Talking Baseball

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Posted by Mike on Saturday, February 14, 2004

Here We Go Again...

If what the media is reporting is true, then Alex Rodriguez will be playing for the Yankees next year. Wonderful. Honestly, I can't understand why the Yankees feel they need to make this trade, at least not on a logical level. This can only be a half-panicked George Steinbrenner snap decision. With the Red Sox appearing to have a legitimately superior team for the first time in a number of years it appears that Steinbrenner was willing to take no chances. I doubt Brian Cashman could have condoned making this trade because it does not make the Yankees that much better. A-Rod is obviously an upgrade over Soriano but he's isn't a HUGE upgrade. So, what does the trade accomplish?

1. The Yankees get A-Rod. He's the best player in the game and if he stays healthy will continue to be for the next few years. He's better than Soriano both offensively and defensively but that upgrade comes at a cost. The Yankees receive the honor of paying the remainder of the largest contract in the history of baseball, $180 million over the next 7 years. It seems like they print their own money, so I guess his contract won't be crippling them like it did Texas. In Texas, A-Rod's contract tied up more than 20% of the payroll, in New York his salary will make up less than 10% of the payroll. Being able to spend $200+ million on players gives the Yankees the luxury of being able to hemorrhage money.

2. The Yankees give up Alfonso Soriano. He's only 26 years old and still 3 years away from free-agency. He plays second base, not an easy position to fill with a good player, and while not being a great batter against the league's top pitching he still manages to produce excellent numbers. While Soriano is a flawed player he's also young, talented, and cheap.

3. The Yankees move the huge hole in their infield from third base to second base. I don't know who they plan on playing at second base, but it does not look like it will be anyone good. Maybe the Yankees will stop babying Derek Jeter and move him to third base allowing A-Rod's superior defense to actually have a significant effect. Kevin Brown has to be thrilled at this prospect.

If you read between the lines you see that this move was purely motivated by Steinbrenner's desire to embarrass the Red Sox once again. The news of the trade seems to done an excellent job of royally pissing off every Red Sox fan in New England. Relations between Red Sox Nation and the Yankees Empire are always touchy and this deal certainly will do nothing to help the situation. As a strategic move designed to break moral just before spring training starts this is about as damaging a thing as the Yankees could have done. Mental warfare, leave it to the Yankees to bring the rivalry to that.

The deal also highlights George Steinbrenner's growing personal control over the team. As Brian Cashman has steadily lost control over the team Steinbrenner has been making more of the decisions. The Yankees are facing a future in which they already owe Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, and A-Rod a combined $396 million in guaranteed money. Giambi and Jeter have already started to decline (Giambi might have a slight case of Albert Belle syndrom), even if A-Rod maintains his current level of performance the Yankees will have a rather large amount of money tied up in two other aging and underperforming stars.

I'm sure that John Henry and Theo Epstein are unhappy about A-Rod going to the Yankees but worse things could happen. As it stands now, the Yankees have built an offensive powerhouse with reasonably good pitching and weak defense. The Red Sox have made an effort this offseason to balance last year's squad with an infusion of pitching. This flip-flop is interesting because the Red Sox have historically been the more offensively heavy team among the two.

The additions of Gary Sheffield and A-Rod will certainly give the Yankees the best lineup in the majors but their pitching still contains a number of question marks. Kevin Brown was one of the best pitchers in the majors a few years ago but now that he has developed injury problems his real value is a big question (he may also take a beating because of the Yankees complete lack of defense). Jon Lieber has not pitched in a year and may need a few months before he regains his pre-injury form. Jose Contreras has amazing "stuff" but he's also 39 years old an "american years" and has yet to prove he can stay healthy for an entire season while a member of the rotation. Of all the Yankee starters Javier Vazquez is likely to be the most reliable but even he has not proved he can pitch effectively in New York's high-pressure atmosphere. In most years this would not be a problem for the Yankees, they could just go out and grab a pitcher from another team before the trading deadline. Will they have to the money to be able to do so this year now that A-Rod is on the roster?

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