‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
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Many respected baseball columnists and radio hosts have already drawn their conclusions that Alex Rodriguez’s ninth-inning groundout in Game 4 of the ALCS was his final at-bat in a Yankees uniform.
Not so fast!
There are only two avenues for A-Rod to leave New York before his contract expires after the 2017 season (five years, $114 million remaining). Neither scenario is likely to take place this offseason.
Unlikely Scenario 1: A-Rod kicks up a storm to Yankees ownership over his diminished playoff role and requests a trade.
At least in public, Rodriguez has handled his playoff demotion with class. None of us are privy to what goes on behind the scenes, but some have already speculated that Brian Cashman has explored trade routes to rid the Yankees of their aging third baseman, who may be willing to accept a trade to another large market team. I’m not buying it.
Cashman spoke to reporters about the A-Rod rumors after Game 4: “I wouldn’t be willing to get rid of anybody unless it made sense for us. I fully expect Alex to be here next year.”
After the Yankees were eliminated, A-Rod made it abundantly clear that he has no intention of leaving. Rodriguez has complete control of his own fate — a full no-trade clause was written into the contract he signed in Dec. 2007.
“I’ve never thought about going to another team. My focus is to stay here. Let’s make that very, very clear,” Rodriguez said to a group of reporters in Detroit.
“I love New York City,” he added. “I plan to be here. I plan to come back and be productive for this team for awhile.”
A-Rod appeared puzzled by the rampant speculation as he addressed multiple questions regarding his future.
“I don’t get into speculation. I can only deal with what I can control and I’m going to take care of that,” he said.
Rodriguez’s inner confidence doesn’t seem to be swayed by a disastrous 2012 postseason, where he batted just .120 in 25 at-bats and failed to record an extra-base hit or drive in a run. A-Rod had trouble catching up with high fastballs and struck out 12 times during the playoffs.
“I’m not a guy that’s ever going to make up excuses,” Rodriguez stated. “I feel like I had ample opportunity to do my job. Obviously, I wish I had more. If I do what I’m supposed to be doing, neither Joe or Cashman can bench me.”
I don’t think anyone expects A-Rod’s role to diminish to the point that he’ll be a part-time player against left-handed pitching in 2013.
Enough With These Half-Baked Trade Rumors
It’s bizarre how a spring training joke between Yankees president Randy Levine and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria could draw so much attention.
Well, when Keith Olbermann passes it off as a fresh “exclusive” on his MLB.com-affiliated blog, people will take an interest.
Olbermann suggested the Yankees might be willing to take Heath Bell’s salary off the Miami Marlins’ hands. Bell is due an egregious remaining total of $18 million over the next two years.
Why would the Yankees have an interest in adding Bell’s bloated salary to their bullpen when they have Rafael Soriano and David Robertson occupying their closer and setup spots while Mariano Rivera pushes for a 2013 return?
Nor would the Yankees want any part of the $18 million and $19 million that Mark Buehrle is due in 2014 and 2015. Even if the Yankees were foolish enough to take on Buehrle’s remaining $48 million due over the next three years, they would still have to pay a significant chunk of A-Rod’s $114 million due over the next five years.
Adding a large contract like Buehrle’s to an already high payroll and swallowing a large portion of A-Rod’s salary so he can play for another team makes no sense at all for the Yankees.
Most importantly, why would Rodriguez be willing to join the Marlins? Obviously, it’s his hometown but the Marlins have shown little commitment toward a long-term plan and lack an overall sense of direction.
I’d imagine that if A-Rod ever considered leaving the Yankees, the Los Angeles Angels and Chicago White Sox would be higher on his list.
The Angels could use an upgrade over third baseman Alberto Callaspo, but the Yankees would have to accept mega-bust Vernon Wells in return for A-Rod. Such a deal makes absolutely no sense for the Yankees.
Another team who could use A-Rod’s services are the White Sox. Third baseman Kevin Youkilis failed to impress for the “Pale Hose” and his future with the White Sox is uncertain. Though Youkilis’ power numbers were impressive, he batted just .236 in 80 games. It’s likely Chicago pays Youkilis the $1 million buyout rather than picking up his $13 million option.
White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams is never shy to take a gamble, but the only way Chicago could afford A-Rod would be by sending Adam Dunn to the Yankees. Given the Yankees’ preference to rotate their DH, Dunn isn’t a fit in the Bronx.
There is also the matter of deciding how Rodriguez’s $6 million payments would be paid for potential home run landmarks (660, 714 and the highly-unlikely 755) if he were to be traded.
Unlikely Scenario 2: The Yankees have had enough of Rodriguez and are ready to negotiate a buyout.
First off, let’s get this straight. The current Yankees regime works with set budgets. They’re in the process of lowering their annual salary to below the upcoming $189 million luxury tax threshold, set for 2014. This isn’t the mid-2000s when the Yankees would pile the most expensive free agents onto an already bloated payroll and willingly pay an extra $23-to-$34 million in luxury tax.
In 2011, the Yankees paid a luxury tax bill of $13.9 million . That’s a huge dropoff from the $33.9 million in luxury tax they paid in 2005.
Even if the Yankees were to successfully negotiate a partial buyout, they don’t have a ready-made replacement waiting in the wings. Eduardo Nunez showed flashes of talent in his limited role in the 2012 ALCS, but the Yankees aren’t ready to hand over the keys at the hot corner to the unproven Nunez.
If the Yankees were to somehow deal A-Rod, they would have to find a proven replacement and frankly, they don’t have the budget required to swallow some of Rodriguez’s contract and acquire a star third baseman.
Keep in mind, Robinson Cano is due for a significant raise. The Yankees will, in all likelihood, pick up his $15 million option for 2013 and negotiate a long-term extension. Even considering his dreadful 2012 postseason, the minimum starting point for Cano’s extension would be five years at $100 million.
A-Rod and the Yankees appear to be stuck with each other. New York had its opportunity to free themselves of Rodriguez when he used the platform of the 2007 World Series to opt out of his contract and become a free agent.
Instead of telling A-Rod to take a hike after he slapped them in the face, they came back with an increased annual salary and attached themselves to him until after the 2017 season. That contract is an albatross that the Yankees are going to be forced to live with.
The Yankees made their bed with A-Rod, and now they’re going to have to lie in it.
Where do you see A-Rod playing in 2013? Sound off below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.