Friday, October 19, 2012

A-Rod Is A-vailable, But Who Will Take Him?

Yesterday, amid hastily denied rumors that the Marlins might be maybe sorta interested in taking on Alex Rodriguez (but not his contract), ESPN posted a SportsNation poll about whether or not this would happen, and 64% of responders found this to be a viable option. On Wednesday, ESPN asked whether A-Rod had played his last game as a Yankee, and 54% thought so. ESPN spends a lot of time posting idiotic faux-zeitgeisty questions about whether Tim Tebow should start over Mark Sanchez (he shouldn't, but about 60% of America says an emphatic yes), but sometimes ESPN posts interesting hypotheticals. These A-Rod questions are both stupid (we as fans know NOTHING of the inside economic workings of various baseball teams) but they do qualify as interesting.

If the Yankees can get out from underneath Rodriguez's mammoth catastrophe of a contract, there's no question they should trade him. However, postseason struggles aside, they shouldn't just eat his contract and send him away a la AJ Burnett or Carl Pavano. A-Rod is no longer a perennial MVP contender, but he's still an above average player.

Coming off his 2007 MVP season, A-Rod had a chance to opt out of his contract, by far the biggest contract in history, and he took it. That offseason, he signed for 10 more years and even more money ($270M, but that could go up to 300M, which is looking less and less likely because it's contingent on him breaking the career HR record). Five years in, that contract looks to be as terrible as the first one was great (we'll get back to this thought). He's owed at minimum about $114 million more for the next five years. To justify that he'd need to be about a 5.5 WAR player. He hasn't put up even 4 WAR since 2008. In fact, A-Rod has been trending downward from 2007 onward (his slugging percentage has gone down 30-40 points each of the last 4 years), and he turned 37 this year. It doesn't look great.

Let's ignore the personal stuff when it comes to evaluating A-Rod. He's undoubtedly a weirdo, with a portrait of himself as a centaur hanging in his bedroom, and who once allowed himself to be photographed as we see below. He famously weirded out the Yankees management by greeting them for a last-second meeting as he was about to get traded in a full suit. At midnight. In his own apartment. He's made his personal life public in the most annoying ways and while he was by far the best postseason Yankee in their World Series-winning season of 2009, his other postseason failures have been pretty public and occasionally massive.

"Yikes!" would be the word.

A-Rod gets evaluated on a scale because of his contract, but that ignores a crucial element: HE OUTPERFORMED IT (the first one, at least). By all estimates I can find, wins above replacement in 2001 cost about $4 million dollars, so A-Rod was signed essentially to produce 63 WAR over 10 years (252/4= 63). Over those ten years, he produced 72.6 WAR according to baseball-reference, and it would have been higher had he stayed at his natural position of shortstop, both because it's more valuable and he's a better natural shortstop. During that first contract, he averaged .298/.392/.570, 40 homers and 16 stolen bases. This came at the tail end of the offensive boom, but those stats are out of this world no matter how you slice it. According to baseball reference's WAR explainer, 8 WAR is an MVP-caliber season, so A-Rod performed almost to that level over the course of 10 years. Hate him for his personality, but not for his production, even accounting for the money he made.

This postseason, and really the last month of the season after he came off the DL, A-Rod looked punchless, but he was not solely to blame for the Yankees' collapse. Plenty of other hitters - Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano - were equally atrocious and A-Rod's replacement, Eric Chavez, actually went 0-16 with 8 strikeouts in the playoffs. All of this is to say, I liked ESPN's question because Rodriguez probably could do with a change of scenery, but who would take him?

The Marlins are in the midst of a fire sale and there's no way they'd take on almost any of his contract. Plus, I have a hard time believing A-Rod goes to an NL team, because there's no way he'll be able to field at third base in a couple years. The Red Sox could have swapped Carl Crawford for Rodriguez, but they already jettisoned the disappointing outfielder to the Dodgers. There have been more than a few terrible long-term contracts in the last few years - Barry Zito and Vernon Wells immediately come to mind - but those are about to wrap up in the next two years. Almost the only contract on par with Rodriguez in terms of dollars left and expected reward belongs to one of his teammates, Mark Teixeira. Prince Fielder's contract will likely be bad in a few years, but the Tigers are paying for his production now, and he has a few elite years left. Same goes for Albert Pujols on the Angels. No one else is this well compensated for this amount of time and also this mediocre. The A-Rod contract sucks uniquely.

Ultimately, despite all evidence to the contrary this postseason, I think A-Rod has a few years left as a somewhat productive, albeit injury-prone, third basemen, at the very least with a great platoon split against lefties. The Yankees would be foolish to get rid of him if they just have to eat his contract, and yet I can see no way they could get rid of him without doing just that. Better to hold on to the never ending pageantry that is Alex Rodriguez starting at third base. To this point in his career, he hasn't deserved their boos. Maybe he'll finally earn them.

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