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?


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. 

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
The Yankees (and the Angels will eventually) deserve all the trouble they will get from signing an aging "superstar" to a double digit year / triple digit sum contract.
Other contracts worth considering:
- Ryan Howard: $125M for 2012 (age 32) to 2016 (age 36) on a National League team that is forced to put him in the field.
- Carl Crawford: $142M for 2011 (age 29) to 2017 (age 35). Generated +0.4 bWAR in 161 games total in the first two years.
- Vernon Wells: $126M for 2008 (age 29) to 2014 (age 35). Generated -0.3 bWAR in 208 games in 2011 and 2012.

A good topic for an article might "What was the largest contract ever signed that went well, as seen from the end of the contract?"

Derek Jeter? ($189M for 2001-2010, +39 bWAR)
Carlos Beltran? ($119M for 2005-2011, +31 bWAR)
Chipper Jones? ($90M for 2001-2006, +26 bWAR)

Rodriguez's first big deal ended well. Pujols' first one too. But they signed young.
Why would Baltimore be any kind of a fit?

Put aside the difficulty of any inter-divison trade, let alone one this difficult.

Machado was more or less an equivalent player at the hot corner (0.5 WARP in 202 PAs vs 1.2 in 529), lower OBP than arod, better defense, otherwise comparable average and power.

Chris Davis was clearly a better hitter than arod; why take a step back at DH?

Baltimore can best improve it's chances of getting past the Yanx by leaving arod on the Yanx, not by taking him off their hands.
Why would anybody be any kind of fit? The whole premise of trading A-Rod is silly, because it presumes that the rest of the league is New York's bitch.
Why would anybody be any kind of fit? Because of the possibility that A-Rod improves their team, that's why.

I will never be confused with a Yankees fan, but it is absurd to scoff at a trade without considering benefit to BOTH teams. "Good for the Yankees" does not imply "the other team is New York's bitch." Third base is not exactly a position of strength in the AL at the moment, and there are several teams whose primary DHs weren't as good at the plate this year as A-Rod. It is entirely reasonable to look to those teams as possible partners in a win-win trade, although I personally would not make such a trade as the GM of most of the teams that qualify.
I have a hard time accepting that Chris Davis is a better hitter than A-Rod, any player can go on a run like Davis did this year, going forward if I had a choice between A-Rod and Davis, without looking at money I'm going with A-Rod
I doubt many GMs would prefer an increasingly consistently injured 37 y.o. coming off six-straight years of declining OPS / TAV over a 26 y.o. with better overall #s, albeit in his first full season.

Between the two, batting average was same, Davis had nearly 2x as many HRs, leading to the correspondingly higher slugging, OPS and TAV #s. I suppose Davis' #s *could* be just a one-year fluke, but it would be an odd career trajectory to have a 33 HR age-26 season be a player's career peak.
It's getting late early for arod to approach Chris Davis' value. Davis has opened the season en fuego (just hit his third HR) and arod, well, arod has almost no value anymore. I think the idea of trading arod anywhere is pretty much DOA.
I suppose seeing Baltimore as a fit requires putting away logic. But I can see Peter Angelos wanting to cement the goodwill and the momentum the team built this year with the fans and the community and make some kind of big splash in the offseason - to solidify ticket sales if nothing else. By that logic I've thought for a while that they might be a fit for Josh Hamilton.
Speaking of future bad contracts to avoid...
Also, you have to consider Buck Showalter's experience managing the Rangers. They traded A-Rod after Buck's first year in Texas and the next year the team competed and he won Manager of the Year.

So no, even suspending my disbelief for the purposes of playing along with this article, I don't think A-Rod's going to Baltimore.
The Yankees' best option is to tell A-Rod he's going to be relegated to only playing v. lefties. That kills his chances of the HR record and he ends his career sitting a majority of time on the bench and getting booed every at bat for all the money he's costing.

Propose a mutual parting of the ways. Pay him a one time severance payment of $20m - $30m and let him be a free agent.

The question is, does A-Rod leave all that money on the table to win over the fans and finish his career and go after the records on his own terms? It's an interesting dilemma.
He tried to leave money on the table before and the union killed it. What makes you think the union would let him walk away from $80m guaranteed even if he wanted to (and he wouldn't...just hypothetically speaking.)
Did the union have a legal basis to kill it or did they apply pressure at a point in time where he still had many years left to play with his fellow union members? That makes a difference I think if he's to negotiate a retirement settlement.
I think it could be possible, but still tricky.

I'm pretty sure a player can walk away from the game before the end of his contract expires, and leave the guaranteed money in the Owner's pocket. Didn't a Royals' SP do that a few years ago (Gil Meche)?

Not that I think ARod would do it.

I don't think the players' union would be able to argue against it, unless he waits a couple months and then tries to sign up with a team for less than he was originally owed.

That contract was a dubious value when the Yanks agreed to it, and it's not looking any better now.
A-Rod didn't exactly get dominated by RHP, he wasn't great but he wasn't bad enough to platoon him
Toronto is not a fit either, as they have Lawrie at 3B and Encarnacion at 1B and DH. A-Rod could have some AB's from the DH spot but at his price, the Jays could find better.
If Omar was right about the clubhouse, and I tend to listen when someone like him speaks, I don't think A-Rod would be a great person to add to that culture
Yes, I forgot to mention the Union factor. I know that is an issue too. Thanks for adding that point.
Thanks for exploring this, and you rightly stress the implausibility of any conventional solution. The most interesting idea explored is that Rodriguez himself, after a few more years of declining results, boos and unkind press, decides he can't reach the Aaron or Bonds numbers for home runs, THAT could trigger his self-exit, but I don't see anything else doing it. Regards,
A-Rod is a stranger in a strange land nobody wants him except the ladies above the Yankees dugout who gace him their phone number.
I don't know this for sure, but I guess if the Yankees give the Mariners (Angels, Orioles, etc) $70mil in cash, that $70mil doesn't count towards the hard cap of $189mil for luxury tax penalties?

For example, does the $8.5mil they are kicking in for AJ Burnett next year count against their $189mil number?

Assuming that's the case, the Yankees have a huge incentive to eat as much of the contract as it takes to get rid of him, because they have cash to burn but won't spend it because they don't want to go over the magical $189mil limit.
Has there ever been a player more unappreciated by his fanbase than Rodriguez and the Yankees fans?

The postseason OPS' of Jeter and Arod are almost identical, yet Arod is a postseason choker. The NY media hates him and have spoonfed their bile to Yankees fans for years. It is a joke.

So correct, not to mention that absolutely anyone can have a rough 30 at bat stretch ie. Cano who is one of the best hitters in baseball, and will continue to be next year. Arod is still an above average 3rd basemen and will still be an asset to the yanks next season
Mike Schmidt got booed a lot.
At first I couldn't imagine a team that would take him, but it seems like every year the Angels sign or assume a horribad contract on an aging player, so maybe A-Rod is going West.
If there's one thing Kenny Williams can't get enough of, it's aging former All-Stars. A-Rod goes to Chicago in a Manny Ramirez-type deal, with the Yankees picking up $20m a year in sunk costs just to get his stink out of the Bronx.
The rumor is that the Marlins would take him and offload Heath Bell. It makes sense in a fashion where he could play 3B for a few years then shift to 1B if needed.