10:55 am Oct. 18, 2012
In this operatic October for the Yankees, the consistent villain of the team's own making has been Alex Rodriguez.
Virtually no one is hitting, yet it is Rodriguez who was pinch-hit for repeatedly, then benched. Even in spots where he made sense—in the ninth inning of Game 3, down a run, the Yankees ran out successive lefty hitters against Phil Coke, a reliever whose kryptonite is righty sluggers—Rodriguez has remained planted on the bench.
So within this context, Keith Olbermann's Wednesday story that had the Yankees discussing a trade with the Miami Marlins that would dump Rodriguez back in his hometown made plenty of sense.
It is the proposed deal itself that doesn't, at least in pure baseball terms, any more than it makes sense to blame Rodriguez for a teamwide slump.
According to Olbermann, this is the framework of the potential trade:
"Sources close to both organizations confirm the Yankees would pay all – or virtually all – of the $114,000,000 Rodriguez is owed in a contract that runs through the rest of this season and the next five. One alternative scenario has also been discussed in which the Yankees would pay less of Rodriguez’s salary, but would obtain the troubled Marlins’ reliever Heath Bell and pay what remains of the three-year, $27,000,000 deal Bell signed last winter."
So let's start by getting an obvious point out of the way: Alex Rodriguez, 37 and in decline, is overpaid. He'll almost certainly fail to approach $114 million in value over the next five seasons, given the trend of his production and his age. If the Yankees found a way to be rid of his contract, that would be a trade worth exploring.
But that is manifestly not what this deal would be. The Yankees would be keeping Rodriguez's contract: this trade would merely rid the team of Rodriguez himself. Which, again in baseball terms, seems crazy.
Rodriguez is certainly past his prime. His O.P.S.+ numbers, by season, since 2007, are: 176, 150, 138, 123, 119, 112.
But like any truly great player, his decline started from such a high place that he was still a valuable player for the Yankees in 2012.
Among the 34 third basemen with at least 81 games played at the position, that O.P.S. ranked thirteenth in the major leagues. Of the 12 players ahead of Rodriguez, 10 are essentially off-limits (with the possible exception of David Wright), another is current Yankee Eric Chavez, who would actually make a perfect platoon alternate to Rodriguez at third base next year, but is no regular, and the 12th is the retiring Chipper Jones. So getting rid of Rodriguez is almost certainly paying for the privilege of downgrading at third base.
Should the Yankees attempt to keep Rodriguez healthier by putting him at designated hitter full time, he'd likely be among the better producers at the position as well. Among designated hitters, his 112 O.P.S.+ would have ranked seventh in the league, and his production was well above league average at the position.
There are clearly other factors driving this decision, and which might explain why Rodriguez has been singled out like this by his manager. Far less accomplished players than Rodriguez have bounced back from far more; witness Derek Jeter's return to form over the second half of 2011 and all of 2012, after a season-and-a-half of relative futility.
So the Yankees could be finished as soon as Thursday night, when the postponed Game 4 is scheduled to be played. And Rodriguez's tenure with the Yankees could end soon after that, for reasons that seem to go beyond his performance on the field.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Rasheed Wallace, who has yet to be cleared to even scrimmage, won't get a guaranteed contract until January, if he does.
Marcus Camby declared that he'll be ready to play next week.
Ronnie Brewer finally practiced for the Knicks, which is good, because J.R. Smith is now in a walking boot.
In 27 minutes, Lin had 12 assists, five rebounds, four steals and shot 3-for-9 in Wednesday's 109-102 win by the Houston Rockets over the Memphis Grizzlies.
BIG EAST BASKETBALL
The preseason coaches' poll had St. John's tenth, Rutgers eleventh and Seton Hall fourteenth. Louisville was the pick to win.