This is, of course, a Detroit Tigers site but every so often there comes a story so big and/or so bizarre that we have to delve into it here despite a lack of direct relevance for Tigers fans. The feud between Alex Rodriguez and the New York Yankees is one such story.
If you haven’t been following baseball news at all, or at least news that doesn’t concern Detroit, it’s possible that you could use a recap. The gist of it is this: the Yankees appear to want Rodriguez to stay hurt so that they can continue to collect insurance money, appear to be looking for any possible way to suspend him or void his contract and appear downright enthusiastic about the chance that he could face a lengthy suspension for involvement with the BioGenesis clinic. Rodriguez is no longer staying quiet. Probably his private relationship with the Yankees front office has been toxic for a while, but that toxicity is becoming increasingly public.
Rodriguez played hardball with the Yankees to get a lengthy and lucrative contract extension. He hasn’t been earning what he is getting paid for a few years now and he’s unlikely to do so over the remaining years of the deal. That doesn’t make him a unique burden, particularly among aging stars. Mark Teixeira is also failing to provide value for his deal. Prince Fielder is unlikely to earn his 2018 paycheck. How many other instances can you think of, off the top of your head, of MLB teams trying to weasel out from long term deals that they wish they never agreed to? I can’t think of any, maybe you can. What I’m trying to get across is that while the Yankees financial predicament is completely understandable, their apparent reaction to it is still almost unprecedented.
It’s also pretty normal for teams that agreed to albatross contracts to simply cut the guy loose once it becomes apparent that he can no longer help the team. That isn’t the case here. First, there has been no real talk that the Yankees could simply eat ARod’s salary and only the quiet suggestion from outside that they might prefer to deal him and eat a portion. The thing is – ARod does still have value (if healthy), just nowhere near as much value as his contract would suggest. Few teams could use him more – the Yankees sans ARod have a .562 OPS and -0.4 WAR at the third base position this year. The Yankees, despite their many injuries, are 2.5 games behind Baltimore for the second wild card spot. In 2011, ARod was a 4-win player. In his injury-riddled 2012, he was still worth 2 wins. It’s no exaggeration to say that the Yankees are, in fact, one healthy ARod out of the second wild card.
You would expect a big-spending, big-market team that finds itself a handful of games behind as the trade deadline approaches to be looking to add players. You’d also expect them to be trying to bend rules, cut corners, etc… to get Rodriguez back on the field – they’re a much better team with him than without him. It’s likely that a suspension of some sort will be handed down for Rodriguez soon, which he has already announced that he will appeal. The Tigers would be devastated without Jhonny Peralta – were he forced to miss the rest of the season due to suspension. But… the difference in expected production beween Peralta and Ramon Santiago isn’t much bigger than between Rodriguez and his reserves. So why does it seem that the Yankees would rather see him suspended?
If you read the writeup of Robert Fick’s interview at the Detroit News, it might suggest to you what Rodriguez was likely doing with BioGenesis (assuming that it isn’t a trumped up charge – paid informants, and Tony Bosch at this point appears to amount to a paid informant for MLB, tend to finger the guys that the authorities most want to bust). Fick himself juiced briefly, not to get big, but to recover more quickly from recurring shoulder injuries. If I were a betting man, I would guess that ARod has been doing the same in an effort to get back on the field and help the Yankees win. In a sense, it’s cheating. But in another sense, it’s about as much “cheating” as Tommy John surgery is. It does violate the written rules of the game, but it does nothing to attack the integrity of the game (unless you believe that seeing stars fade due to nagging injuries is an integral part of the game). More to the point – it’s the kind of thing that teams would have been turning a blind eye to if not actively facilitating during the juice era. The whole point is to help the team win.
So, consider me confused. The impression that I get is that the Yankees front office cares more about saving money right now than they do about the playoffs. That they don’t care about damaging the brand and they don’t care about looking bad to potential free agents. It also looks a bit like the Yankees don’t care if they get investigated for insurance fraud… saving money is more important than scandal. What’s going on over there? Is it safe to say that the Yankees are no longer the Yankees? That perhaps, the Tigers are the new Yankees?