As expected, the New York Yankees led the MLB this season with a gaudy $197 million payroll. As expected, they won their division and were widely considered as one of the favorites to win the World Series.
What they did not expect – what no one expected – was that the Detroit Tigers would sweep the Yankees in four games in the American League Championship Series.
It’s easy to try and blame such a loss on one player, and Alex Rodriguez, the man with the 10-year, $275 million contract, was that player for the Yankees.
Despite the fact that Rodriguez may be the most overpaid athlete in any sport, the Yankees should not, and realistically cannot, trade him.
The Yankees overpaid for Rodriguez; there’s no way around it. No athlete in any sport is worth $275 million, especially one that was 32 years old when he signed the deal.
The Yankees knew that he would not always be the MVP-caliber player he once was, and they knew his production in his later years of his contract would not match his salary. They still signed him, though, because they are the Yankees: They have to get the best players, no matter the cost, no matter their age.
The idea that an elite player may sign somewhere else, quite possibly with the hated Boston Red Sox, is unimaginable for the Yankees.
Since he signed his most recent contract with the Yankees, Rodriguez has hit above .300 only once, and that was in the first year of the deal. He has failed to hit above .300 the last four years and has missed at least 25 games per year over that same stretch.
His postseason statistics are even worse. With the Yankees, Rodriguez has hit a paltry .244 with 10 home runs and 33 RBIs. But even these stats are slightly misleading, as all but one of those home runs and seven of those RBIs came in 2004 and 2009.
Rodriguez really struggled this past postseason, as he hit just .120, struck out 12 times and sat on the bench for three games in a controversial move by Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
It was during this slump that trade rumors surfaced and the Miami Marlins were listed as a possible destination for the former MVP. Rodriguez has a no-trade clause in his contract, however, and does not plan to waive that anytime soon.
“My focus is to stay here,” Rodriguez said, in an interview after the ALCS sweep. “Let’s make that very, very clear. I will be back, and I have a lot to prove, and I will come back on a mission.”
Such a statement may have carried some weight with it five years ago, but it carries significantly less now. Rodriguez may be mentally determined to have a comeback season, but at age 37 it seems unlikely to happen.
Rodriguez will receive $114 million over the next five years, plus incentives for passing certain home run milestones. Even if he waived his no-trade clause, it seems unlikely that a team would be willing to take on his massive contract.
The Yankees could buy out the contract in order to get a deal done, but that would put them way over the salary cap, and they would still need to find a serviceable replacement at third base. While Rodriguez may be a divisive figure, bringing in a new third baseman to replace him could cause strife in the clubhouse.
And it’s not like he adds no value to the team. His offensive wins above replacement statistic was 2.3 for 2012, which means he is still better than someone the Yankees could get to replace him. He also missed 40 games due to injuries, and it is likely that, if he can stay healthy, he can improve this and other offensive numbers next season.
The Yankees might benefit if they moved Rodriguez to the designated hitter though, as his defensive wins above replacement statistic was -0.4. This would keep him healthier and would allow him to focus on his hitting, while the Yankees could find a defensive-minded third baseman.
There is really no market for a player like Rodriguez. An aging superstar with the largest contract in the league is hard to trade, and any team that even considered trading for him would be considered misguided at best. For better or worse, the Yankees are stuck with Alex Rodriguez.