A New Home for A-Rod?
It's no secret that Alex Rodriguez may have played his last game for the Yankees. When Joe Torre dropped A-Rod to eighth in the batting order in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Tigers, it indicated very uncharacteristic panic on Torre's part or a stunning lack of confidence in A-Rod.
The future Hall of Famer's "poor" year - 35 home runs, 121 RBI, 90 walks and a .290 average - are the kind of stats that most players can only dream about. Recent declarations of A-Rod's future with the Yankees may be sincere, or they could be a tactic designed to fend off lowball bidders.
Perhaps Torre - a manager known for his communication skills - will have a talk with A-Rod and reassure him of his star status. Problem solved, at least until Steinbrenner throws a tantrum or the New York media jumps on A-Rod's next slump.
If the Yankees ultimately decide to dump Rodriguez, one question would dominate the process: What kind of value do they place on A-Rod? Do his playoff struggles make him as devalued as an obscure Third World currency, or would full compensation for a 31-year-old, five-tool player be expected? My guess is that A-Rod won't be given away if a trade takes place, but potential buyers will get a discount on his considerable talent.
There is the matter of a no-trade clause, but that obstacle has already been overcome once before when A-Rod was picked up from the Rangers. Some observers point to his potential pride about leaving New York on unsuccessful terms, but any competent PR specialist can fix that.
"It's painful to leave the Yankees, but the (fill in the team) have made it clear how much they want me here, and I'm thrilled to be a part of this team" or a similarly diplomatic statement from A-Rod will surely be uttered during a post-trade press conference. The chance to escape from the Big Apple pressure cooker may be very appealing, so it's more of an "I'll go to the right place" clause than an ironclad agreement.
So where could A-Rod end up? What would be an ideal situation for a player of his ability?
The Mets and Angels have been mentioned as potential destinations, but there's no way Steinbrenner would give his local rivals a chance to have A-Rod return to his old form with the Mets. That goes triple for the Red Sox. The Angels are a playoff contender without A-Rod, and adding him to the roster might be enough to allow them to beat the Yankees in postseason play.
Any team that acquires A-Rod will be on the hook for four years and $64 million, as the Rangers are paying $10 million a year of his record-setting contract. In today's economic climate, $16 million a season for an elite player in his prime years isn't unbearable.
With control over his destiny, A-Rod would veto any deals to the Devil Rays, Royals, Pirates and other perennial losers. Even if a second-rate team was willing to take on his salary (unlikely), they are too far from contention to expect one player alone to take them to the postseason.
How about a team in a less intense media market that is within striking distance of the playoffs or World Series? Let's start with the National League, since that would be a logical preemptive postseason damage control move for the Yankees.
Keep in mind that A-Rod moved to third base to accommodate Derek Jeter, and he could easily move back to his old position. Since his trade value is uncertain at this time, any speculation as to who would be swapped for him will be minimal for now.
The Astros have dumped piles of salary obligations (Roger Clemens, Jeff Bagwell, Andy Pettitte) since the end of the season. This is a team in desperate need of offense, and Minute Maid Park is an ideal place for A-Rod to put up some big numbers.
While the Astros have had decent attendance, they would benefit at the box office by adding A-Rod, who would pair with Lance Berkman for a deadly 1-2 combo. This move makes a ton of sense if A-Rod is O.K. with Houston, but he may have soured on Texas after three years with the Rangers.
How about a small-market long shot? The Reds made a modest run at the postseason in 2006, and A-Rod would put Cincinnati in position for a serious shot at the NL Central title.
Rodriguez becomes a shortstop again with the Reds, and he could help fill plenty of empty seats that would make a $16 million/year salary bearable. The hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark would provide an ideal stage for A-Rod's slugging skills, and this would provide a revival of interest in a historically strong baseball town.
A look at the Reds roster shows few players who might be of interest to the Yankees since Bronson Arroyo isn't going anywhere, so this is an unlikely move. That's especially true with Ken Griffey Jr. (not a close pal of A-Rod's) around. Even if the former Mariners set their differences aside, it would probably take a three-way trade for the Reds to pull this off.
Two other NL teams would be darkhorses in the chase for A-Rod. With Jimmy Rollins on the roster and a gaping hole at third, the Phillies probably wouldn't be willing to move A-Rod back to his old position. Rodriguez and Ryan Howard back-to-back in the same lineup would give opposing pitchers plenty of nightmares. After three years in New York, A-Rod's skin should be thick enough to deal with the Philadelphia boo-birds.
Combined with Scott Rolen at 3B, David Eckstein moving across the infield to 2B and Albert Pujols at 1B, A-Rod would give the Cardinals one of the best infields in baseball history. There are three obstacles to such a scenario.
Having Rodriguez, Pujols and Rolen in the 3-4-5 slots means no left-handed hitters in those key places in the batting order. Adding A-Rod's salary gives the Cardinals zero revenue gain, since new Busch Stadium sold out before the season this year, and things should be similar in 2007. There are few quality players among the outfielders and pitchers to offer in a deal.
If the Cardinals prefer A-Rod to Rolen, it creates a possible swap. There are far worse options for A-Rod than going from the Bronx Zoo to friendly, baseball-crazy St. Louis.
Turning back to the American League, three teams might help themselves with A-Rod.
Is it time for the conservative Twins to think big? Brad Radke's $9 million salary is gone, as is Shannon Stewart's $6 million contract. Hefty raises for Joe Mauer, Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau will gobble up a big chunk of that $15 million, but trading for A-Rod may also solve another looming problem.
Torii Hunter's $12 million option was picked up by the Twins, but the spectacular centerfielder becomes a free agent after next season. If the Twins swap Hunter for A-Rod, it's a $4 million net increase in salary, and the trade should boost ticket sales. After New York, the congenial environment of the Twin Cities might be a welcome change for A-Rod.
That moves Johnny Damon to left or out of New York altogether, but that's not for the Twins to worry about. The White Sox can make a deal work if A-Rod plays short and they can dump a high salary (probably a starting pitcher to make room for Brandon McCarthy in the rotation) on the Yankees. After a disappointing season, the Sox could use a big move to keep the momentum going in their never-ending rivalry with the Cubs.
How about a gutsy Billy Beane/Moneyball deal? Free agent Barry Zito's contract is off the books, and putting Eric Chavez (a lefty swinger who would do well at Yankee Stadium) in an A-Rod trade keeps the salary hit manageable for the A's. Rodriguez could play at either spot on the left side of the infield in Oakland.
My prediction? Torre and Steinbrenner say A-Rod will be a Yankee in 2007, but don't be shocked if a trade takes place.