PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - Not long after the Texas Rangers broke the bank to sign superstar shortstop Alex Rodriguez, the questions started piling up around the guy who used to be the most valuable player on the team.
If A-Rod is worth $252 million, what about I-Rod?
Catcher Ivan Rodriguez has been one of the cornerstones of the franchise since he arrived in the major leagues 10 years ago. He won the American League Most Valuable Player award two years ago, owns nine Gold Gloves and has made the All-Star team every year he has been a full-time player.
The Rangers have him under contract for two more years, but there was legitimate concern that A-Rod's big deal would leave I-Rod feeling underpaid and under-appreciated. After all, his five-year, $42 million contract looks pretty puny next to A-Rod's record 10-year deal.
But "Pudge" went out of his way last week to convince reporters that the money is a non-issue. He agreed to be the opening act in the Alex Rodriguez media circus on Wednesday and made it clear that he is not demanding a new contract.
"I feel very happy for him," Ivan Rodriguez said. "He deserves the money because he's the best player in the game. I feel happy with the contract that I have now. When I signed this contract, my family and I were happy. Why wouldn't I be happy now?"
It was a class act. I-Rod could have been forgiven for feeling a little left out, considering his long and impressive service to the franchise, but he knows what the addition of Alex Rodriguez could mean to a team that finished last in the American League West last year.
"A lot of people are going to watch the Rangers this year," he said. "They expect us to go all the way. That's what is in our minds, too."
Sometimes it pays to be a good soldier. Even though I-Rod has made no demands, the Rangers are open to the concept of an extension and already have had some preliminary discussions with agent Jeff Moorad on the subject.
The front office has two years to figure out how to keep everyone happy, but figures to lock Rodriguez up before he enters his walk year in 2002.
The Rangers' payroll is going to be about $85 million this season, one of the highest in the game, but the club's growing revenue stream makes it conceivable that I-Rod soon will become the club's second megabucks player.
A-Rod answers critics
When the inevitable question about the possible negative effect of Alex Rodriguez's record contract on the future financial stability of baseball was asked, A-Rod was ready.
"They said that about Babe Ruth," he said. "Baseball has never been healthier. We drew 73 million people last year. Baseball owners are good businessmen. If they weren't making money, salaries wouldn't be going up as fast as they are."
Certainly, there are a lot of teams that would take issue with his assessment, but it's hard to argue with the basic logic of it. If Rangers owner Tom Hicks didn't feel he could afford it, he probably wouldn't have kept bidding against himself to get the price up to $252 million.
Baseball contracts are growing so rapidly that they are beginning to outstrip the ability of teams to insure them. General manager Doug Melvin revealed that the Rangers were only able to insure the first five years of the Rodriguez deal for a total of $100 million.
"In five years, you can try to revisit it," Melvin said.
If Rodriguez suffered a career-ending injury before that, however, the club would be on the hook for the remaining balance of the contract - a liability of more than $100 million, depending on how you figure the value of the deferred money in the deal.
If the fallout from the deal hasn't been felt in the Rangers' clubhouse, it certainly seems to be having an effect elsewhere.
Los Angeles Dodgers superstar Gary Sheffield reported Friday to spring training and is still discontent over his contract status, even though he has long been considered one of baseball's most overpaid players.
Sheffield persuaded the Florida Marlins to give him a six-year, $65 milllion contract back when that was considered a ridiculous amount of money for a guy who already was known to be a problem child. He also got a huge bonus from the Dodgers when he waived his no-trade clause to go to Los Angeles in the Mike Piazza deal in 1998.
Now, he has all but forced the Dodgers to trade him by sitting out the first few days of training camp and - worse than that - blasting several teammates in a national baseball publication.
Earth to Kevin Malone: Have fun trying to get anything of value for this self-centered adolescent.
The Seattle Mariners already have turned down an overture from the Dodgers, who hoped to deal Sheffield for Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki. Look for more turndowns in the next few weeks.