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Just how overpaid is Alex Rodriguez?

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty)

In the aftermath of last month’s Albert Pujols deal, one couldn’t help but constantly see Alex Rodriguez‘s name brought up in connection with the contract, as the dollar amount of Pujols’ contract was the second-highest in history after Alex’s second 10-year pact. Several WAR-based analyses were immediately conducted in an attempt to determine just how good Pujols would have to be justify the length and size of the deal, which led me to wonder just how much A-Rod has actually been worth over the duration of his mega-deals, and what he could be worth over the remainder of the six years he still has on his current Yankee contract.

The Angels will be heartened to know that Alex lived up to his contract and then some during its first three years, providing $72.3 million of value to Texas while being paid $66 million. Unfortunately for the Rangers, despite all of that value the remainder of the roster was largely ineffective, as the team finished in last place in the AL West in each of those three seasons.

Determined to rid themselves of Alex’s albatross of a contract, the Rangers first tried to trade A-Rod to the Red Sox in December 2003, only to have the MLBPA step in and put the kibosh on the deal as Alex was willing to take a pay cut to get the deal done. Two months later they found a match with the Yankees, who flipped strikeout-prone Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias for a 28-year-old A-Rod and $67 million of the $186 million remaining on Alex’s deal.

From 2004-2007, the Yankees paid Alex approximately $16 million a year, or $64 million, and got $107.9 million of value out of him, good for a $43.9 million surplus. Even when you factor in the portion of his salary that Texas paid Alex still proved to be worth the money through the first seven years of his deal, putting up $180.2 million in value against $168 million in salary.

Of course, rather then rest on the fact that they nearly doubled the value of their investment during four of the best years of his (or anyone’s) career, the Yankees (not Brian Cashman) re-signed Alex after he famously opted out during the 2007 World Series to another 10-year deal that would keep him in pinstripes through his Age 42 season.

While I am an unabashed A-Rod fan, and am happy he’s still on the team not to mention the fact that they probably don’t win the 2009 World Series without him, it’d be an understatement to say his second deal hasn’t worked out nearly as neatly for the Yankees as his first contract. Through the first four years of the new deal, Alex has been paid $126 million and been worth “only” $81.8 million. It seems weird to decry a player who’s averaged more than $20 million in value during his last four seasons, and we can thank Hank Steinbrenner for that. The good news is that Alex’s $44.2 million deficit is a wash due to the $43.9 million in surplus value the Yankees got out of him during the first four years. Almost.

The bad news is that Alex is still under contract for six more seasons, and if history has taught us anything it’s that time is most unkind to aging ballplayers. On the one hand, one could argue that Alex is a special case, and his preternatural ability to be amazing at baseball will withstand the test of time. Baseball-Reference’s Similarity Scores would seem to support this idea, as Alex’s top comps through Age 35 are Hank Aaron (hit .298/.385/.574 in his Age 36 season), Mel Ott (.308/.411/.499), Frank Robinson (.251/.353/.442) and Willie Mays (.263/.334/.453). That’s some good company, although you’d hope Alex’s Age 36 season is closer to the former two than the latter two.

On the other hand, if Alex the ballplayer does indeed age like everyone else, and we apply a fairly standard -0.5 WAR annual penalty to his performances going forward and assume a continued valuation of roughly $4.5 million per win on the open market (which could of course fluctuate), he would finish out the final six years of his contract providing $66.3 million in value while being paid $149 million. This would give us a total of $148.1 million of value against $275 million in salary over 10 years, or a loss of $126.9 million.

If you want to factor in the $43.9M surplus from the first contract (which includes the $38M from the Rangers), then ultimately one could say the Yankees may end up having overpaid A-Rod by¬†$83 million for his services after all is said and done, but of course that’s but one scenario.

An even grimmer one than I’ve presented here comes courtesy of The Hardball Times’ Oliver projection system. Now this is far from an apples-to-apples comparison, as THT seems to use its own proprietary WAR calculation (for example, they have 2011 A-Rod at 2.3 WAR, while B-Ref has 2.7), but it has Alex actually having a slightly better overall year in 2012 at 2.5 WAR before a steep decline to 1.8 in 2013, followed by 1.1, 0.3, -0.5 and then -1.2 in the last year of his deal. That would give Alex a total value of 4 WAR (or roughly $18 million) over the final six seasons of his deal, which, yikes.

