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December 06, 2001

Rangers owe it to Pudge
By Rob Dibble

If Tom Hicks and Doug Melvin trade All-Star catcher Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez in an attempt to save face from their own poor managerial decisions, they will be making a huge mistake.

One of the top five players in the game today, a catcher of Rodriguez' magnitude is hard to find these days. He holds more than his own on the field, and he's a strong presence in the clubhouse.

Ivan Rodriguez
Ivan Rodriguez is among the best catchers of all time.

There are only one or two active catchers who can compare to Pudge's offensive talents. Mike Piazza comes to mind, but Piazza can't hold a candle to him defensively. Rodriguez is up there with Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra as one of the best all-around catchers to ever play the game.

Unloading the already underpaid superstar and 1999 MVP because they don't want to pay him what he's worth is ridiculous. Four years ago, Rodriguez was on his way to the New York Yankees, but a few days before signing he walked into then-president Tom Schieffer's office and accepted an extension -- that was way less than his market value -- of $42 million over five years.

After signing Alex Rodriguez for $252 million, how can the Rangers justify dumping Pudge for a couple of pitching prospects, who, if they're lucky, will produce one gem out of the bunch? How do they justify showing more loyalty to a guy they just signed for a quarter of a billion dollars over someone who's played in their organization for the last 10 years?

Going into the season, it was no big secret to Hicks and Melvin that the Rangers pitching staff was going to be horrible. They were the worst pitching staff in baseball last year with a 5.52 ERA, and they are even worse this year. Their managerial philosophy was that a strong offense and a solid defense could make up for a nonexistent bullpen -- and they trusted it.

Johnny Oates has already paid for their mismanagement. It is reprehensible that the next guy to be penalized is someone who -- out of loyalty -- took less money and would love to finish his career as a Ranger. It's the perfect example of what's wrong with baseball today. Every team in the league knows the Rangers are in dire need of pitching, so they won't get anything close to market value for Rodriguez. At best, they'll get four brutal pitching prospects.

At 13 games out of first place, the Rangers don't have any realistic chance to get back in the race. If Cleveland or Boston don't win their divisions, they'll most likely win the wild card. What the Rangers should do is save their money, pay Pudge what he's worth, wait out the rest of the season and then go after some really good free-agent pitchers.

What Hicks and Melvin need to realize is that they've already lost face. The Rangers have the opportunity to return the loyalty that was shown to them. Dumping a guy fans have grown to love is not the answer. Pudge deserves to play along side A-Rod. Together, they could be a nucleus the Rangers can build on.

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How much longer will Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez be with the Rangers? ESPN's Peter Gammons weighs in.
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