When I first read Joel Sherman’s column from yesterday, I kind of laughed. The idea is pretty simple: Allow each team a one-time chance to release one player from a contract. This is akin to what the NBA did in 2005, dubbed the Allan Houston Rule. The team is free from the contract for luxury tax purposes, but still has to pay the remainder to the player. This would theoretically clear up some dollars so teams could wheel and deal a bit more this year at the trade deadline. As it stands, most teams seem unable to add payroll.
At least Sherman admits his flaw early on, in that the Yankees are the only team above the luxury tax threshold. His proposition is to have MLB “use all of those dollars from the Internet, merchandising and the new network to absorb one contract from every team.” Again, this is a fantasy-land proposal. There is no way that MLB would hand Colorado the remainder of Todd Helton’s contract, and they certainly wouldn’t fork over the money left on deals like Barry Zito, Vernon Wells, Oliver Perez, and Alex Rodriguez. So in terms of realism, you can file this under: Not Gonna Happen (unless someone has compromising pictures of Selig).
Since it’s an off-day, though, I figured we could have some fun. Let’s suspend reality for a moment and pretend that MLB institutes this policy. Each team can release one player, and MLB will absorb the cost (maybe just for one year, maybe the whole term of the contract — it matters little). The exception, of course, is the Yankees. Since they’re the only team above the luxury tax threshold, they’re still responsible for paying the money owed to the player they release. They’d still save the luxury tax, but they’d still have to pay the player — and pay him to play for another team, in all likelihood.
The easy answer, it would seem, is Alex Rodriguez. Even A-Rod’s biggest supporters admit that his contract is atrocious. It runs through his age-42 season, and pays him an exorbitant sum for a yet unknown level of production. To release him would ease the Yanks’ payment into the luxury tax pool, which would then enable them to find other players to replace him.
Two problems immediately come to mind: 1) This would significantly hurt the 2009 team, and 2) They’d have to pay A-Rod over $200 million to play for another team. That team could likely get A-Rod on decent terms, since the Yankees still owe him all that money. So he plays cheap for an opponent. That’s not very attractive. Nor is the prospect of paying him tens of millions of dollars in his decline years.
What would you do, given this scenario? Release A-Rod, immediate consequences be damned, in order to save $20 or so million in luxury tax payments? Release Matsui in order to knock down this year’s payment by a little? Or stand pat? After all, it’s only a few million (because the savings only come on the luxury tax), and players are valuable.
Discuss away. I’d personally stand pat. If you’re going to pay A-Rod anyway, you might as well get what you can out of him.