Sunday, April 07, 2013

Winters of Discontent: A Look Back at the A-Rod Trade by Kip Yates

Alex Rodriguez was traded from the Texas Rangers to the New York Yankees for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later during the winter of 2004. This remarkable trade is rather unremarkable in hindsight but it signified a change in direction not so much for the Rangers and Yankees as another team that dodged the proverbial bullet by losing out on their quest for A-Rod. The Rangers, cellar dwellers since 2001, used the trade as a stepping stone to other transactions that would hopefully propel them out of the gutter and on the road toward fiscal sanity. The Yankees had just lost the 2003 World Series to the Florida Marlins (after championships in 1996, ’98, ’99, 2000, a close call in 2001 and a hiccup in 2002 where they missed the World Series all together) and they hoped the trade would signal their return to prominence. A third team, ultimately not involved, saw the trade that got away as the end of long years of losing and heartache and the beginning of richer times.
The Boston Red Sox had not won a World Series since 1918 and they’d just witnessed a 5-2 Game 7 lead evaporate at the hands of Aaron Freakin' Boone who won the 2003 American League Championship with a 12th inning homerun. (Side note: I still have not ever watched that ball land in the stands and will change the channel or walk out of the room before it ever does.) In the off-season, Boone injured himself playing basketball and the Yankees needed a new third baseman so surely if they were to come calling, Alex Rodriguez would gladly cede his shortstop position to team captain Derek Jeter and move to third, right? Over Boston General Manager Theo Epstein's dead body! He had already lost to New York in a bidding war for Jose Contreras a year earlier. Now his nemesis wanted to replace Boone with the youngest and greatest ballplayer of his generation. It was on! All Texas had to do was watch the standoff and wait for the best offer.
It turns out that Boston made the best offer. Their offer was good enough to make Texas pull the trigger. However, the MLB Players Association vetoed the trade because it called for a voluntary reduction in A-Rod’s salary. The Yankees were waiting in the wings and made the trade in February.  New York papers splashed Jeter and A-Rod’s pictures on the front and back pages with supercilious headlines. It was a match made in heaven.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past decade, you know what happened during the 2004 season and post-season. To recap:

·Boston catcher Jason Varitek stuffed A-Rod's face into his catcher’s mitt, the Red Sox caught fire and won the wildcard.  Then Dave Roberts stole second off of Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS and the Red Sox didn't lose a game for the rest of the post-season en route to their first championship in 86 years.
·The world watched in disbelief as the Yankees suffered the most colossal choke job in all of sports becoming the first and to date only baseball team to lose a 3-0 lead in a seven-game series.
·The Rangers climbed out of last place and won 89 games. 

Free from the constraints of A-Rod’s $252 million salary, Texas attempted to rebuild a lost franchise that for three glorious seasons saw their investment produce All-Star and MVP caliber seasons and perhaps for a while at least dividends at the box office. However, there were the consecutive last place finishes to contend with. Soriano was a nice addition. For two seasons, he hit in the high .200s and averaged 30 home runs. Before the 2006 season, Texas tried addition by subtraction when they sent Soriano to the Washington Nationals for Brad Wilkerson, Termel Sledge and Armando Gallaraga. Later that offseason, they sent Sledge, Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez to the San Diego Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka as well as afterthought Billy Killian. So how exactly did trading A-Rod work out for Texas? Since the trade, A-Rod has won two more MVPs while Soriano has gradually declined with the Chicago Cubs. And the others?

·Brad Wilkerson is regarded as one of the worst Rangers hitters in history which is saying quite a bit because Mario Mendoza of the infamous “Mendoza Line” was a Ranger. Wilkerson played for two seasons, averaged .228, hit for some power and reached the century mark in K’s during both seasons.
·Adam Eaton gave the Rangers 13 games and a plus five E.R.A
·Akinori Otsuka was a reliable reliever with 90 innings and a 2.30 average E.R.A
·Armando Gallaraga is mostly known for a Perfect Game lost on a blown Jim Joyce call while playing for the Detroit Tigers.

What about the PTBNL? It gets interesting here. One of the things the Yankees do better than any other team is over valuing a player and keeping their cards close to the chest. Think Ricky Ledee, Shane Spencer, Chad Curtis, Shelley Duncan, et al.! That off-season the Yankees were hot and heavy about Joaquin Arias and ranked him the number one prospect and of course the Rangers took the bait and selected him in the A-Rod trade. The trade gets even more laughable when you realize the number six rated prospect was perennial All-Star and MVP candidate Robinson Cano. So yeah, the Rangers kind of got fleeced in that trade and did nothing in subsequent trades involving the aforementioned players that would indicate two consecutive World Series appearances in 2010 and ’11. However, recent success can be traced to a trade involving the Braves that featured current Yankees first baseman Mark Texiera.

Boston, free from the curse of the Bambino, liked the taste of champagne so much that they won the Series again in 2007 and came within a win of returning in 2008. The Red Sox have recently fallen on hard times as age and a digression from a proven winning front office formula have halted any additional progress. As the 2013 season dawns, Boston has a new manager in John Farrell who was pitching coach for the 2007 championship. Second year general manager Ben Cherington is trying to shake Epstein’s aura and mold the team in his own image with new faces. Boston has a new outlook this spring. There is hope again in Beantown.

There is always hope in the Big Apple. After the 2004 ALCS choke job, The Yankees lost the Division Series four consecutive seasons. They missed the playoffs altogether in 2008 before winning it all in 2009. That was A-Rod’s first and only championship and was fueled more by the all-in nature of the Texiera and CC Sabathia free agency acquisitions than anything A-Rod contributed on the field.  Since then, the Yankees have become more accustomed to losing in October than winning and A-Rod’s long term $275 million contract is an albatross. His productivity is down and his well-chronicled front page antics are up. Rumors and suspicions of PED use escalate, tainting what is still a Hall of Fame career. Age and chronic hip injuries keep him from being the player they expected when he was awarded the monster contract.  His re-signing was a decision designed to keep him in pinstripes to break the all-time home run record. It is a decision that Yankees fans and front office brass alike rue as the 2013 season gets underway.

Kip Yates is father of thee and wonderful husband to Jamie, used to like Alex Rodriguez when he was a doe-eyed superstar on the rise that seemed to play for only the love of the game. Then he got greedy and year by year became a boob that Kip disparages any chance he can get.

No comments: