DALLAS — Redefining sports contracts, the Texas Rangers on Monday made free-agent shortstop Alex Rodriguez the nation's highest-salaried athlete, agreeing to a record 10-year, $252-million deal that heightened concerns about the future of baseball.
The host Rangers made many moves at the winter meetings here and completed the biggest deal with arguably baseball's best player, luring Rodriguez from the Seattle Mariners--their American League West division rival--with a package worth more than the individual estimated values of 18 major league franchises.
The deal surpassed the previous U.S. athlete record for total value and average annual salary--the six-year, $126-million contract Kevin Garnett signed with the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves in 1997.
Rodriguez, who did not attend a news conference to announce the agreement, is scheduled to meet with reporters today at The Ballpark at Arlington.
News of Rodriguez's contract was not well received by baseball officials concerned about payroll disparity and dizzying spending.
The Rangers were criticized for being the first sports team to break the $200-million barrier, but they got the player they coveted.
"Obviously, you do not ever make a commitment of this nature unless you're talking about a very special individual," said Texas owner Tom Hicks, who negotiated the stunning deal with Rodriguez's agent, Scott Boras.
"It's a big contract and a very unique contract, and he's the only player in baseball who deserves this contract. Alex is an unusual player, and we felt this was something we had to do to take the Texas Rangers to the level we want to reach."
Rodriguez is to receive a $10-million signing bonus to be spread over the first five years of the contract, making his salary $23 million annually during that span.
The four-time all-star, 25, will have salaries of $27 million in 2005, $25 million in 2006, and $27 million each over the last four seasons, with the Rodriguez having the option of becoming a free agent in 2007.
After the eighth season, the contract includes an "escalator" clause that assures Rodriguez of being among baseball's top-paid players during the remainder of his contract. The clause gives Rodriguez the option of either a $5-million bonus or $1 million more than the top-paid player in the ninth and 10th seasons of the contract.
Rodriguez had a salary of $4.25 million last season.
His new package, of which $36 million is deferred with 3% interest, topped the previous record of $121 million over eight years, set Friday in an agreement pitcher Mike Hampton reached with the Colorado Rockies.
"We have to be concerned with what we've seen," said Sandy Alderson, major league baseball's vice president of baseball operations.
"What we have done, what the commissioner has done, is take a public position on this and made a commitment to change. Those of us who are also concerned about this must work with the commissioner to make changes because ultimately this has to be changed."
With Rodriguez agreeing to terms, the Rangers are committed to paying $81 million to only 15 players after having a $70-million payroll last season.
The Rangers also agreed to terms with third baseman Ken Caminiti, first baseman Andres Galarraga and reliever Mark Petkovsek at the meetings, trying to surround their new leading man with a better supporting cast.
"We went into this with an ambitious plan after not having much fun last season," said General Manager Doug Melvin, whose club finished 71-91, last in the AL West. "Alex Rodriguez is the kind of player we feel sends a message that the Rangers are serious about winning."
Rodriguez joins a lineup that includes all-star catcher Ivan Rodriguez and other productive everyday players, but there are rotation and bullpen questions.
"When you pay one player a lot of money you sometimes have to sacrifice in other areas," said New York Met General Manager Steve Phillips. "Obviously, it's an extraordinary contract for an extraordinary player.
"Texas thought it was the right thing to do for them. Clearly, with the other acquisitions they've made, they're going to have a strong team."
The Mariners is expected to have a good club as well, despite losing their third franchise-caliber player in as many seasons, having traded pitcher Randy Johnson and center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. before they could depart as free agents.
The Mariners will receive a draft pick as compensation for Rodriguez signing with the Rangers, but that won't minimize the sting.
"The Mariners have done everything possible to keep Alex in Seattle," the club said in a four-paragraph statement. "We are disappointed that he could not remain a leader for us but, of course, we wish Alex well.
"We thank him for his efforts with the Mariners and for the memories he has provided for sports fans in the Northwest. Now it's time to move on."
It didn't go over well with many of the small-market teams.