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From what I know "have something from someone" means to know secret or damaging knowledge about someone, I was reading this article on espn.com and it is an excerpt from that article

Carl Pavano for $40 million, A.J. Burnett for $82.5 million and Kei Igawa for $20 million have nothing on Rodriguez for $275 million.

I don't understand what "have nothing on" means here. Even though it is fairly obvious what the article is about, and what the comparison is here, but I cant quite figure out the meaning.

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3 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

ODO on have nothing on:

have (got) nothing on
informal

  1. be not nearly as good as:
        bright though his three sons were, they had nothing on Sally
  2. (have nothing or something on) know nothing (or something) discreditable or incriminating about:
        I am not worried—they’ve got nothing on me

The first sense is obviously the one to interpret the phrase as here, although it needs a bit of nuancing to match the context:

The Yankees aren't ready to comment on the specifics of this case, but there's nobody in the organization who would dispute the fact that Rodriguez now represents the worst investment they've made, 2009 title or no 2009 title. Carl Pavano for $40 million, A.J. Burnett for $82.5 million and Kei Igawa for $20 million have nothing on Rodriguez for $275 million.

The phrase "have nothing on Rodriguez" could be replaced with "have lost not nearly as much as Rodriguez".

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I think you'd want to say, have cost not nearly as much, not, have lost as nearly as much. –  J.R. Feb 2 '13 at 23:25
    
@J.R. Yes, or maybe not lost them nearly as much. –  Andrew Leach Feb 2 '13 at 23:27
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It means that what the amount associated with the first three is insignificant compared to the last party mentioned.

In general, to "have nothing on" someone is to be very much less than that person in whatever is being compared (talent, value, cost, etc).

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Carl Pavano for $40 million, A.J. Burnett for $82.5 million and Kei Igawa for $20 million have nothing on Rodriguez for $275 million.

The players in that list are now all considered overpriced for the value that the Yankees got out of them. They were all in their late 20s or early 30s when they signed contracts with the Yankees, so they were "high mileage" players at the time. However, the Yankees as an organization have a fat checkbook, so these players were paid premium salaries.

In professional sports, management loves to sign a young player who turns into a superstar while still earning the paycheck of an unproven commodity. Their worst fear is signing a proven superstar to a huge contract just before that player is hobbled by age or injury, turning them into an underachiever. Just like in any other kind of investment, we'd rather buy low than buy high.

The writer here is essentially saying that, as bad an investment as Pavano, Burnett, and Igawa may have been, those busts pale in comparison to what happened with Alex Rodriguez. When the writer speaks here of "having nothing on," that's referring to the magnitude of management's retrospective regret. "Sure, those first three were bad deals," the author is saying, "but the folly of those deals have nothing on [in other words, seem tiny in comparison with] the folly of the Rodriguez contract."

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