Monday, April 27, 2015

Why Yankees refuse to market Alex Rodriguez's home run milestones

The New York Yankees took the rubber game of their weekend series against the crosstown New York Mets Sunday night by a score of 6-4. Alex Rodriguez was a key contributor to the victory, hammering career home run no. 659. Rodriguez is now one homer shy of tying Hall of Famer Willie Mays on the all-time home run list.

Alex Rodriguez
Photo courtesy of Keith Allison
via Flickr.
Major League Baseball decided long ago not to expunge statistics for players who have been caught taking performance-enhancing drugs, or who have been undeniably linked to them as Rodriguez was in the Biogenesis scandal. And because of that, there is little arguing that he is on the brink of tying Mays for fourth on the home run list. It’s a fact. How he got there can be debated from now until our grandchildren watch the game and consume its history, but once he hits his next home run it will be no. 660.

What’s at question for Rodriguez and the Yankees is a milestone rider to his contract he signed with the club when he re-upped for 10 years, $275 million back in 2007. That addendum states Rodriguez is due performance bonuses of $6 million each for tying Mays, Babe Ruth (714), Hank Aaron (755), Barry Bonds (762), and then for passing Bonds (763) on MLB's all-time home run list. The Yankees believed they had a "clean" player who could be celebrated for reaching such measures. They no longer feel the same way.

The Yankees have commented through back channels that they will not be paying Rodriguez these bonuses because he is no longer a marketable player. Their contention is that when Rodriguez signed his deal they were under the impression that he had never taken PEDs (he’s since admitted to such) and then further tarnished his name by being an integral participant in the Biogenesis operation.

The Yankees claim that regardless of Rodriguez’s passing the milestones, they can no longer tie promotions or marketing campaigns to it because they become immediately intertwined with his PED use. There is nothing to celebrate here according to the Yankees.

A clause in the milestone agreement seems to aid the Yankees.

"The Yankees are under no obligation to exercise its right to designate a historical accomplishment as a milestone provided that its decision is made in good faith and in accordance with the intent of the parties in the covenant." – via CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman.

The Yankees obviously stand to gain from Rodriguez’s homers from here until he hangs up his cleats, or is traded elsewhere, but they pay him a playing contract for his on-field performance and to them that’s enough. The Yankees felt when the Biogenesis scandal broke and Rodriguez was proven to be a part of it – resulting in a one-year suspension from the game – they should have been able to disavow themselves of his playing contract. They were not going to win that battle, so it never gained traction. This milestone contract however is one in which they feel they have legal standing.

From Rodriguez’s perspective, he’s just happy to be playing. He seems to be enjoying every waking moment he is on the field. Putting aside his indiscretions, Rodriguez has always shown a kid-like emotion toward the game.

“I’m excited about the win today, I’m excited about the home run," Rodriguez said according to MLB.com's Bryan Hoch. "I’m having fun.”

Rodriguez has been at his best behavior thus far this season. From the moment he arrived at Spring Training in February, Rodriguez talked baseball and baseball only. He said he was fighting for a job, and truly he was. After 17 months away from the game, what was the team to expect?

He won the designated hitter job, and has been one of the most productive hitters in the lineup from day one of the regular season. He currently owns a .267/.405/.583 slash line with five home runs, four doubles and 13 RBI in 74 plate appearances.

Many in the game, including the Yankees are certainly surprised with what Rodriguez has offered early on this season. He probably is as well. The club might have hoped in some ways that he would fail and have to move on. Instead he looks better than he did before he last played in 2013.

But, the important question here is can the Yankees get away with saying he is not marketable? How much of a backlash would they truly receive if they celebrated Rodriguez’s home run milestones? Why not just pay it and move on; considering this might be the only one he reaches.

Catching the iconic Ruth would require another 54 home runs before 2017. If he stays healthy and maintains his current production, tying Ruth could come sometime next season. Rodriguez has proven to have plenty of power, so now it’s a matter of staying on the field. That won’t be easy for a soon-to-be 40-year-old man.

But, in the Yankees view, if they celebrate Rodriguez passing Mays, they’d have to continue on if he passed Ruth. Can you imagine the Yankees celebrating a disgraced player like Rodriguez for passing the most famous baseball player of all time, let alone the greatest Yankee of all-time? There would be a great divide among fans, one which the Yankees don’t want any part of.

A good number of fans never left Rodriguez’s side. They backed him throughout the scandal and suspension; many of that faction believing Rodriguez was part of a witch hunt and further felt MLB was out to get him. Some fans straddled the fence, and have come around on Rodriguez because he is hitting. It would be interesting to see if he would have as much support if he was hitting like Carlos Beltran is right now. Other fans flat out despise him regardless of his current production.

This is where the Yankees have an argument. There is enough of a percentage of fans across the country (and world I suppose) that believe Rodriguez should not even be a part of the game. They believe this about all performance-enhancing users no matter if the player has paid the price the league doled out or not. They believe celebrating a cheater’s milestones disrespects the players (Mays in this case) who first reached the mark. The Yankees want to avoid this at all costs.

Is there any tangible proof that fans are embracing Rodriguez? There are plenty of fans on social media who truly love him; but seemingly as many who cannot stand him. As for concrete numbers – T-shirt and jersey sales for example – there is nothing being reported from reputable firms which detail such measures at this time.

The Yankees are a multibillion dollar business. Their marketing team surely crunched the numbers and deemed printing special items surrounding Rodriguez’s home runs would not bring in the revenue (or profits) they expected when agreeing to the milestone addendum. If the Yankees believed they could still profit from Rodriguez in some way, they would. The reality is that the Yankees do not and it is easier to suggest they are correct, than to imply they are missing the boat.

Yes, Rodriguez is helping the team win games right now. And he is being paid to do just that. He will receive every penny of the remaining $61 million on his contract through the 2017 season. But, home runs 660, 714, 755, 762 and 763 mean nothing more to the club now except for how many runs he drives in with them. How those home runs impact the specific game is all the Yankees believe they are worth at the moment.

Placing Rodriguez on a mantel above Mays, Ruth, Aaron and even Bonds (who has only been suspected of PED use, none of which have been proven or admitted to by the slugger) is not going to net the club extra profits and they feel that celebrating Rodriguez makes them look as though they support how he got there.

The Yankees will pay Rodriguez for his performance as they are obligated to, but will fight to have to pay more for home runs they believe mean little to the bottom line and would put the club’s integrity at risk. It is hard to argue with that stance.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a correspondent for FantasyPros, where he writes a weekly column covering the closer/bullpen situations around Major League Baseball. His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports, the FanSided network, Sportsideo and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.



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