Full of Sound and Fury...

It's been a pretty busy offseason for me.  I did player profiles for the STATS Inc Scouting Notebook for the third straight year, and then added the American League player profiles for the Fantasy Baseball Index, as well as a couple of columns for them.  But now is the time to get ready for the season ahead, both in real baseball for MLB.com, and in fantasy baseball for Tout Wars and Mixed Nuts.  I'll begin regular columns on this season starting next week, but I wanted to start the preseason with thoughts on this year's biggest story so far.

For supposedly America's second favorite sport, baseball has made a lot of news this winter.  The latest was the Ranger's surprising trade of Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later.  The attraction from the Yankees side is obvious: they have not had a player as good as ARod on that team since Mickey Mantle manned centerfield for them.  Considering the position he plays, it could be argued that he's their best player since Babe Ruth.  Which makes his move from shorstop to third a bit confusing. 

Derek Jeter, as nice of a guy as he is and as down to earth as he is and as good as he is, is not in the same conversation as Alex Rodriguez when it comes to discussing great players.  Looking at the numbers; it's a bit like comparing Bernie Williams to Ted Williams. 

Player       ABs      Hits    2b    3b    HR    RBI    runs    OPS    BB     K     SB    Range    ZR
Jeter        651      207     32     5    17     82     124    851    69    117    24     4.10   .818
Rodriguez    634      195     36     3    44    126     128    963    71    126    22     4.63   .863

Those are the numbers for an average year from each player.  The differences really stand out in home runs, RBI, OPS and the defensive measures, each of which heavily favor ARod.  Jeter supporters will undoubtedly cite the four championships they have won with Jeter at shortstop, but the Yankees have not won a World Series in either of their last two tries, so if Jeter was the driving force behind their championship run, he hasn't been driving much recently.  Those championships certainly couldn't have been due to the fact that the Yankees have had guys like Roger Clemens, David Cone, David Wells, Jimmy Key and Mariano Rivera pitching for them, could they?  Or that they had better than league average production at every position on the field the last 10 years?  No, as Mars Blackmon might say, "it's gotta be da shortstop".

There are two points to be made that have apparently escaped much of the attention of the media.  The first is that Rodriguez will be playing a new position, and unlike shortstop, it's a reaction position.  Many good shortstops have been moved to third and struggled.  There's no guarantee that ARod will thrive there as he has at short.  It's quite possible, although somewhat unlikely, that moving Rodriguez will give the Yankees two poor fielders on the left side of the infield.  Moving Jeter to third would make more sense because he really doesn't have the range for short anyway: he hasn't topped 4.00 range factor since 2000 and his zone rating has been below .800 in two of the last three years.  He was last among regular major league shortstops in range last year.  In short, he's a lousy fielder at short.   For a team that will be depending on two extreme groundball pitchers - Kevin Brown and Jon Lieber - to continue their success, moving an excellent shortstop to accomodate a lousy one seems like an extremely uninformed decision.  If they kept Rodriguez at short, at least they'd have a chance that some of the groundballs would be caught.

The second point to be made is that unless the Yankees somehow trade for a good second baseman, they are going to have some pretty ugly options in their line-up.  Enrique Wilson, Miguel Cairo, Homer Bush will be the main candidates for second base now that Soriano is gone.  Wilson has a career .654 OPS and has hit below .230 for the last three years.  Cairo's career OPS is .678.  The best of the bunch is Bush, who was out of baseball due to a hip injury last year and his career OPS is .685.  So even with the addition of ARod, how much better are the Yanks than they were?  Soriano is not a terrible player and certainly better than the dreck they will have playing his old position.  The Yankees would have had Tyler Houston (.735 OPS) or Mike Lamb (.721) or some late-signed free agent third baseman, plus Soriano (.824).  Now they have ARod (.953) plus the Dreck du Jour (.675-ish OPS).  There's not really that much added on offense as a whole and it's somewhat questionable what they add on defense, if anything. 

