Free agent economics: Insane in the brain

Last summer, the Twins signed starting pitcher Brad Radke to a four-year, $36 million dollar contract extension.
This move was preceded by countless hours, updates, reports and questions regarding Radke’s future. At one point, State Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis made the public suggestion of using tax dollars to pay for Radke’s salary.
Further speculation was raised regarding Radke’s worth on the team considering his demands, and what kind of statement the Twins would make after floating in an abyss since 1993.
This move was then followed by approximately one-half of the Twin Cities media praising owner Carl Pohlad and new C.E.O. Chris Clouser for their willingness to show competitive interest.
The other reporting half condemned the move as being bullied into overpaying for the services of a sub-.500 career hurler.
Silly Minnesotan fools, we all knew what would happen.
Last week, the New York Yankees (of all teams) signed Mike Mussina to a six-year, $88.5 million dollar contract. Denny Neagle, a second or third starter, sacrificed any potential success to the financial gods in the form of five years, $51 million dollars to play in mile-high Colorado.
Manny Ramirez already turned down seven years and $119 million. He is looking for a ten-year, $200 million dollar ballpark figure.
Red McCombs purchased the Vikings in 1998 for $210 million.
As for Alex Rodriguez? No one — certainly no sportwriter — can count that high.
“He’s an awfully good talent,” Twins general manager Terry Ryan said of Rodriquez. “He’s got the youth, ability and a kind of impact on the game.”
No doubt these characteristics will reward A-Rod with at least $150 million. A figure that should be too high for most — okay — all teams.
“I don’t believe that,” Ryan said. “A team wouldn’t do that unless they can afford it. The Yankees wouldn’t [sign Mussina and potentially more] unless they had the money available.”
Six teams are reportedly in the A-Rod sweepstakes: Seattle, Colorado, Texas, Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles. Six teams are also in contention to be runners-up to the Yankees for the 2001 season: Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, the Mets and maybe L.A.
Whether he cares to admit it or not, Ryan already has a pretty good idea of that fact today, as he heads to Dallas for the annual winter meetings with the rest of baseball’s GMs.
Ryan’s Twins will boast a team payroll of approximately $30 million dollars next summer. In Ryan’s busy off-season, he is pursuing a second-tier power- hitter for something less than five million dollars.
Ah, the economics of baseball.
“Right now there are a lot of problems, but no one here is complaining,” Ryan said. “The White Sox and Oakland went toe-to-toe. Everybody has a choice. You make a choice and you have to be satisfied with that.”
Ryan said the minor leagues and flow of international talent makes a salary cap in baseball difficult to achieve.
“I don’t know what will happen,” Ryan said. “A lot of people would like to see change, and a lot of people want things to stay the same. We have a disagreement, but we have a pretty good rapport compared to the last couple of agreements.”
That’s great. In the meantime, baseball’s contending teams can be counted on one hand, while the have-nots would take three hands and two feet to count.
Just a couple hours before Ryan spoke, 33-year old Andy Ashby and 35-year old Rick Reed each signed three-year contracts for $22 million dollars.
Said Ryan regarding baseball’s financial shortcomings: “There isn’t one clear-cut answer.”
The 1994 strike confirmed that, mostly because there is a repeat potential in 2002.
Baseball already has a lot of dollars. Let’s hope they invest in some sense.

Mark Heller is the assistant sports editor and welcomes comments at [email protected]