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A-Rod needs to get off the fence
By Peter Gammons
Special to ESPN.com
What Alex Rodriguez has found in his month's stroll across the Greenland known as free agency is that there are a lot of people who tell him he is a baseball deity but as soon as he turns his back they hum, "What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us?"
It started with Steve Phillips tearing into Scott Boras for allegedly asking for more perks than New York's junior senator. And then this week, A-Rod's Web site suggested that the Mariners should move in their fences and evoked a simple answer to that suggestion from general manager Pat Gillick, who understands the price of World Series rings, "No, we want to win. One player does not dictate policy."
Rodriguez is going to end up with enough money to buy the Expos. He is a great player, a damn good guy. But the road to unlimited devotion is paved with pebbles of mortal selfishness. This should be, and is, about what's best for Alex Rodriguez, but in trying to make it seem broader than that, he has left Boras with what one general manager calls "a PR wart. A-Rod is not yet Mark McGwire, and what's happened this past month has tainted Rodriguez, however innocently."
Boras would like a stage for A-Rod to make him Tiger, Michael and Ricky Martin wrapped into one, but Boras and Rodriguez make it clear that ideally they'll have what Derek Jeter has -- four rings. That then begs the individual vs. team question even further: Does Rodriguez want a limo to Cooperstown by playing in Coors Field or Camden Yards, or does he want to go the Braves for less money and a higher certainty of October prime time?
A check of A-Rod's numbers from 2000 reveals he did hit much better on the road and that Safeco was a tough place to hit:
A-Rod at home: .272, 13 HRs, .908 OPS
Mariners at home: 72 home runs, .760 OPS
Of course, there's also this statistic: Seattle went 47-34 at home, 44-37 on the road.
As he whittles though the offers this week, Rodriguez can get his record salary in Texas, he can get 10 years in Colorado, and the Orioles might give him Cal Ripken as his valet. But in Texas, he is looking at a potential two months of 100-degree weather, two starters named Ryan Glynn and Doug Davis and no proven closer. In Colorado, as a baseball sage named Scott Schuster points out, Todd Helton never got his props because of the park, one that left Jeff Cirillo with a 1.079/.628 Coors/road OPS split, and that whatever A-Rod achieved there would come with an asterisk as big as the one aside G.W. Bush's name. The Orioles? One executive Tuesday asked, "What's more difficult: Signing a pitcher in Colorado or signing any player in Baltimore?"
Gillick and the Mariners aren't moving in the fences because they know that pitching wins, and it's a lot easier to develop pitching in a pitcher's park. Now, this flies in the face of the entertainment theory, but in the real world of loyal paying customers, they have offered the multiple choice quiz -- which would you prefer? 1) 250 home runs; 2) 92 wins and/or 3) games that get you to bed by 11.
The Mariners found that two out of three ain't bad, and you can keep your home runs, four-hour games and inflated arbitration numbers. Seattle has Ichiro Suzuki in right, Mike Cameron in center and a Jay Buhner/Al Martin platoon in left. The Mariners may sign Mike Bordick to play second or short, and with their pitching believe they can go as deep if not deeper than last year's club that reached the ALCS.
They got to the playoffs with Freddy Garcia dropping from 17 to nine wins because of injuries, Jamie Moyer struggling, Gil Meche limited to 15 starts, John Halama with a 4.35/6.15 home/road ERA differential, Brett Tomko at 2.68/6.47 and Ryan Anderson still down the road apiece.
With a deep, power bullpen, the Mariners can develop their strong starting rotation, which they never could have done in the Kingdome. It's a lot easier to win in a big park; ask Oakland. It's a lot easier to lose in hitter's park; ask the Orioles or Astros. It's the Pat Riley issue: Would you rather see your team win scoring 81 points, or be entertained with a 141-126 loss?
If, as some feel, Newscorp will authorize a $140 million budget for the Dodgers to try to win now before Bud Selig changes the system, Rodriguez can win in Los Angeles -- although it's not a home run park and if he hits a home run in the ninth inning, two-thirds of the crowd may have long since driven home. He can win in Comiskey Park, if the White Sox don't move the fences too far forward and inhibit the development of their young pitchers. The Rangers have a ton of minor-league talent, and if they can find some pitching to go with one of the best catchers and shortstops ever, he can win in Dallas, although he still might be on Page 3 because the Cowboys have released an offensive guard. He can win in Atlanta, although baseball is a second language in that town. He can win in Seattle, it has become a great baseball town, and he'd own it as the favorite son ... but there are going to be a lot of 4-2, 2:31 games not conducive to his topping those AL stat leaderboards.
There is no perfect place, no perfect search, for with the tag as the greatest free agent to ever hit the market, comes the iconoclastic stains of public stature.
News and notes
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