Alex Rodriguez isn't sure anyone is worth $252 million.
Baseball's highest-paid player reported to spring training Wednesday, saying he felt overcompensated even before the Texas Rangers gave him the richest deal in sports history. He hopes to repay owner Tom Hicks by winning championships.
"I've always said the happiest I've ever been is when the Mariners signed me and gave me my first million dollars. At 17 years old, I thought that was pretty scary," Rodriguez said after joining his new teammates for a late-morning workout at Charlotte County Stadium in Port Charlotte, Fla.
"I'm almost embarrassed and ashamed of this contract, because my personality is to go out and play baseball. I've always been the underdog who's gone out and played well and tried to show everybody that I'm worth being the No. 1 pick or a 40-40 guy. Now, there's this 252 tag over my head. What I enjoy is the responsibility that goes along with it, both on and off the field."
A local county fair was in full swing across the street from the Rangers' complex, but there was no bigger attraction than Rodriguez, whose arrival brought more than 100 reporters and photographers to the small community on Florida's southwest coast.
Rodriguez took batting practice and fielded grounders before answering questions for about 25 minutes at an afternoon news conference.
"I never dreamed in my wildest dreams that I would be making this type of money," Rodriguez said. "Like I say, it's almost embarrassing to talk about it. I don't know if Michael Jordan or Bill Gates or Alexander the Great or anyone is worth this type of money. But that's the market that we're in today. That's what Mr. Hicks decided to pay me and now it's time to go pay him back and win him a few championships."
Cincinnati Red pitcher Osvaldo Fernandez lost in salary arbitration, giving owners a 7-6 lead over players with one case left to be decided this year.
Fernandez, 4-3 with a 3.62 earned-run average last year in 14 starts and one relief appearance, was awarded $600,000 rather than his $1.2-million request. The right-hander made $500,000 last season.
Baltimore Oriole pitcher Jose Mercedes, whose hearing was Monday, was the final player awaiting a decision. He asked to be awarded $3.8 million instead of the team's $2.75 million offer.
Boston Red Sox pitcher Rich Garces, who was scheduled for a hearing, instead agreed to a one-year contract worth $1,375,000, nearly double his $695,000 salary last season.
Frank Thomas sat by his locker looking relaxed, trim and eager for spring training to begin.
Coming off what he called his best season, he made it clear he's happy with the Chicago White Sox, but said he deserves a pay raise that would put him in the upper echelon of major league salaries.
Thomas told reporters he deserves a raise from his current deal that runs through 2006 and will pay him $9,927,000 a season beginning this year.
Not being in the upper level of salaries, Thomas said, "didn't sit well in my stomach." He promised not to make it an issue.
The Seattle Mariners intend to keep unhappy Mark McLemore.
"We like Mac," General Manager Pat Gillick said. "We like what he can do for us at second base and other positions. He's a very valuable guy for us."
McLemore was the Mariners' regular second baseman last season. He asked to be traded after Gillick signed free agent Bret Boone.
"I don't think in our particular case that Mac saying 'Trade me' means that," Gillick said. "I think he's just saying, 'I want playing time.' "
Manny Ramirez will get plenty of chances to hit the ball over the Green Monster at Fenway Park and to field balls off it too.
Red Sox Manager Jimy Williams said he's switching his probable cleanup hitter from right field to left, a position he never played in his 967 games in seven-plus seasons with the Cleveland Indians.
Williams announced the move on the first day of full-team workouts to eliminate uncertainty and give Ramirez time to get used to the position.
"I don't know what to expect," Ramirez said. "He thinks I'm going to help the team in left. It's no problem. I'm just going to go and try my best."
Mark McGwire took his first swings of the spring, and hit at least a dozen batting practice home runs.
"I felt pretty good," McGwire said. "I love what I do and I think that's the bottom line. How could you not love to get in the box, see the ball and watch it go a long way?"
McGwire said he feels fully recovered from tendinitis in his right knee, an injury that landed him on the disabled list for two months and reduced him to pinch-hit duty the final month of the season and the playoffs.
Florida Marlin pitcher A.J. Burnett cut short his workout with the team because of an ailing right foot that has bothered him off and on since January.
Burnett had X-rays and scheduled a visit with a doctor today. The right-hander complained of a pinching sensation on the outside of his foot.
When asked if he was worried, Manager John Boles said, "I'm always concerned. As far as the X-rays, you want to be cautious and find out."
Pitcher Scott Williamson, the 1999 National League rookie of the year, was among four players who agreed to one-year contracts with the Reds. Infielder Donnie Sadler and right-handers Leo Estrella and Keith Glauber also agreed to one-year deals. . . . Second baseman Quilvio Veras was the only no-show as the Atlanta Braves' everyday players joined pitchers and catchers for a session lasting nearly three hours.