Pudge’s contract turned into worst-case scenario
by Mike Berardino
February 14, 2004
FORT LAUDERDALE—Lenny Harris has seen Cooperstown-level catching greatness up close before.
When he was with the Mets’ 2000 pennant winner, Harris lockered next to Mike Piazza and marveled at his ability to dial up the intensity. Baseball’s career pinch-hits leader got the same sort of feeling last season dressing next to Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez in the Marlins clubhouse.
“Pudge is a special player,” said Harris, who joined the club in August. “Just like Piazza, he really gets focused for a game, gets locked in. It’s just the intensity those guys have when that bell rings.”
The great Don Mattingly would stand in front of his locker in those final moments before Yankees games, silently swinging a bat, letting his teammates know it was time to get serious. The way Harris sees it, Rodriguez carries the same sort of inspirational heft.
Especially after leading the upstart Marlins through an unlikely run to the World Series title.
“Thirty minutes before the game, Pudge gets stretched out and goes down to the cage and hits,” Harris said. “It’s like watching Ray Lewis play a football game. That’s how this guy prepares himself to play a ballgame. It’s tough to find that anywhere.”
Welcome To Detroit
Crazy as it sounds, Rodriguez will be found displaying that intensity for at least the next two years (and possibly four) in Detroit, of all places.
The Tigers—the lowly, 119-loss Tigers—were the only ones willing to meet the catcher’s demands for a four-year, $40 million contract, even if they weighed it down with more escape hatches than a Hollywood prenup.
If the catcher misses at least five weeks with a lumbar spine injury in either of the next two seasons, for instance, the contract can be voided after he’s made just $15 million. Break a wrist and he’s golden, but don’t mess with the back, man.
You can say Rodriguez left for the money, but team sources say the Marlins’ final offer way back on Dec. 7 actually guaranteed the catcher more cash than the deal he eventually signed with the Tigers.
The Marlins, who were contractually prohibited from offering Rodriguez arbitration, apparently offered him two years and $16 million with a vesting option that could have pushed the total value to $24 million.
Factor in Michigan’s 4 percent state income tax—Florida has none—and the Marlins’ guarantee was $1.6 million (or 11 percent) richer.
Rodriguez disputes those numbers. After signing with the Tigers and getting ripped in the South Florida media, he called a press conference at his opulent Miami Beach home to give his side of the story.
“I just asked them for something fair for my family, for myself and for the club,” he said. “They offered me $6.5 million a year for the next two seasons, and the way they wanted to pay me the money, I don’t think that was fair.”
With heavy and lengthy deferments, the Marlins’ offer, according to Rodriguez, would have wound up totaling closer to $10 million in net present value. That’s not much more than the $9.32 million in NPV they paid to rent Rodriguez for just the 2003 season.
“I feel a little disappointed because I thought they would have treated me a little better,” Rodriguez said. “I would have felt much happier if they told me, ‘Listen, we can’t afford you. You can’t be with us,’ and probably I walk out very happy. The way they did all these negotiations for me was a little tough.”
Not saying Rodriguez was having a hard time letting go, but he said this three days after signing with the Tigers and nearly two full months after cutting ties with the Marlins.
Countered Marlins president David Samson: “We wish him the best success in Detroit and hope that his two-year guaranteed contract turns into four.”
Plenty Of Pride
Simply put, this parting was all about pride. On both sides.
And neither Rodriguez nor the Marlins is better for the experience.
Instead of playing another couple of years at home, taking his kids to school and building on a burgeoning local legend, Rodriguez must spend his Aprils in freezing temperatures, trying to survive as a righthanded hitter at cavernous Comerica Park.
Instead of overpaying slightly and going along with their catcher’s understandable resistance to a pay cut, the Marlins will try to defend their title with Mike Redmond and Ramon Castro behind the plate.
Call it a lose-lose negotiation.
Surely there have been quickie divorces that have ended more messily than this one, but Britney Spears and Jason Allen Alexander appear almost dignified by comparison.
“I love Pudge,” one Marlins official said. “The guy is a heck of a player. He helped us win a championship. But man, what an ego.”
Now might be a good time to get out your pocket schedules and circle June 11-13. We can hardly wait for the Marlins to make that interleague visit to Detroit so the mud can start flying again.
Mike Berardino is the national baseball writer at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. He can be reached at email@example.com.