If you believe all of the latest rumors, the annual hot stove season may be arriving early this year. Former ESPN Sportscenter anchor and current MLB.com blogger Keith Olbermann shared details early Wednesday afternoon of a potential blockbuster trade involving the Miami Marlins and the New York Yankees, a deal centered around embattled third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Sources within each organization have reportedly confirmed with Olbermann that talks have progressed far enough that two variations have been discussed. In one, the Yankees would cover the entire $114 Million remaining on Rodriguez’s contract. In the other, New York would receive Heath Bell and the $18 Million he is still owed, but would pay less of what remains on Rodriguez’s deal.
Now, at first glance the entire idea tosses a lot of “That’s ridiculous!” thoughts out into the air – or some stronger verbage, if that’s your preference – but could there potentially be some merit to the idea?
To begin, a “free” Alex Rodriguez could certainly do some good for the Marlins organization (as if that statement wasn’t an obvious one).
He grew up and went to high school in Miami (Westminster Christian). He still has a home in the area. He’d instantaneously serve as a new bridge to the heavily-Latin community that makes up the Miami area and an added connection to the fanbase. That’s not to suggest that Rodriguez’s heritage is the sole factor in why Miami could be a logical landing place for him, but the fact remains that he could likely help put fans in the seats which, in turn, drives more revenue into the organization and potentially lets ownership spend more to build a competitive roster around him (in theory, at least). Higher revenue potential coupled with not having to pay Rodriguez’s salary sounds like a win-win situation for the Marlins. Rodriguez is fond of New York, but he might be persuaded to waive his no-trade rights in order to facilitate a change of scenery.
Rodriguez also provides an instant upgrade to the Marlins roster, regardless of whether he stays at third base or moves across the diamond to first*. An argument could be made that the Marlins should look to address both corners of the infield this winter, but third base would certainly be the preferred hole to patch up. Looking at the organization’s 40-man roster there aren’t many options with any experience at third base. Greg Dobbs is under contract for another season and won’t cost much (roughly $1.5 Million), but he isn’t the most inspiring option for a full time starter at the position. He did bat .285/.313/.386 over 342 plate appearances, but doesn’t offer any power or speed. His value is mostly tied into his positional versatility as he appeared at both corner outfield and infield positions. Beyond Dobbs, the next best internal option would likely be Zach Cox – a former 1st Round pick of the Cardinals that Miami acquired last summer when they sent Edward Mujica to St. Louis – but he is not yet ready for the Major Leagues. Cox struggled in his experience at Triple-A this past season, prompting Miami to assign him to Double-A upon his acquisition and he hit just .253/.321/.368 with a lone home run over his final 106 plate appearances on the year.
Across the diamond Miami appears to already have two options – a healthy Logan Morrison or a possibly-resigned Carlos Lee. Morrison missed the last half of the 2012 season after suffering a knee injury, but according to his own Twitter account his rehab is progressing as planned and he’s starting to feel good again. Morrison has spent most of his time with the Marlins out in left field but the bulk of his time in the minor leagues was as a first baseman. His move to the outfield was largely a result of the team’s desire to get him into the lineup with Gaby Sanchez already entrenched at first base. With Sanchez now gone after being shipped to Pittsburgh last July, Morrison can potentially return to his natural position which could let him settle in offensively and be the .275/.380/.450 hitter with 20+ home runs that he’s long been projected to become.
As for Lee, his future is still a little uncertain despite rumblings that he and the Marlins are interested in signing a new deal. He hit a modest .243/.328/.325 with 4 HR and 48 RBI over 338 at bats once he joined Miami last season, playing respectable defense at first base. At 36 Lee isn’t getting any better defensively at this point in his career and his mobility in left field is a liability at this point, ruling out a return to the outfield in all likelihood. He’s held a strong track record for remaining healthy over his career but one has to wonder how well he’ll hold up under another season starting everyday. Like Morrison, Lee likely won’t cost much should the Marlins choose to bring him back for another season. Presumably it’d only require a one year deal (as there’s little to justify giving Lee anything longer) in the neighborhood of $3-5 Million would be sufficient. Perhaps that’s even an overstatement of the potential dollars he’ll be able to get on his next contract.
* Olbermann suggests such a move could make sense, but does not specify whether the suggestion is based on something he’s heard from a source or if it’s merely his own speculation. In theory there could be some validity to the idea, as Rodriguez is already 37 years old and has already started to show signs of aging. A transition to first base would be less taxing on his body defensively which could in turn keep him more productive at the plate. Should he remain with New York, he’d likely be relegated strictly to DHing as the Yankees’ infield is locked up for the next several years.
Here is where things start to get a little hazy, however, as the likelihood of this deal starts to fall apart on New York’s end.
To be clear, Rodriguez is no longer a $114 Million player at this point in his career. Over the next five seasons he is due payments of $28M, $25M, $21M, $20M, and $20M. Rodriguez did miss some time this year to injury, but otherwise batted .272/.353/.430 on the year over 529 plate appearances, adding 18 HR and 57 RBI. It was just the second time since 2000 that he wasn’t a part of the All Star Game festivities and the second consecutive “down year” for Rodriguez. Add in his dreadful performance during the 2012 postseason (a combined 3 for 23 through Game 3 of the ALCS, benched twice by manager Joe Girardi, plus a possible public relations nightmare stemming from trying to pickup two women during a game) and it’s a discouraging picture for the Yankees. For a team hoping to cut back on payroll in the coming years, an opportunity to move Rodriguez contains a certain obvious element of appeal.
The other part of the problem, however, is how do the Yankees go about replacing him at third base?
Internally, like the Marlins the Yankees have few options. Eduardo Nunez has seen some limited time at third in his brief career, though not with spectacular results defensively. He also doesn’t offer much power (7 career HR in 491 plate appearances over the past three seasons), something teams typically look for at the corners. Nunez’s value may be highest in a utility role rather than starting at third. The team could look to resign Eric Chavez this winter, but like Nunez he likely isn’t a viable everyday option at this point in his career, despite batting .281/.348/.496 in 313 plate appearances (his highest single season total since 2007) this past season.
This would likely force New York to look at the free agent and/or trade market in an effort to address third base and the pickings are expected to be slim. Scott Rolen is arguably the top free agent option at the position but he’s set to retire by all accounts. The next best option is likely Kevin Youkilis, but the chances that he and the Yankees would make for a good pair are slim at best, not to mention the fact that Youkilis is likely better served at first base at this point in his career. New York could look to acquire a third baseman via trade – such as San Diego’s Chase Headley – but the cost won’t be cheap given the high demand for quality third baseman across the league.
Replacing Rodriguez wouldn’t be an easy venture for the Yankees. The task becomes even more of a challenge if the team is actually covering the entire $114 Million remaining on his contract. While the organization’s desire to get out from under that deal is obvious, it makes little business sense to pay such an significant amount of money for him to play for another team. It makes even less sense if all the Yankees are getting in return is Heath Bell. Ultimately this is where the rumored deal starts to fall apart from a viability standpoint, even before we factor in the timing (New York is still in the playoffs, so it’s unlikely they’d already be discussing a trade with another organization.) and Yankees GM Brian Cashman’s denial that talks have even taken place.
New York may “explore” moving Rodriguez this winter but by no means is a deal a certainty. Miami will do something to address their third base situation, but Marlins fans shouldn’t get too comfortable just yet with the expectation that Rodriguez could be the answer, especially not a “free” Rodriguez.