Saturday, October 20, 2012

Alex Rodriguez to the Dodgers - Would It Work?

Well, would it?

Let's hit the books here and lay out the facts:

5 years, $114 million: That's what's left on Rodriguez's massive deal. It's the remaining 5 years on a 7 year, $275 million dollar deal, the largest in North American professional sports history by over $20 million dollars.

$30 million: The amount in performance bonuses A-Rod could acquire if he hits certain home run milestones, from 660 (passing Willie Mays) to 763 (passing Barry Bonds). All in all, his contract could amount to a staggering $300 million.

647: A-Rod's current home run total, good for fifth in league history.

37: A-Rod's age as of the 2012 season.

42: A-Rod's age at the end of this current contract--if Rodriguez had been 42 this year, he'd be the fifth oldest player in the league, behind Jamie Moyer (cut by the Rockies in February), Takashi Saito, Mariano Rivera (both out most of the year with injury) and Omar Vizquel (who retired in September). There's little doubt that when Rodriguez hits the end of this deal, he'll be one of the oldest players in the Majors.

.965, .933, .847, .823, .783: A-Rod's declining OPS (on-base plus slugging) the past five seasons. Whether or not you understand sabermetrics, you'll see that there's little doubt the third baseman's offensive excellence is declining significantly.

163: The number of games A-Rod has missed the previous two seasons. Essentially, he's only stayed healthy for one campaign out of the two.

13: The number of hits A-Rod's had the previous three postseasons, after his crushing 2009 playoff run in which he had 15 hits, six home runs and had 11 extra-base hits in 15 games. Since then, in 21 games, he's only had 13 hits, 2 for extra bases and zero for home runs.

Everyone: The amount of Yankees fans that want him out of pinstripes by the year's end.

Just A-Rod: The people who want to keep A-Rod in New York.

There's little doubt that A-Rod's second $200 million dollar deal (signed by the Yanks in 2007 at age 32 after he opted out of his original 10-year, $250 million dollar contract) was a gigantic mistake. However, at the time, Rodriguez had come off his third MVP season in five years with an impeccable record of health, never missing more than eight games since he became a free agent in 2000. The Yankees, as they do, had a very casual "spend now, worry later" attitude about the deal, not fully hit with the reality that like all aging baseball players, A-Rod's late thirties wouldn't be nearly as productive as his early-thirties.

Well, now we're here. Rodriguez is coming off a postseason to remember, but for none of the reasons he'd want. In a career of ignominious playoff performances, A-Rod had one of his worst, smacking just three base-hits in 27 at-bats, all of them singles. The Yankees middle of the order threat had essentially played no better than an average National League pitcher at the plate, with at-bats so feeble (12 strikeouts in all) that manager Joe Girardi was forced to sit his $30 million dollar three-bagger. At the plate, A-Rod looked regularly overmatched, swinging wildly at breaking pitches and generally being made look silly against the likes of Anibal Sanchez and Miguel Gonzalez. The Yankees were bounced in their first sweep in nearly 40 years, though in A-Rod's defense, it wasn't just him that contributed to a historically bad Yankees offense.

As with any New York posteseason loss, no matter what the sport, the city has gone into full-blown panic mode, as if something of any actual consequence happened. Critics are calling for everyone's head, and no manager, player or front office executive is exempt. Naturally, with his contract and tremendous underperformance, A-Rod is at the top of the list.

In some ways, he needs to go. The Yankees would be better for for jettisoning a salary that could buy several orphanages full of Dominican children, all of which would be turned into baseball players. The team is trying to avoid paying a steep luxury tax, and A-Rod's contract certainly isn't helping at all. He's never been worth the money they've paid him, but the deficit is expanding faster Delmon Young's...ego. Just his ego.

Just as importantly, the New York fan base has always hated Rodriguez, even as he was destroying baseballs at the plate, winning MVP awards and being one of the top three reasons why the Yanks won the 2009 title. Now that he's playing as terrible as the fans' reaction would suggest he always has been, there's no performance the guy could feasibly put together to expect that the Yankees faithful would come to support him again.

It's hard to predict that A-Rod will play that much better than he's playing now, but his deal and complete lack of faith from the fans, as well as growing shakiness from his manager, makes me think that everyone might be better off is he leaves town. That's not an unpopular opinion, nor are we breaking new ground here on MAMBINO, but that doesn't mean it's incorrect.

