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Signing Rodríguez Makes No Sense Lighter Pudge Feels Fit, Aims High
Signing Rodríguez Makes No Sense
DAN LE BATARD
January 23, 2003
This rotting Marlins franchise is so blindly desperate for something positive, anything,
that management spent $10 million Wednesday to buy some good PR. It wasn't the best way to spend that much money, or even a smart way, but it passes for improvement around here, where spending poorly beats the other gruesome alternatives -- like paying Mike Hampton $23 million to pitch for your division rival.
It makes you wonder, though, about the competence of Florida's baseball people when the blueprint is so meandering and stupefyingly inconsistent that the Marlins will save a few pennies by firing the mascot but blow the budget on a catcher they don't need.
Baseball is moving in one direction, with the Red Sox making 29-year-old Theo Epstein their general manager because he has a pioneering and mathematical approach to baseball, but the Marlins remain stuck in the musty past, a confounded caveman confronted with a computer.
Wednesday's signing is the kind that makes Oakland General Manager Billy Beane, the smartest man in the business, laugh out loud at how much brighter he is than his competition at squeezing value from his limited dollars.
Pudge Rodríguez, 10-time All-Star, is a neon name and a nice player, but here's the problem:
The Marlins just gave him twice as much money as they're paying any of their other players even though, offensively, he isn't even as good as Kevin Millar or Cliff Floyd -- both of whom, incidentally, could have remained Marlins this season for less than the $10 million Rodríguez just received.
This isn't an opinion; this is the simple math being practiced by the Beanes and Epsteins of the world but not the Marlins.
Smart baseball people use something called OPS to measure the offensive worth of players. It combines slugging percentage and on-base percentage -- independent numbers unlike, say, RBI, which relies too much on the lineup around a hitter. The guy hitting behind Barry Bonds is going to get his 100 RBI, for example, even if he is awful, because Bonds is always on base in front of him. Slugging percentage, on-base percentage and OPS measure his true worth without taking into account the surrounding lineup.
Rodríguez's career OPS is .831.
Floyd's is .851.
Millar's is .871.
A huge difference? No. But, again, the importance is in value per dollar. That is what has kept Beane's A's in the playoffs the past few years despite one-fourth the resources the Yankees have and despite a smaller payroll than the Marlins. Millar and Floyd are better hitters than Rodríguez, at a fraction of the cost. And now you know why Boston's Epstein wanted Millar so badly.
Mike Redmond and Ray Castro, while not sexy, are a cost-efficient platoon at catcher. Rodríguez is many things, but cost efficient isn't one of them. Is he an upgrade? Absolutely. He just isn't a $10 million one.
Yes, Rodríguez was the American League MVP in 1999 with 35 homers and 113 RBI, but he has not had as many as 30 homers or 100 RBI in any season before or since in an offense-inflated time. Those 113 RBI, incidentally, came in a lineup where a lot more people got on base than these Marlins. And in a hitter's park, which his present home isn't.
So here's your offseason tally: The Marlins were 12th in the National League in runs scored last year even with Floyd, Millar, Preston Wilson and Charles Johnson. They've replaced those bats with below-average Todd Hollandsworth, below-average Juan Pierre, below-average Gerald Williams, average Juan Encarnacion and now Pudge.
They are worse offensively today, in other words, than they were at last year's All-Star break -- and in a division where the Mets, Braves and Phillies improved themselves more markedly.
The idea to spend was a good one, mind you.
But you have to spend wisely. What's the reason? Pudge will lure fans? No, he won't, not here. The Marlins couldn't draw if they threw his $10 million right on the field.
And never mind the mileage on Rodríguez. Never mind his history of injury. Never mind that he's at an age when, without fail, the brutal battering of the position makes catchers regress quickly (Exhibit A, your honor: Charles Johnson). And never mind that there are very good reasons Rodríguez was still unemployed and available a few weeks before pitchers and catchers are due to report.
Here's the biggest problem with this signing: The Marlins had plenty of positions where they needed this kind of upgrade but catcher wasn't one of them.
This is the Carmen Electra of baseball signings -- sexy but not smart.
The Marlins have just put breast enhancements on a corpse.
Lighter Rodriguez Feels Fit, Aims High
By Juan C. Rodriguez
January 25, 2003
Miami Lakes · The question came in his native tongue, and Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez responded in kind. Enough Spanish speakers were present at Shula's Steak II on Friday afternoon to send up hearty cheers upon hearing the answer.
What does Rodriguez hope to accomplish in 2003?
"My goal is to take the Florida Marlins to the playoffs," he said.
That's just what the Marlins had in mind earlier this week when they committed $10 million for one season of Rodriguez's services. Upon passing an extensive physical Friday, Rodriguez's deal, $7 million of which is deferred, became official.
The Marlins introduced Rodriguez, wife Maribel, and their three children, Ivan Dereck (10), Amanda Christine (7), and Ivanna Sofia (2) to an excited gathering of fans. The family is new to the organization but not to South Florida.
A 12-year member of the Texas Rangers, Rodriguez bought a 15-room house in Miami Beach in April 2001 to cut down his travel time from Dallas to Puerto Rico. The family has since sold the residence abroad and lives in Miami Beach year round.
Since the signing, team President David Samson said the buzz has been audible in the form of ticket sales. The Marlins, who ranked 29th out of 30 teams in attendance last season, had sold 218 ticket plans since Wednesday night at last count.
"My e-mails have taken a turn for the better, which is always nice," Samson said.
Rodriguez already filmed his first promotional spot, encouraging spectators to attend FanFest on Feb. 8. Though team officials hope adding a future Hall of Fame catcher helps baseball regain a foothold in South Florida, they want his biggest contribution to come on the field.
Rodriguez hopes to get the Marlins to the playoffs by topping the numbers that won him the 1999 American League Most Valuable Player award. That season he was a .332 hitter for the Rangers with 29 doubles, 35 homers, and 113 RBI.
Injuries ranging from a fractured thumb to knee problems to a herniated disc have precluded Rodriguez from appearing in enough games each of the last three seasons to approach those statistics. Able to work out in the same capacity he did in 1999, Rodriguez sees no reason he can't become an offensive force again.
"I'm in different shape," said Rodriguez, who will start spring training next month at 218, 12 pounds lighter than he did a year ago. "I've always said I want to surpass the numbers from my previous season. This year my goal is to top the numbers from my season in 1999 ... I have the physical preparation to do it."