Hank Steinbrenner may be new to the baseball business, but the eldest son of George Steinbrenner knows one thing: If you don't want to be a Yankee, the Yankees don't want you
That was Steinbrenner's message to Alex Rodriguez last night after he learned that the third baseman had opted out of the final three years of his contract, electing to become a free agent before the Yankees even had a chance to offer him an extension.
"It's clear he didn't want to be a Yankee
," Hank Steinbrenner told the Daily News last night. "He doesn't understand the privilege of being a Yankee on a team where the owners are willing to pay $200 million to put a winning product on the field.
"I don't want anybody on my team that doesn't want to be a Yankee."
Rodriguez's decision means that the Texas Rangers will save almost $30 million that had been on its way to New York to help pay for the final three years of A-Rod's contract, which would have paid him $91 million over those three seasons.
The Yankees were planning to offer A-Rod a contract extension of five years and about $135 million to $140 million, a deal that would have kept the two-time MVP in pinstripes through his 40th birthday.
The Yankees had not yet made the offer, as they were trying to set up a face-to-face meeting with agent Scott Boras and A-Rod, a meeting that never happened.
The Yankees have said time and time again that they will not pursue Rodriguez as a free agent because of the money they would now no longer receive from the Rangers. Last night, Steinbrenner made it clear that his team had no intention of changing its tune on that stance.
"We're not going to back down," Steinbrenner said. "It's goodbye."
According to Boras, Rodriguez wanted to know what direction the Yankees were moving in before he agreed to any contract extension, something that was unlikely to happen before Rodriguez's opt-out deadline of 10 days after the World Series.
Boras cited the uncertainty over the status of pending free agents such as Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte as A-Rod's biggest concern. As it turns out, all Rodriguez had to do was return a phone call if he wanted that information.
Steinbrenner said last night that both he and his brother, Hal, personally placed phone calls to Rodriguez expressing their desire to keep him in pinstripes, but neither call was returned by the third baseman.
"I'll tell you this: the commitment from my family is '78 through '96," Steinbrenner said of the team's direction. "We will never go 18 years without a championship again. That's our commitment."
If the Yankees stand by their well-stated position not to bid on Rodriguez as a free agent, then one of the most controversial Yankee careers will end after four years of incredible ups and downs.
In his first season as a Yank, A-Rod hit .286 with 36 homers and 106 RBI in 2004. He carried the Yankees through the division series against the Twins and crushed the ball in the first three games of the ALCS against the Red Sox, but he went cold in the four-game fold against Boston, taking a lot of heat for the worst collapse in postseason history.
A-Rod rebounded with an MVP season in 2005, hitting .321 with 48 homers and 130 RBI, but his season ended with a disastrous 2-for-15, no-RBI performance in the five-game first-round loss to the Angels. His 2006 season (.290-35-121) was solid, but another October collapse, this time a 1-for-14 series in a four-game loss to the Tigers, left A-Rod with a label as playoff choke artist.
This year, Rodriguez came to spring training with a new attitude, and it helped him post the finest overall season of his career. But after hitting .314 with 54 home runs and 156 RBI (and a likely third career MVP award), A-Rod managed just one solo homer and three meaningless singles in another first-round playoff exit, likely the lasting image of his time in pinstripes.