Is the criticism fair? 

Perhaps...mostly...definitely. But not all of it.

The numbers above really delineate just how offensive A-Rod's offensive was, and just how steeply he's declined. Rodriguez certainly isn't an all-world ax-man he once was, with 2012 being only his third full season with an All-Star berth and his second without any MVP votes (I can only presume). However, he's still a well above average hitter (with an OPS+--a metric that scores a player's OPS against the rest of the league, with any score above 100 meaning that the hitter is better than the mean--of 112), and certainly so for a third baseman. He ended the year hitting .272 with 16 homers and 17 doubles in 122 games, though he played the last 28 games of the season after coming back from a broken hand that caused him to miss all of August. This largely sapped Rodriguez is most of his power, slugging more like a league average catcher (.339 slugging) than he was before the injury (.449). Again, A-Rod certainly didn't resemble anything close to what his salary dictated (could he ever at $30 million?), but before his freak injury he really wasn't all that bad. After all, Eric Chavez hit roughly the same (16 home runs, .486 slugging in 113 games), but doesn't get the same flack that Rodriguez does because his contract was roughly 3% of what A-Rod's was. Aside from his catastrophic postseason performance...again, criticism of the three-time MVP largely is derived from his outrageous salary.

Also, keep in mind that the guy is 37 years-old. Most men are out of the league at this point, and a decline in performance is pretty natural for any guys that's not juicing. He's definitely not the player he once was--we're talking about one of the top five greatest right-handed hitters ever to live, mind you--but he's still adequate enough in the field and certainly has to be respected by opposing pitchers. To his credit, the man still destroyed right-handed pitchers in 2012 (.924 OPS) and can still club the ball when healthy.

Alex Rodriguez underperformed in the postseason again, and yes, he's tremendously overpaid. However, that doesn't make him a bad player. More than anything, it makes the New York brass responsible for, if he continues his decline, the worst deal in Major League Baseball history.

So why the rumors of a trade to Miami, or more importantly, to the Los Angeles Dodgers?

For two reasons: star power and the fact that...he's still good.

Most of the Miami Marlins trade rumors sprout from the fact that Rodriguez is from South Beach where he resides in the offseason, and the fact that it's one of the only places where he'd waive his no-trade clause to go to. As evidenced by last winter's misbegotten spending spree on Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle and Heath Bell (who was traded earlier today), as well as their massive bid for Albert Pujols, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria desperately wants to be treated like the big boys. The team did partake in somewhat of a fire sale this summer, but keep in mind that that team was overpaid just for being terrible. There were aspects of salary dumps in the trades of Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante, but largely the team made good baseball decisions for players that weren't working in Miami, or weren't going to be there for long.

Also, with any trade regarding Rodriguez, the Yankees would have to eat a tremendous portion of his salary, more than likely in the reported neighborhood of $70 million. Frank McCourt would turn over in his grave at the thought. This would leave just around $44 million for his new team to take on, which would add up to an average salary of around $8.8 million.

Did you just say "taking on money"? No, I'm sorry, that's the sound of Magic Johnson Enterprise rumbling down the digital lane.

The Dodgers are finally the team we all thought they'd be--essentially, Yankees West. They've taken on nearly $300 million in salary from other teams in the last four months for essentially all players that were extremely talented, but underperforming. Acquiring active major leaguers like Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino and Josh Beckett was one thing, but it was the philantropic adoption of Carl Crawford's inactive, newly-surgered elbow that convinced everyone that there wasn't a financial risk worth taking that the Dodgers wouldn't gambled on. 

Would the Dodgers take on Alex Rodriguez's deal? You bet your ass.

.....why? Please MAMBINO, tell me why?!??!??

Let's set a couple ground rules here:

1) We're going to assume that the Yankees would take on a portion of A-Rod's salary in the neighborhood of $70 million.

2) The Dodgers wouldn't have to give up a top-10 farm prospect. That being said, I could see A.J. Ellis, Dee Gordon, Luis Cruz and a Juan Uribe organic pinata (wait...that's not a pinata? Really?) getting dealt.

