Less than half of $40M is guaranteed

Updated: February 4, 2004, 9:38 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

DETROIT -- Ivan Rodriguez finalized his long-discussed contract with the Detroit Tigers on Monday, leaving the World Series champion Florida Marlins to join a team that last year set the American League record for losses.

Tom Candiotti's Take
Tom Candiotti
The Tigers didn't have an experienced, bona-fide catcher last year -- but they have one now.

I was surprised that Ivan Rodriguez signed with last-place Detroit. After all, he won the World Series with the Marlins in 2003, and it doesn't appear that the Tigers are going to the Series anytime soon. I thought he might sign with a contender. But the four-year, $40 million contract must have convinced him.

I expect Pudge to help Detroit's young pitching staff develop and mature. He has called crucial pitches in crucial games, and he knows what it'll take to get his pitchers to the next level.

At the plate, Pudge swings a legitimate bat with power (plus the ability to hit to all fields). He could bat anywhere from No. 2 to No. 5 in Detroit's lineup. He knows how to deliver in the clutch. Moving from the NL to the AL, he'll be able to take a day off from catching on occasion yet still contribute offensively as a DH.

The Tigers will look to Pudge to be a steppingstone to success as part of their long-term rebuilding program.

ESPN baseball analyst Tom Candiotti was a major-league pitcher for 16 seasons.

"This is an exciting day for me," Rodriguez said. "I know they had a bad season last year, but I think this is going to be a completely different season."

The signing of the 10-time All-Star catcher is the latest high-profile move by the Tigers, who went 43-119 last season. Detroit won five of its last six games to avoid tying the post-1900 major league record of 120 losses, set by the 1962 Mets.

"If you don't mind for a moment, I'm going to soak this up a little bit," said Tigers manager Alan Trammell, who indicated Rodriguez could hit in the No. 3 spot in the lineup. "This is how it starts. This is how we get better."

Although Rodriguez's contract was announced as a four-year, $40 million deal, Major League Baseball officials told ESPN.com that in terms of economic reality, the guaranteed value of the contract is actually less than half of the announced figure.

MLB officials have confirmed that, in reality, Rodriguez has a two-year guaranteed contract worth about $19 million in present-day value.

Rodriguez, a 10-time Gold Glove winner and the MVP of the 2003 NL Championship Series, will get $7 million this year, $8 million in 2005 and $11 million each in 2006 and 2007, according to contract information obtained by The Associated Press. The Tigers have a $13 million option for 2008 with a $3 million buyout.

Detroit will defer $2 million of his salary in 2004 and $3 million each in 2006 and 2007, all at 1 percent interest.

If Rodriguez goes on the disabled list for 35 or more days in 2004 or 2005 because of a lower spine injury, Detroit could void the rest of contract by paying a $5 million buyout. If he goes on the DL for 35 or more days in 2006 because of a lower spine injury, the Tigers could terminate the deal by paying a $4 million buyout.

Because the Tigers can void the contract after the first two years, Rodriguez's $22 million in salary in 2006 and 2007 is not, in normal economic terms, guaranteed. Only the $5 million buyout of those two years is, in fact, truly guaranteed.

Therefore, Rodriguez's actual guarantee is his $7 million salary for this year, his $8 million salary for 2005 and the $5 million buyout. That comes to $20 million. But MLB officials have confirmed that deferrals would lessen the present-day value to about $19 million.

It is believed that this is the first contract in modern history to include clauses that void entire seasons of a deal involving a previously healthy player for health reasons. Normally, contracts of this sort are structured as two-year deals, with option years that vest if the player stays healthy.

Fantasy Focus
Pudge Rodriguez The immediate reaction for fantasy owners who have made Pudge Rodriguez one of their keepers is probably disappointment. Detroit? In that park? But is that emotion really warranted? Rodriguez is one of the top four fantasy catchers around, joining Mike Piazza, Jorge Posada and Javy Lopez, no matter what scoring system you use. He's a good bet to hit .300 in any season, approach 20 homers and steal double-digit bases, which nobody does. But now he's in Detroit, and you're sad.

The truth is that Comerica Park wasn't that bad for hitters last season; it just looks worse because the Tigers had no offense. (And yes, we realize the Tigers horrific pitching contributed to the opposition's runs.) In reality there were fewer runs scored at 11 other MLB stadiums, including Wrigley Field and Pro Player Stadium (28th overall), where Pudge did just fine last year. Nobody would have shied away from Pudge had the Cubs signed him. Look for Pudge to hit third or fourth for the Tigers, making leadoff hitter Alex Sanchez more attractive in fantasy, as well as middle of the order guys Dmitri Young, Bobby Higginson and Carlos Pena. And his numbers should look no worse than the ones he put up in 2003.
-- Eric Karabell

In order for this contract to be constructed in an opposite way, indications are that both the commissioner's office and the Major League Baseball Players Association had to accept a special agreement on the wording of the contract.

Rodriguez would also get a $500,000 bonus of he's voted the American League MVP, an award he won with Texas in 1999. If he wins the award twice under the contract, he would get $1 million the second time.

Rodriguez had a $10 million, one-year deal with the Marlins last season. He asked for a $40 million, four-year contract from Florida, which broke off talks Dec. 7.

Scott Boras, Rodriguez's agent who negotiated the deal with the Tigers, said his client was excited about playing in the AL Central.

"Pudge said to me, 'I know that division. That division could be mine,'" Boras said.

Rodriguez also said the personal involvement of Detroit owner Mike Ilitch played a part in his decision.

"It kind of evolved where I started to get into the process a little bit more," Ilitch said. "Before, things weren't working well. We weren't getting the right players in. We weren't performing well."

The Tigers have been active in the free-agent market, but they had not signed an undisputed star such as Rodriguez.

Second baseman Fernando Vina and outfielder Rondell White agreed to $6 million, two-year deals in December, and starting pitcher Jason Johnson signed a $7 million, two-year contract later that month.

At a lower level, Detroit also agreed to one-year contracts with right-hander Al Levine ($925,000) and catcher Mike DiFelice ($650,000) and to minor league deals with third baseman Greg Norton and pitcher Esteban Yan.

DiFelice was signed to back up Brandon Inge, a solid catcher defensively, who hit .203 with eight home runs in 104 games.

The Tigers also traded for Seattle shortstop Carlos Guillen.

Information from ESPN.com senior writer Jayson Stark and The Associated Press was used in this report.