Special Disappointment Supplement … The 2001 Texas Rangers
It’s not that Alex Rodriguez didn’t deserve to be among the highest paid player in baseball going into the 2001 season. He definitely deserved consideration for being the top dog in terms of dollars. His WORST season was 1997, where he had just a 120 OPS+, 5.6 WAR and only 23 home runs. His worst WAR season was 1999, when everyone hit like they were playing beer league softball, and his lowest WAR season included 42 home runs.
Remember, that going into 2001 he was going into his age 25 season (still before his peak, as you know if you study your Bill James), and he was a shortstop and a plus defender at shortstop at that. So combine age, ability and the potential for even greater success meant that he was the hot commodity in baseball.
No wonder that at least six other teams wanted his services. The Mariners, who drafted Rodriguez and gave him a regular job at age 20, could have retained him, but only offered a five-year deal. Rodriguez, or more likely his agent, Scott Boras, wanted double-digit years.
Boras, the super-agent, was and is notorious for letting teams dangle like participles when negotiating contracts. Back in 2001, that tactic earned him disdain from not just the owners, but the press corps. The scribes and yakkers could only speculate on the offers and Boras didn’t let anything slip to them.
So when the Rangers signed A-Rod for 10 years and $252 million, it was a stunner. What was more stunning is that from all reports, Boras had the Rangers negotiating against themselves. As the price got higher, and the number of years remained a sticking point, no one really offered anything close to those figures.
Tom Hicks, the owner of the team, loved his shiny toys like the Dallas Stars and the Rangers, so this was just another deal to buy something for himself, just like he was buying a James Bond car.
Bud Selig and his band of remorseful harpies decried the dollar amount, saying that there was no way most teams could compete with that figure. Of course, they resisted all entreats to actually show what they were making (clear of the funny accounting tricks), so they just cried gloom and doom.
Sure, three teams paid their entire team less than what Rodriguez was going to earn in 2000. But those teams, the Royals, Twins and Brewers, were in mega-rebuilding mode with young, cheap players. They also had spent the last half of the decade being mediocre to awful on the field and just kvetching instead of doing something about their plight.
Still, the dollars, years and scope of the deal was just massive. Incredible. What’s more is that the 2000 season is one Texas needed to forget, in a hurry. After making the playoffs in 1996, 1998 and 1999, the year 2000 found the team plunging to last place. Ivan Rodriguez missed almost half the year with an injury, and the team couldn’t replace Todd Zeile or Juan Gonzalez’s production.
Signing A-Rod was a signal that the team wasn’t going to stand still and rebuild gradually. They were going to win now. They finished ninth in the AL in scoring in 2000, and this would help in that regard.
Left unsaid was the fact that the Rangers were dead last in ERA in 2000, with a 5.52 team ERA and a team ERA+ of 91 (picture Ryan Glynn’s 5-7, 5.58 season in 2000 as what the Rangers pitched like as a whole.)
The other acquisitions for Texas before 2001 were singing Andres Galarraga and Ken Caminiti as free agents, like they were still in the summer of 1996. The pitching staff seemed more or less intact.
With the $250 million dollar man in the lineup, the Rangers did score more runs and they were third in the league in runs scored, first in slugging, first in home runs (some stadium effect there, of course) and first in OPS. Rodriguez has a monster chiller horror season – .318/.399/.622 slash line, 133 runs, 135 RBI, 52 home runs, an OPS+ of 160 and he was also 18 of 21 in steals.
Rafael Palmeiro was also incredible that year, with a .944 OPS, 47 home runs and 123 RBI.
But I-Rod got hurt again. They still didn’t have a third baseman or right fielder, and Galarraga and Caminiti were busts.
And the pitching staff that they ignored by pouring all of their assets into A-Rod? It was even worse.
They allowed fewer runs, but had a lot less unearned runs charged against them. Doug Davis was their best starter (11-10, 4.45, 105 ERA+). Rick Helling had a 5.17 ERA, and ERA+ of 90, and was their second best pitcher in the rotation. Darren Oliver’s and Kenny Rogers’s ERAs were in the sixes, while Rob Bell, Aaron Myette and Glynn touched ERA’s that were in the Boeing range.
Somehow, someway, Jeff Zimmerman saved 28 games with a 2.40 ERA, blowing only three saves, also holding five games and only allowing eight inherited runners to score all season. Of course, he was rewarded by the Baseball Gods with an elbow injury so severe, he never pitched in the big leagues again, even after two Tommy John surgeries.
Just think if the Rangers had used the money they spent over-and-above what A-Rod would have received had they just bid one dollar more than the competition (that works in the Price is Right, it should work here!) – they probably could have grabbed two or three more journeymen starters.
They just needed a team full of Doug Davis’ and it would have worked. But they stacked the pitching deep and cheap, and it cost them.
As you know, while Rodriguez had monster seasons in Texas, the team suffered and they felt they had to trade him to actually fill their entire roster with competent baseball players instead of stiffs, frauds and hacks. That wasn’t A-Rod’s fault, it was Hicks and the Rangers that screwed up big time.
Plus, it’s doubtful that they made their money back financially. They had attendance of 7.28 million the three years A-Rod was there. The three seasons from 1997-99, 8.65 million saw them play.
Yes, the seasons with A-Rod were disappointing to the club and the novice fans, but experienced fans knew they were hoist by their own petard – a petard full of Ryan Glynn and Aaron Myette.