With that type of discount and without giving up a impact prospect, the Dodgers would essentially be taking the Yankees out of luxury tax territory, as well as extracting a potential chemistry destroying situation in the locker room. As Rodriguez continues to regress, there's no doubt that Joe Girardi's managerial decisions are going to become increasingly difficult, not to mention just out and out awkward. The Yankees, as always, are in "win-now" mode, and A-Rod, for all his faults, is still a productive player while on the field. However, with his salary and lack of support externally, being in New York is only going to exacerbate his decline.

The Dodgers are in a similar situation: win now and win often. After trading for all the expensive, aforementioned pieces, LA is in ultimate "win now" mode. A-Rod definitely still fits that mold. The Dodgers currently have Luis Cruz penciled in as their 2013 opening day first baseman, but most people know better than the truly count on a 29 year-old journeyman with around 100 major league games under his belt. Even with Cruz flashing a fantastic glove at the hot corner and a surprising .297 bat, there's no doubt in my mind that I'd rather take a proven, if flawed player like A-Rod any day over LA's pleasant 2012 surprise hit. Rodriguez would greatly benefit from not just a change of scenery, especially going from the AL East to the NL West.

Most importantly, the Dodgers would essentially be signing Rodriguez to a 5-year, $50 million dollar deal. The years are long, but the money? Money apparently, is less of an obstacle in Chavez Ravine these days than parking lot traffic, Dodger Dog shortages and an overabundance of "Gangnam Style" on the PA system. For that price and his expected performance--an above average third baseman who can still man the field well enough--it's not a terrible deal in the least. As A-Rod gets into his forties, I have little doubt that he'll become nothing more than a platoon player, but even then should be able to slay righties.

But let's say, worst case scenario, that A-Rod only works out for the next three seasons. the last two years. Why not? This ownership doesn't seem to care whether or not they use $100 dollar bills to light farts, much less pay an unproductive parts. Get back to me when Juan Uribe and his $8 million dollar deal get cut next April if you aren't a believer. At the very least, a three year, $50 million dollar deal for a very good hitter who will probably pass Willie Mays and maybe even Babe Ruth on the home run list during his time in Dodger blue (and make the team a ton of money in ticket sales, merchandise and publicity) isn't a laughable deal. LA, as I mentioned, wants to win the World Series in 2013. Rodriguez isn't an MVP candidate anymore, but he certainly can help the team get to October.

Finally, there's the name value. As I alluded to, A-Rod's name value alone is going to help the team make money. LA is a town that's going to attach itself to any big name and stick witih them for a while if the performance is anything above decent. For example, Shane Victorino was having a below-average year even before he was shipped to the Dodgers in a deadline deal. After two straight NL Championship Series of killing the team, the LA fans welcomed him with open arms and cheered for him vigorously...until he continued into his eighth week of absolutely sucking.

As long as A-Rod is playing slightly above average and keeps on marching towards these historic home run milestones, there's no way that he'll be criticized and eviscerated in LA like he is in New York. No way.

So should GM Ned Colletti even be trying to pursue this trade? 

Yes, but only under his terms.

Many people have suggested, like our own El Miz, that the Dodgers shouldn't have given up any prospects of consequence in the Crawford, Gonzalez and Beckett trade because of the massive money they were taking on. In this deal, Colletti would have to stand firm that the Yankees would have to agree to pay roughly 60% of Rodriguez's contract before it even got on the table. Moreover, names like Zach Lee and Yasel Puig should only be mentioned as non-starters rather than negotiation points.

If anyone suggests that A-Rod couldn't help the Dodgers for at least the next three seasons is blinded by irrational hate for a guy that's, let's face it, pretty damn hateable. However, as he gets further into his late thirties and with no DH in the National League, he'll still be at the very least a great right-handed platoon mate and a fantastic marketing tool (and boy, is he ever a tool) that will generate the team revenue. I'd honestly expect the Dodgers to have to eat at least the last year of his contract, but even then, I'd stil pull the trigger.

I have no great love for A-Rod, but the truth is that this deal, as I've constructed in my own hypothetical situation, isn't crazy.  I don't expect it to happen, but then again, I've seen this new ownership group show me that what I expect doesn't mean anything. Alex Rodriguez to the Dodgers could work, but only under the right set of circumstances.

But those circumstances aren't out of reach.

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