DALLAS - Superstar shortstop Alex Rodriguez exceeded even the wildest expectations that had grown up around his long-anticipated foray into the free-agent market, agreeing yesterday to a 10-year contract with the Texas Rangers that makes him the richest athlete in the history of professional team sports.
The $252 million deal negotiated by agent Scott Boras doubles the previous record sports contract - NBA star Kevin Garnett's $126 million with the Minnesota Timberwolves. It more than doubles the total guarantee received by pitcher Mike Hampton ($123.8 million) when he briefly became the richest player in baseball history on Friday.
"We all knew he was the best free agent in the marketplace and we knew he would be expensive," said Rangers owner Tom Hicks, "but we believe this guy is a perfect fit for our team and for our community, and we feel he's the guy to get us to the next level. I think with Alex Rodriguez our team has a chance to leapfrog into an arena that we've never played in before."
The Rodriguez deal capped the most eventful day of baseball's annual winter meetings, one on which free-agent pitcher Kevin Appier officially joined the New York Mets; Darren Dreifort re-signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers; the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros completed a six-player deal involving veteran catcher Brad Ausmus and speedy outfielder Roger Cedeno; and free-agent slugger Manny Ramirez reportedly agreed to a $160 million, eight-year deal with the Boston Red Sox.
There also was a flurry of lesser free-agent signings and smaller deals, including one that sent Orioles catching prospect Jayson Werth to the Toronto Blue Jays for left-hander John Bale.
But the entire baseball world had been waiting for a decision from Rodriguez, whose destination has been the subject of intense speculation for more than a year.
The Mets and Dodgers were considered the front-runners when Rodriguez filed for free agency six weeks ago, but neither of those teams was in the hunt when Boras whittled the field to a handful of clubs before completing the record deal with the Rangers.
"I think in the Dallas area, this day will mark the beginning of an era of national prominence for the Texas Rangers' franchise," said Boras, who was the first agent to break the $100 million barrier with pitcher Kevin Brown in 1998.
The middle-market Seattle Mariners were in it to the end - at least twice making offers that would have made Rodriguez the richest player in the game - but general manager Pat Gillick said that the Texas bid was out of their financial league.
"We wish him the best," Gillick said. "Fortunately, we'll still get to see him [in the American League]. Unfortunately, he's going to play against us 19 or 20 times a year."
The massive contract is sure to give Rangers fans a warm feeling about the club and its brightened future, but it sent another big shiver through a troubled industry.
Two years after Major League Baseball executive vice president Sandy Alderson blasted the Dodgers for giving Brown a $105 million deal that blew the roof off the game's salary structure, he was standing outside the press room at the Wyndham Anatole Hotel wondering where the industry goes from here.
"Obviously, I would think it's bad for baseball," said Alderson. "It's over double what it is possible to be paid in the NBA. That's alarming."
Someone joked to Alderson that Rodriguez had just become the first true franchise player, because his new contract will give him enough money to buy his own franchise.
"Depending on which franchise you're referring to," Alderson quipped, "he could be the first three-franchise player. That's a lot of money."
The contract includes substantial deferred money and also gives Rodriguez, 25, a unilateral "opt-out" clause that will allow him to return to the free-agent market after the 2007 season.
"It's a big contract," Hicks said, "but Alex is the only player in baseball who deserves that kind of contract. Saying that, Alex gave us the opportunity to structure the contract with long-term deferred salary that gives us the flexibility to surround him with players who can help us achieve our goals."
Rodriguez was not available for comment. He will appear today at an afternoon news conference at The Ballpark at Arlington.
"This club made a major commitment and Alex made a major commitment," Boras said. "I think you'll see that he's one happy guy."
He should be. The gross value of the contract is higher than the value of more than half of baseball's 30 franchises, but Hicks, who paid $2 million less for the Rangers ($250 million) than for Rodriguez, insisted that it will not strain the team's budget.
"We went through a process last year of taking the payroll down to make the team younger while keeping our core stars," Hicks said. "That put us in a position to have the financial capability to take on this contract. ...The Texas Rangers will be a profitable team next year. We're within our budget."