Yesterday, our own Pat Gallen outlined for you why he didn’t think A-Rod would be a good fit in Philly. The influx of trade rumors now surrounding the former superstar third baseman who is currently having his feet held to the fire by just about everyone in Yankeeland got me to thinking: A-Rod is an aging player with a lot of money left on a long-term deal he’ll seemingly never be able to match the exorbitant value of with his play on the field. He’s fallen out of favor and his struggles seem to be at an all-time high.
If this scenario sounds vaguely familiar, it should. The Phillies are currently going through a similar situation with one of their corner infielders–first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard is also a player with a superstar’s capabilities who has been hampered by injury of late, and whose contract seems to be moving rapidly into albatross zone.
So, imagine you’re Ruben Amaro, Jr. and you get a call from Yankees GM Brian Cashman. Here’s what Cashman says:
BC: Hey Ruby, long time no see! How ya doing, buddy? Listen, pal, I’ve got a third baseman on the market and you’re in need of one badly. We could use a steady DH up here in the Bronx, so why don’t we swap Howard and Rodgriguez straight up? You take my problem off my hands and I’ll take your problems off of yours. One big contract for another. Maybe a change of scenery will be good for both of them?
As Ruben Amaro, what do you say to that?
The fan in me wants to vomit at the thought. But GMs can’t afford to let fandom get in the way of sound business decisions and this would certainly be something Amaro would have to entertain. It’s basically a question of which big contract would you rather have. So, let’s compare the two.
First the contracts: Ryan Howard currently has $95M/4 years left on his deal, with a fifth year team option and a $10M buyout, while A-Rod has $114M/5 years. Howard will also be Rodriguez’s current age (37) when his deal is up, while A-Rod will be at the very end of his career, a ripe 42 years old. Advantage: Howard.
Now, let’s look at performance: 2012 was basically a wash for both players, as A-Rod only appeared in 99 games, while Howard was held to just 71. Examining these statistics won’t give us the clearest idea of how each player has fared of late. So let’s take a look at their numbers from 2008-2011.
A-Rod: 323 R, 111 HR, 390 RBI .284/.375/.521 with a 133 OPS+
Howard: 378 R, 157 HR, 511 RBI .265/.349/.529 with a 130 OPS+
It’s actually uncanny how similar the two players have been in the last five years. With an OPS+ separated by just three points, it’s almost too close to call. Advantage: Push
At this point, if I’m Ruben Amaro, Jr., there’s really only one question to ask myself: Do I want production out of the first base position or the third base position? Because past performance indicates you’ll get about the same numbers from both guys. If anything, better numbers will come from Howard, who still has his mid-30s ahead of him while A-Rod is moving into his baseball twilight years. Both players are also subpar defenders, so there’s not enough of a distinguishable difference to give any one guy the edge there. At this point, trading Howard for Rodriguez would seemingly be foolish.
But there is an X-factor here we’ve yet to discuss: Darin Ruf. In theory, the Phillies could trade Howard to the Yankees for A-Rod, filling their need for a third baseman at close to the same price they’re paying for the Big Piece, and move Ruf into the everyday first baseman’s job. As Ruf tore the cover off the ball both in Double-A and the Big Leagues in 2012, it’s something you’d have to at least consider, right?
Now the question becomes how much faith you have in Darin Ruf to be the everyday first baseman. If you believe he can do the job, it may be worth dealing Howard to get a Howard-like bat over at third. For me, though, Ruf hasn’t proven enough to be handed a job. I’ll stick with a guy in Ryan Howard who has shown what he’ll give me as a big league player.
If Cashman calls wanting to swap Howard for Rodriguez, RAJ would be smart to say no.