A-Rod for Alfonso Soriano version 2013: The Perfect Trade

Alex Rodriguez is a burden to the Yankees. His off-the-field attention plus on-the-field mediocrity has failed him in New York.

Yesterday the Mets made a bold (but smart) decision to remove Jason Bay despite the $21 million left on his contract. They decided it was time.

I think it’s A-Rod’s time.

But to lessen the financial blow, the Yankees could make a move that brings in a separate terrible contract.

Could the Yankees retrade A-Rod for Alfonso Soriano?

In 2004, the Yankees sent Soriano, cash, and a player to be named later (eventually Joaquin Arias who just won a World Series ring) for Rodriguez. It was the blockbuster trade that guaranteed the Yankees World Series titles for the next five years.

Today, it would be the blockbuster trade that ends A-Rod’s underachieving, borderline embarrassing run in the Big Apple.

Yes, the Yankees don’t need Soriano, or even want him, but a designated hitter, late-game pinch hitter, and occasional corner outfielder (Nick Swisher has played his last game in New York) would be of value.

Soriano’s team hasn’t won a playoff series since 2003. I’m sure he’ll trade a demotion for a real chance at a championship. Ichiro Suzuki did.

In what may be sports’ most immovable contract, Rodriguez is slated to make $114 million over the next five years – five more years of this.

No team will take him unless given a going-out-of-business discount. Plus, Rodriguez is a 10-5 player (ten years in the league, the latest five for the same team) so he can veto any trade.

With his home and heart in Florida, how about Rodriguez to the Rays, Soriano back to the Yankees, and Tampa prospects to the Chicago Cubs?

The poor, loveable loser Cubs have the equally inconvenient piece to rid. Soriano is owed $36 million over the next two years. If the Yankees pick up Soriano’s full contract, Chicago would gladly pay $36 million of Rodriguez’s contract to gain essentially “free” prospects and open up room on the roster. They might pay up to $40 million if the prospects are right.

The Yankees’ former second baseman strikes out way too much and is unequivocally overpaid – fits right in with the Yankees already. Chicago would jump to lower their salary, and I believe Soriano would return to New York (also a 10-5 player) where he was a fan favorite in the early 2000s.

The Yankees can rid themselves of the cancer into which Rodriguez has manifested and pay a smaller portion of his salary.

$114 million – $40 million = The Yankees eat $74 million.

The city of Miami wants Alex Rodriguez and vice versa. With A-Rod’s abysmal production since his fantastic 2009, the Yankees can probably get Miami to pay him $25 million over his last five years (including the prospect[s] they send to Chicago).

$74 million – $25 million ≈ $50 million

Proposed Trade:

Chicago Cubs
Get: Tampa prospects
Give away: 40 million to pad Rodriguez’s salary
Give away: Alfonso Soriano to Yankees

New York Yankees
Get: Alfonso Soriano
Give Away: Alex Rodriguez to Miami
Lose: The remaining $50 or-so million on Rodriguez’s contract

Miami Marlins
Get: Alex Rodriguez ($25 million over five years)
Give Away: A prospect or two to Chicago

When all is said and done, why cant this work?

Brian Cashman and the Yankees have declared publicly they are trying to get below the $180 million mark for luxury tax relief, and with Soriano they would only owe $18 million per year over the next two, versus  about $23 million per year over the next five.

The best trades are the ones where all parties improve. At this point in Rodriguez’s career, the Yankees will benefit from a divorce, the Cubs can win some prospects, and Miami gets street value for a fun, back-page player who wants to be there.

Do you think Derek Jeter could talk Scott Brosius out of retirement?


Digging Deeper – Mariano’s Injury

Rivera gets carried off the field after tearing his ACL in Kansas City May 3rd

Despite Rafael Soriano’s strong performance so far in 2012, Mariano Rivera’s absence has hurt the Yankees in more ways than the surface conveys.

This year, Soriano has thrown to a 2.10 ERA and has beautifully patched up Rivera’s absence. His 42 saves through 152 games have already surpassed Rivera’s average of 40 over the last three seasons. Soriano has blown four saves in 2012, identical to Rivera’s annual average over those same three years.

On May 3rd, Rivera tried to track down a Jayson Nix fly ball during batting practice in Kansas City, but tore his ACL near the warning track at Kauffman Stadium, ending his season and wreaking havoc in New York.

Enter Rafael Soriano – Rays closer from two years ago. Instead of Yankees management pushing 2011’s eighth-inning man David Robertson one inning up the totem pole, Joe Girardi pops Soriano from the seventh inning to the ninth.

As a side note, I thought it was the correct move at the time. From 2009-11, both Soriano and Rivera struck out just over a batter per nine innings, both sported an above average K/BB ratio, and while Rivera’s ERA was better, Soriano’s experience translated into the closer role better than the talented, but young Robertson.

But to say the Yankees have not been hurt by Rivera’s absence is wrong.

This year, the Yankees have thrown to a 3.32 ERA in the seventh inning (source here). By filling Rivera’s gap, Soriano simply borrows from Peter to pay Paul. The seventh inning role is left unfilled by a solid, trustworthy arm and is instead patched together with a hopeful concoction of unproven or young arms (Clay Rapada, David Phelps, Boone Logan, Cody Eppely, etc.)

NUMBER CRUNCHING: Soriano has pitched in 66 games this year. For argument’s sake, let’s say all those games came in “close” ballgames in the seventh inning, the inning he would pitch if Rivera were healthy.

Ignoring the fallacy of the predetermined outcome, let’s say Mariano is himself and Soriano still throws to a 2.10 ERA, allowing all 15 earned runs in the seventh inning. Taking the 3.32 ERA of Yankees seventh-inning pitching in 2012, opponents would score about nine less runs than if Mariano was healthy.

While this ignores many variables and requires multiple assumptions, you can’t ignore the big picture: The Yankees would average more wins, and have a greater chance to win the World Series, if Mariano Rivera was healthy, despite Soriano’s excellent season.

To look at it from a different angle, Rivera has averaged about three wins after replacement over the last three years according to baseball-reference.com. Say average seventh-inning pitchers are replacing Soriano, the Yankees would have a four-game lead over Baltimore with 10 games to play, not one.

In the first year with added emphasis on a division title, a four game lead would allow Girardi to relax and set up his pitching rotation for a likely ALDS appearance.

The game has changed over time. One hundred years ago, starters threw complete games every outing and the bullpen was reserved for starting pitchers that just weren’t good enough.

Slowly, a closer was in demand, then an eighth inning reliever, and in today’s game, a seventh-inning pitcher.

Since 2004, no pitcher has thrown over 255 innings in one season. In 1993, six hurled more than 255 innings. In 1963, six pitchers threw at least 275 innings, three over 300.

For the cherry on top, Will White threw 680 innings in 1879, and all 75 of his starts were complete games.

(For this reason I think Cy Young’s record of 511 wins is the most unbreakable record in sports, but that’s for another day.)

Since 2008, starting pitchers average a tad under six innings per start (141,878.1 innings pitched in 24,010 MLB starts since 2008 averages to 5.92 innings per start), so for a championship team, a seventh-inning man is vital.

With Rivera back in 2013, the Yankees have the best back end of the bullpen on paper. For a perennial offensive juggernaut, a trio of Soriano, Robertson, and Rivera will give the Yankees’ starters the confidence to relax and focus on just six strong innings, while the offense knows a late deficit is always within reach.

As for this season, are the Yankees a championship team without Mariano Rivera? No, but they are capable of winning the World Series. There’s a difference.