But that's not the most confusing part of this trade.  What in the world are the Rangers thinking?  Forget the nonsense about adding payroll flexibility.  Not only is it not true that ARod's contract is the reason they couldn't get any pitching - just look at all the other bad contracts the Rangers have added in recent years and you'll find close to $50 million is wasted money, which is almost enough to buy the entire roster of the Oakland A's ($50.26 million last year) - but now that he's gone, what will they do with the savings?  For one, they need a shortstop and they don't have anyone who can play the position competently.  Michael Young is a second baseman who has a grand total of 18 games at short under his belt.  Ramon Nivar played it well enough in the minors that the Rangers moved him to the outfield.  Who did the Rangers have playing short in the minors?  Manny Alexander (AAA) and Marshall McDougall (AA): a journeyman shortstop and a college second baseman. 

It's true that Soriano came up as a shortstop, and might be the Rangers best option at the position but they want to move him to center field.  OK, the Rangers already had Kevin Mench, Ramon Nivar, Jayson Nix, Brian Jordan, David Delluci and Jason Tyner battling for playing time in the outfield.  Now they want to add another to the mix.  Not that Nivar, Dellucci or Tyner would have won a starting job, but now they have four guys deserving of a full time job in the outfield and no one capable of handling the most important defensive position in the infield.  

So, in addition to paying Rodriguez an average of $9.57 million a year not to play for them (they agreed to pay $67 million of the $179 million he's owed), the Rangers have to spend more money to get a competent shortstop.  Nevermind that all their other positions are competently filled so the only other place they can add offense is at catcher, which means they either trade for an $8-10 million catcher, or take a hit on offense.  So how much of the $25 million per year they were paying ARod will they really have to spend on "much needed" pitching?  

Given that an average starting shortstop makes around $3 million per year (Jeter, Garciaparra, Tejada and ARod skew the average even higher), they get about $13 million to spend on pitching.  But that's assuming that their gain in pitching offsets their loss on offense (a very big assumption).  If they want to be better, they need to address the drop-off in offense, so they'll have to spend another $8 million or so to upgrade either short or catcher or both.  Then figure in that Soriano is due to make over $5 million this year and more over the next two years.  Did I mention that in Soriano the Rangers got a player who is the same age as the player they traded away?  So what we have is nearly $10 million paid to ARod to play for someone else, $5+ million for Soriano, and probably $2-3 million for a stopgap shortstop.  That leaves about $8 million for either pitching, or an upgrade to catcher and/or shortstop to make up for the lost offense. 

In short, they break even financially on the deal and screw up the continuity of the team, creating a hole in the infield, further clogging a clogged outfield situation, leaving them both grasping for replacements and pitching help.  And they say they are better for it.  Is it possible that the Rangers made a trade that not only makes no financial sense, but also makes no baseball sense either?  Yes, please continue to watch for the Rangers at the bottom of the AL West standings for the forseeable future. 

The only "winner" in this situation appears to be agent Scott Boras, who has become as powerful as an owner by engineering this deal.  He took a player who was under contract and managed to convince two teams that the player had to be traded and that his client shouldn't take any cut in salary to move to a potentially more profitable situation.  In essense, he made ARod a free agent while he was still under contract.  If an owner did that, he would be punished for tampering.  Boras does it, and will likely reap more clients who want him to do the same for them.

No, not even Alex Rodriguez wins in this because 1) the Yankees must win the championship to justify his finagling, and 2) whereas he was a virtual lock to become universally recognized as the best shortstop ever and one of the top 2 or 3 players in history, he now has to somehow play second fiddle to an inferior player for the next seven years.  It's true that ARod's chances of winning are better this year in a Yankee uniform than they were in Texas, but down the road that might not be true.

Texas already had a pretty good stable of young hitters - Teixeira, Blalock, Young, Nix, Mench - and has some decent young arms in the wings.  With ARod solidifying the infield defense and the middle of the line-up, they could have become a competitve force in the AL West as soon as next year.  Now, they have too many question marks.  Yes, one great player can have that kind of an impact. 

The Yankees have serious questions on defense as they now have zero players in the field who are actually above average defenders, assuming that ARod becomes only an average third baseman.  If he manages to excel, he will be the Yankees only plus starting defender.  The offense will be slightly better than last year, but that's assuming that Sheffield and Giambi can stay healthy.  In the years to come, that proposition will become more and more iffy given their injury history.  The Yanks also have little or nothing on the farm after their acquisition spree so the future, along with a $200+ million payroll, is definitely now.  It's possible if they don't win it all this year, as great a player as he is, ARod will be remembered not for what he did on the field, but for what he did off it and for what he failed to do on it.