It's the summer of 2013, and Alex Rodriguez is finally getting the love and acceptance he craves. As he basks in the praise for his 715th career home run and takes aim at Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds, he's embracing the role of beloved elder statesman.
Critics who once slammed Rodriguez for wilting under pressure now admire him for the consistency, sportsmanship and strong work ethic he's displayed since breaking into professional ball with Seattle two decades ago.
He is 38 years old and he has never flunked a steroid test, posed for a mug shot, pulled a gun at a stop light or defamed the game with questionable off-field behavior. So who cares if he weighs his remarks for public consumption and seems obsessed with his self-image? Baseball fans certainly don't care as they stand and cheer, and sportswriters hail Rodriguez as the man who's about to ride to the rescue and knock Bonds from the top of the record books.
What uniform will A-Rod be wearing when he sets the home run record? As everybody knows, that question was resolved in November 2007.
The $252 million contract that Rodriguez signed with Texas six years ago is stunning for its magnitude and noteworthy for agent Scott Boras' foresight. It includes a clause giving Rodriguez the freedom to opt out after the 2007 season for any reason, and again in 2008 or 2009 if he's not earning $1 million more than the second highest-paid position player in the game.
Now that Manny Ramirez is staying in Boston and Bonds is re-signing with San Francisco -- we think -- it's the hot rumor du jour: A-Rod, tired of his best never being good enough in New York, plans to take advantage of his "opt out'' clause and flee for a more favorable environment.
He's not the only big leaguer with an escape clause. A.J. Burnett and Vernon Wells have similar opt-out provisions in Toronto. Aramis Ramirez just took advantage of one to negotiate a five-year, $75 million contract with the Cubs, and J.D. Drew left Los Angeles after two years to sign a $70 million deal with Boston.
Boras told ESPN.com that opt-out clauses are a way for players to protect themselves against all sorts of unforeseen developments -- from ownership upheaval to changing personal circumstances. "These things are about choice,'' he said. "When you do the contract, you can't always anticipate what the issues will be.''
Front-office executives generally agree that opt-out clauses are a no-win proposition for teams. If a free agent is bad (e.g., Chan Ho Park), he gets the cash regardless. If the player performs well and the market goes crazy, he can use his opt-out clause to hit the open market or squeeze an extension out of his current club.
"It certainly is for the most part a player-friendly clause,'' said Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti, who was not a happy man when Drew opted out in Los Angeles. "There's little debate on that.''
So why do teams give them? Maybe it entices a player to sign for a slight discount, or serves as Plan B when a club is averse to giving out no-trade clauses. More likely, it's as simple as the player and his agent holding firm and the team saying, "Let's do it and worry about the repercussions later.''