Okay, so I haven’t blogged in four months, almost five. I’ll do better now, or at least after I’m done applying for grad school in early December. But it’s the winter, at least in baseball terms, so there are many interesting things going on with roster construction.
Alex Rodriguez is of course the big story, as he’s a free agent now, and it’s rare that the best player in baseball enters the free agent market. While we’ll hear in the media that few teams will want to sign him, and some in the BBWAA will even suggest that no one sign him, I think that makes no sense. There are few teams in baseball that should not want to sign him, as most teams are rolling in money (evidenced by last offseason’s salary spike) thanks to the new national media deals, and combined with revenue sharing. Furthermore, while I do think that chemistry is important, baseball is different from most other team sports, in that personal selfishness doesn’t get in the way of the actual playing of the game, unlike basketball or football, in which you are always reliant on your teammates. Yes, being a good co-worker is important, just as it is in any workplace, but it is the job (in my opinion the most important job) of the manager to facilitate camaraderie. So if a GM doesn’t think Arod (or any other player) will be a good fit personality-wise, then that should be an insult to the manager. And if a manager doesn’t want to deal with Arod, he should not keep his job.
Having said that, I’m going to go through each team and explore why, for both on-the-field and off-the-field reasons, they should or should not pursue him. Again, I think that almost any team can afford the potential $30-million contract if they wanted to, so we’re really looking at if they should want to, and taking a guess if they actually will want to. This will be in six parts, going through each division. As a Mets fan, I’ll start with the NL East (which happens to be the division I think he’s most likely to end up in.)
Starting with the NL East:
On the field: Arod can be viewed as either a third-baseman or a shortstop. Being so overloaded at the latter, with Yunel Escobar and Brett Lillibridge ready for major-league action, the Braves traded Edgar Renteria to the Tigers yesterday. At third, they have the very productive offensively, yet defensively liable Chipper Jones. If Arod were to end up here, Jones would go to left and Arod would man third. This would move Matt Diaz to the bench. In terms of WARP, this means you would net a little better than 6 wins in the comparison between Arod and Diaz. Considering that the Braves finished five games out of first, such a move would be very justifiable.
Off the field: The Braves are owned by some corporate conglomerate (Liberty Media, if I’m not mistaken.) I can’t imagine Frank Wren being given the okay to add a $30-million player, or even an $18-million player. Considering the Braves filled a pedestrian 67.7% of their seats last season, 16th in baseball, I think that adding a visible player like Arod would have very tangible effects at the gate, something that has been a problem in Atlanta despite the in-season success.
On the field: The Marlins have two of the top ten (if not top six) position players in baseball, between Hanley Ramirez and Miguel Cabrera. While those two players occupy Arod’s positions of third and short, it is widely expected that Cabrera will be a first-baseman before many more years pass. Signing Arod would thus give reason for the inevitible to occur. Mike Jacobs is thus left positionless, which is fine, considering he produced a whopping 1.1 WARP, practically 10 wins less than Arod’s 11.0. Adding 10 wins to the Marlins moves them to a .500 squad — with the improving young talent that is Ramirez, Cabrera, Jeremy Hermida, and to a lesser extent Dan Uggla and Josh Willingham, it’s not hard to imagine them as sudden contenders by this one move alone.
Off the field: The Marlins have no money! They have no stadium to play in three years from now! How can they afford Arod? Firstly, the Marlins spend no money, and without Arod, will next year likely only have two players (Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis) making more than the major-league minimum. Even adding $30 million to their payroll (in effect doubling it) would leave them 24th in baseball next year. Furthermore they do need a stadium, as contraction threats are not an option until 2012, per the CBA. Having Alex Rodriguez will help market a stadium to local officials, as it shows a long-term commitment to providing a winning team. This is especially true in Miami, which just happens to be Arod’s hometown. If Loria is serious about staying in Miami, signing Arod would be about the best move he could make to get a publically-funded stadium, and the profits gained would greatly exceed the cost of the player. The Marlins are one of the teams that stands to gain the most from adding Rodriguez.
