $300 million such a sadly realistic number is not only the 2001 Texas Rangers contract, but the 2007 deal Rodriguez signed with the New York Yankees. This second 10 year deal was signed when he was 31-years-old and inexplicably for $23 million more total dollars.
Last year in 138 games, Mauer led baseball in batting average, on base percentage, slugging, and OPS. He started behind the plate at the all-star game, won a golden glove award and was a run away winner of the league's most valuable player award. He's marketable and will likely inherit baseball's clean poster boy image from the 35-year-old Derek Jeter. Most importantly, Mauer is talented today with potential for an even brighter tomorrow.
The only other competitor at his position in the free agency battle will be a 32-year-old Victor Martinez. The other available catchers will be along the likes of Miguel Olivo and Josh Bard. Not quite the long term investment big money teams are looking to settle on.
What Mauer has going against him, ironically enough, is himself. The down to earth, humble person who on the surface seems like the kind of guy who wouldn't know what to do with $300 million dollars if it came alive and slapped off his sideburns. From an SI cover story.
Being Joe Mauer is about keeping his life and his swing as simple as possible, which is why, given a rare day off last Thursday, he drove an hour outside Minneapolis to the log cabin getaway he built in the Minnesota woods. To the log cabin is where Mauer also repaired immediately after last summer's All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium. "I took a plane ride after the game," Mauer says, "and within eight hours I was riding a lawn mower up there. So you have New York City and the All-Star Game and all the craziness that goes on with that, and eight hours later I was sitting there cutting grass. Talk about your two extremes. And oh, yeah, I was happy."
Will $300 million dollars be enough to lure the golden boy out of Minnesota or will his satisfied nature go against all that the American public has become accustomed to? Either way, Mauer's primed to be a free agency pioneer.
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