Monday, September 26, 2005

Walking Away?

There are more important issues to discuss at this juncture of the season, but after watching the tribute to Bernie during Sunday’s bout, I think something needs to be said.

What does Bernie have to gain by leaving the Yankees? In what way would a change of scenery be beneficial to the aging star? There are a few reasons that guys bolt from their team when their contract is up, but realistically, none of them play to Bernie’s advantage. Let’s break this down, shall we?

Free Agent Departure Reason #1: Dolla Dolla Bills, Y’All
And Bernie has made plenty of them over the years, having signed that $89.5 million deal following the ’98 season. Now I’m no agent, so I’m just reporting hearsay on this issue, but I believe Bernie also received compensation for the Yanks not picking up the eighth year on his deal, to the tune of six large. So that’s roughly $95 mil he’s pocketed, just off this contract. He still had those years from ’91 through ’98, and while he wasn’t raking in $12 mil a season, $3 mil (his 1996 salary) is far from chump change.

Once again, I can’t back this with hard evidence, but Bern doesn’t seem like the kind of athlete that squanders his fortune. My only iota of knowledge of this is Bernie’s lack of non-baseball headlines during his tenure in New York. I can’t say for sure that Bernie still has a ton of money socked away; for all I know, he could be laying down Benjamins nightly for cocaine, booze and hookers. But from all the tidbits I’ve read, and not read, regarding him over the last 14 years, he seems like a sensible guy.

So it’s not like Jerry Rice, who reportedly blew through his NFL paychecks and needed another payday. And even if he could use a fiscal boost, what team would pay more for a 36-year-old center fielder than the Yankees? Let’s assume George is willing to part with between two and three mil for Bernie next year. What other team needs a center fielder so desperately that they’d be willing to toss significant dough at a 36-year-old? Especially a 36-year-old who has been scrutinized throughout the season for the way his body has been breaking down.

Free Agent Departure Reason #2: PT
Because no one, especially a former batting champ and four time World Series winner, wants to rot away on the bench. Not when they can be starting in another city. It’s been said that if Bernie does return to the Yanks next year, he would be playing a greatly diminished role. So if he was to get an offer elsewhere as a starter, it would make sense for him to pounce on the opportunity.

The problem with that, however, is similar to the financial conundrum. Is there a team out there desperate enough for an outfielder to pay Bernie? It would have to be a contender, since a team like Kansas City is infinitely better off with a young guy out there.

When you factor in his stats from the last three seasons, it makes even less sense for a team to pick up Bernie as a starter.
2005: .252/.325/.373
2004: .262/.360/.435
2003: .263/.367/.411

Additionally, Bernie’s Value Over Replacement Player this season is 10.0. Now, I realize many readers may not understand this statistic, as it is relatively new and still not frequently used. But to put this number into perspective, he ranks 13th in the American League and 15 guys in the NL have a better number. This does not bode well for Bernie.

Free Agent Departure Reason #3: Ill Will
Like T.O. last year, sometimes there’s just not enough money in the world that would make a player happy in a certain city. Maybe it’s the organization, maybe it’s the city, but either way, ill will is becoming a more common reason for guys bolting.

Now, I’m not 100 percent certain as to what Bernie’s stance towards the Yanks is. But I’m just figuring, based on the four world championships and the $100 mil they’ve handed him in paycheck form, he’s not exactly down on them. Sure, Steinbrenner is a pain in the ass, but those dollars double as a healing ointment, or so I’m told.

As for the city, well, what Bernie feels towards New York should be the antithesis of ill will. This is a city that embraced him when he subbed for Roberto Kelly – then one of our biggest names – when he was injured back in ’91. We loved the way he kept a low profile and just played the game, scorching homers and line drives on his way to becoming an elite center fielder.

Hell, we even overlooked the soap opera in the late autumn of ’98, when he nearly signed with the enemy. We forgave his spiel about it being time to move on, that he’s had great years in New York, but it’s not the place for him any more. He was welcomed back with open arms when George opened his man purse and anted up the requisite coin to hang on to him.

So why would Bernie, in the twilight of his career, don a new uniform when there’s only one he has worn to this point? Why leave a city that loves him unconditionally? Why walk away from George’s money?