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October 16, 2012

Out of Left Field

Trading A-Rod: How, Where, and Why

by Matthew Kory

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Before Derek Jeter fractured his ankle on Saturday, talk of the Yankees centered on Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez is in a horrible slump and, unless he has a spectacular turnaround this month, baseball writers, fans and unnamed sources will spend the winter speculating about whether the Yankees will trade him. That, however, would be incredible. You see, the Yankees owe Rodriguez $126 million over the next five years*. Also, he has a no-trade clause. So, like swallowing a whole bunch of diamonds, trading A-Rod would be difficult, painful, and insanely expensive.

*This includes two reasonably reachable $6 million bonuses for home runs no. 660 and no. 714. It does not include three other $6 million bonuses for home runs no. 755, 762 and 763.

However, this is the season for difficult, painful, and insanely expensive trades, what with Boston dumping a quarter-billion dollars on the Dodgers. That deal required the waiving of two no-trade clauses, commissioner approval, six players passing through waivers, and another two being turned into PTBNLs to skirt the waiver rules. If ever a trade looked impossible, it was that one. Compared to that, dealing A-Rod during the offseason should be like eating just one or two smaller diamonds, right?

Maybe, but we can’t really address that until we understand why New York might want to get rid of him. To start, Rodriguez’s horrible slump happens to coincide with the playoffs, giving more ammunition to the New York tabloids and those Yankee fans who already see him as un-clutch and don’t mind screaming it from the rooftops. Those people need more ammunition like the natives did at Little Big Horn*, but more ammo is exactly what A-Rod is giving them each time he comes to bat.

* Wow, how’s that for a topical reference?

Of course no player is as bad as he looks when he’s striking out and A-Rod is no exception. That isn’t to say he’s hasn’t looked bad though. He’s struck out in 12 of 25 plate appearances, which, if you’ve seen him, probably surprises you in a good way. Which is bad.

During the postseason he’s hitting .130/.200/.130 and manager Joe Girardi has responded in the following four ways:

1. Pinch-hitting for him at vital moments of the game

2. Moving him down in the lineup

3. Benching him against right-handed pitchers

4. Not leggoing his Eggo

I’m not in the Yankees clubhouse, or even on the same side of the continental divide as the Yankee clubhouse so it would be the height of foolishness for me to claim the Yankee players don’t like him or management doesn’t have faith in him or what have you. Read about the Yankees in the paper or in any of the articles that pop up on this newfangled inter-web device, though, and you hear about the fans expressing their displeasure with the way the team has been playing (they’re in the ALCS, but, you know, BOOO!!!) by booing Alex Rodriguez. The media don’t mind taking shots at the third baseman either, and now his manager is sitting him during playoff games and confirming his unclutchness (or at least his platoon split) by pinch-hitting for him in important situations.

Individually those are all weak reasons for trading a superstar. Put them all together and the justification gets stronger, but less than overwhelming. Then there is this: what if the Yankees want a better player at third base?

Rodriguez’s OPS has dropped every year since his MVP 2007 season. He was 31 then, and posted a career-high 1.067 OPS. This season he is 36 and he put up a .783 OPS. That’s still 12 percent above average, and his TAv is still a respectable .280 (down from .349 in 2007), so it isn’t as if Rodriguez has lost all value. Yet his age next season and his diminished durability don’t portend a turnaround.

If he’s an upper-.700s OPS guy going forward, that’s fine, but if he’s a bit worse than that and he misses significant time, then the overall production the Yankees get from Rodriguez plus whomever backs him up stands to be poor. And I haven’t even addressed his defense yet, which may not be bad yet but which sure isn’t a good bet to get better.

With all that in mind, I wonder what trading Rodriguez would look like? How much would it cost the Yankees to get rid of him? Where would he go? What could they get for him? Let’s see!

1. How much would it cost the Yankees to get rid of him?

There’s no way to know. That’s a terrible (if absolutely correct) answer though, so let’s see if we can do better. As I mentioned, Rodriguez will cost whomever he plays for roughly $126 million over the next five seasons. Keeping that in mind, what would a player like Rodriguez make if he were a free agent this offseason?

I think a three-year deal from an American League club (so he could DH) wouldn’t be out of line. The market for corner infielders this offseason isn’t a strong one, so Rodriguez could potentially take advantage of that. So, let’s say he’d get three years, $30 million. He is Alex Rodriguez, after all. That might be over-shooting a bit, but go with me for the sake of argument.

That would mean the Yankees would have to include $96 million in a deal to make A-Rod tradable. Which is, wow.

To see if everyone thought I’m crazy (for this, not other things), I took a quick and informal poll of BPers. I simply asked, “What do you think the Yankees would have to pay to get rid of A-Rod?” I got nine responses. Well, 10, but I’m not counting Colin Wyers, who eloquently stated, “I have no earthly idea.” The responses ranged from $56 million on the low end, to $100 million at the top. The average of the responses was $76.25 million. That would leave A-Rod’s new team on the hook for about $10 million a year over the life of his deal. That’s would mean the Yankees would absorb considerably less than my figure, though still an awful lot of money.

One more point on the matter: When Rodriguez was dealt to New York from Texas, the Rangers included $71 million to make him go away.

2. Where would he go?

As 37-year-old corner infielders don’t normally sign five-year deals with National League teams, we can probably safely stick to the AL, where the DH will be an option. To me, one place comes to mind: Seattle. A-Rod has a history there, it’s far away (good for both A-Rod and the Yankees), it’s far less pressurized, they have the money to pay him a decent part of his salary, and they desperately need offense and positive press. A-Rod can provide the offense (his TAv would have finished second on the Mariners this year) and the former son returning to the fold would make a nice story that would generate interest that might manifest itself in numerous financial ways for the team.

Other than Seattle, Texas could be a possibility, though there are problems with that idea. For example: Would Rodriguez want to go back to Texas, the place he wanted to leave so badly that he was willing to restructure his contract (at his own expense) to do so?

Four others come to mind: Baltimore and maybe even Toronto might be reasonable destinations, but the whole in-division part may spike those cities; the White Sox, not because they have a need but because they don’t and that’s exactly what Kenny Williams wants us to think ah HA!; and the Angels, who might want more offense at third base and could spell Rodriguez at DH as the years went on, might make sense.

3. What could they get for him?

Nothing!

Well, that’s not exactly true. They likely wouldn’t get much back in terms of talent (what is Clayton Mortensen doing this week?), but they’d get two valuable assets in return. Whatever part of the Rodriguez contract that they didn’t have to cover could be reinvested, and the newfound roster flexibility would allow them to reinvest that money in a younger and better player.

Just to be clear, I don’t have any inside information here. This is nothing more than an interesting idea I heard Ben and Sam bring up on last Thursday’s Effectively Wild podcast, an idea I thought it was worth exploring further. Probably the most intriguing part is the total amount of cash the Yankees would have to pay to get rid of Rodriguez. But a deal would allow Rodriguez to finally get out of New York, to win outside of Jeter’s long shadow. It would also allow an aging team pushing up against the luxury tax threshold the ability to improve.

That and it would be hella expensive. 

Matthew Kory is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matthew's other articles. You can contact Matthew by clicking here

Related Content:  Alex Rodriguez,  New York Yankees

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