New York Mets:
On the field: The Mets missed the playoffs by one excruciating game (or, in my view, one excruciating interference call in August.) So practically any way the Mets can improve their team will be a huge positive. That said, liek the Marlins, the Mets two best assets play shortstop and third, but unlike the Marlins, neither of them need to move for defensive reasons. However, David Wright sounded perfectly happy to switch positions for Arod in the middle of the season, and I can’t imagine that missing the postseason by one game will have lessened that acceptance. Alternatively, Arod could play second and Wright stay at third, or Jose Reyes could move back to second and Arod play short. Regardless, adding Arod would make the Mets the odds-on favorite in the NL next year.
Off the field: The Mets can certainly afford Rodriguez, as they play in the largest market in the country. Furthermore, they are moving into a new stadium soon, and can expect a revenue increase from that alone. Additionally, they are always competing with the Yankees for television viewers as well as ticket-buyers, not to mention merchandise sales, and stealing the Yankees’ best player will do nothing but help the pendulum swing towards the Mets. From a monetary perspective, I think the Mets might have the most to gain from adding Arod. From Arod’s perspective, I can think of few things that would be a bigger “screw you” to the Steinbrenners and the pro-Yankee portion of the New York media than leading the Mets to a World Series title. As a side note, Omar Minaya does seem to have a bias towards Latin American players.
On the field: If the Mets are the best off-the-field fit for Rodriguez, the Phillies might be the best on-field fit. The Phils won the division last year, but only by a single game over the Mets, and will clearly be in an off-season fight with both the Mets and the Braves. The Phillies worst position offensively was third base, which just happens to be Arod’s position at this point. The difference between Greg Dobbs and Arod is again about 10 WARP, which would make the Phillies a strong favorite to repeat.
Off the field: GM Pat Gillick has said that this is his last year before retiring. You have to imagine he won’t be thinking of “next year” in his pursuit to put together a World Series team. While normally I’d say that the Phillies have less to gain than most teams at the box office, as they sold practically 90% of tickets last season, which one would expect to rise based on this year’s playoff appearance alone, I think that Gillick’s intended departure will far outweigh the more marginal revenue that Arod would produce compared to the other teams in this division. However, while I’m less concerned than most about Arod’s mental character, the Philadelphia media and fandom are the most unforgivingly demanding in the country across all sports, and if the Phillies fail to win the World Series in his first year of the contract, Arod will be blamed and booed more than anyone else, even if he homers 100 times. I’m not sure I’d want to walk into that situation. As far as home run records go, Arod in that Philly bandbox threatens Bonds’ mark, whatever it finishes at, like nothing else.
On the field: The Nationals had the worst-hitting team, by far, in the majors last year. Their best hitter, Ryan Zimmerman, plays third, which forces Arod to short, which would be an infinite improvement over Christian Guzman. Of course, that means the Nationals would increase their supply of effective major-league hitters from one to two (three if you think Dmitri Young will do anything next year), leaving them still on the outside of any real playoff picture. However, adding Arod as well as one or two other big free agents could do it.
Off the field: The Nationals are moving into a new park this spring, and are expecting to be able to substantially increase their payroll, thus affording Arod and the additional free agents required to make them a contender. GM Jim Bowden is known for being aggressive in both trades and free agents, and while I often disagree with his moves, he at least goes for big moves, unlike what the Pirates and Royals have done for the past decade. While I think that selling a last-place club will be hard to Rodriguez (having already experienced Texas), if the Nationals show they are willing to spend, they could pull it off. (Note: while the Marlins were in fact in last place in 2007, the National/Expos have been the doormat for a long enough time that they are branded by much more of a last place stigma, as the Marlins won the Series in 2003, and were in contention into September of 2006.)
I really think that Arod will end up in this division more than any other, for the reasons described above. In addition, this was such a tight race between the Mets, Phillies, and Braves, that the addition of Rodriguez to one of your competitors hurts you by about as much as signing him helps. This will be true in other places as well, but I think it rings truer in the major media markets of the East Coast, and I’m sure Scott Boras will position these teams against each other in a way that only he can.