Now the Oliver forecast appears to be pretty extreme — while I think we can expect Alex’s skills to deteriorate to a certain degree, I don’t know about to the point of providing negative value — although it should also serve as something of a cautionary tale. We saw firsthand how rapidly a once-robust offensive performer can decline with Jorge Posada this past year alone, and though Posada was never consistently an A-Rod-caliber hitter, he did post several seasons that wouldn’t look out of place on the back of Alex’s baseball card. That said, I still feel confident that Alex will at least outperform his seemingly worst case scenario Oliver projections, and I also think he can turn in more than 14.7 WAR over the next six seasons after all is said and done.

Mailbag: Maholm, Scrap Heap, Padilla, Fukudome

Welcome to the first mailbag of 2012. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box on the sidebar to send in your questions throughout the week.

(AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Mick asks: What do you think of Paul Maholm on a one-year deal? Or would he really be an improvement over anyone the Yankees already have?

I like Maholm more than most, but he’s still not very good. Last year’s shiny ERA (3.66) hides the fact that he allows a substantial number of balls to be put in play (just 5.55 K/9 and 14.3 K% career). He does get grounders (49.9% last year, 52.3% career), but you’ve got to miss bats in the AL East to be anything more than back of the rotation batting practice. As I said back in November, the Yankees shouldn’t count on him to be anything more than that back-end guy, which makes him no upgrade over what they currently have.

At this point, if the Yankees aren’t going to bring in someone clearly better than Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia, they’re just wasting their time. The A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, and David Phelps group is more than capable of filling those fourth and fifth spots.

Will asks: Cashman got lucky with some scrap heap signings last year. I think he tries to go for it again by offering declining pitchers a one year minor league deal for the same amount Garcia and Colon got and see what they have. Of all the scrap heap pitchers, who would you take a run at? I would offer a deal to Brad Penny and Chris Young.

Just like I said above, they’re not making themselves any better by taking on more scrap heap guys. That said, there are a few interesting ones out there. I don’t know what the status of Young’s shoulder is (he had another major surgery last summer), but he’s one of the most extreme fly ball pitchers in the game (career 28.2% grounders). That combined with a nothing fastball is a bad mix for Yankee Stadium, so I’d steer clear of him.

Penny is slightly more interesting, but he’s been an above average pitcher just once in the last four years (2009). He’s got a 4.79 K/9 (12.2 K%) and a 46.4% ground ball rate during that time, which is scary. He’s also going to be 34 in May, so it’s not like he’s young anymore either. I’d take him over Young, but I wouldn’t be blowing up his agent’s phone to sign him.

Among the unsigned starters, I guess Maholm and Rich Harden interest me the most. When you’re talking about guys on one-year deals at a relatively low salary, Colon looks like the best of the bunch, and we saw how effective he could be in the first five months of last season. The only question is his health; did he start to break down late in the season, or just tire from a) the long layoff, and/or b) the long season after pitching so much in winter ball? If his shoulder is s0und, I’d go with the devil I know over the devil I don’t.

David asks: I was reading about Vicente Padilla how well he is doing now in his native Nicaraguan league. Can he be a option for the rotation?

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Padilla, now 34, is apparently throwing 95 down in Nicaragua this offseason, a couple months after he had surgery to repair a nerve problem in his elbow and a disc problem in his neck. Other than a 16 start, 95 IP cameo with the Dodgers in 2010, he’s been an effective starter once in the last five years (2009). He’s slightly more interesting in relief, where he could just air it out for an inning or two, but I wouldn’t count on him in the rotation.

Anyway, there’s not point in exploring Padilla as option because he and Mark Teixeira hate each other. It dates back to even before their days as teammates with the Rangers, and back in 2009 we saw that mini-blowup after Padilla hit Tex twice in a game. If Padilla was a difference maker, then maybe you try to work something out with Tex’s blessing. He’s not though, so just move along.

Mark asks: With an apparently short list of interested suitors, if the Yanks could get Kosuke Fukudome for 1 year/$2-3 million – would you bite as a 5th OF/DH option? Have to like that OBP.

When would he play? The DH thing isn’t an option because Jesus Montero needs to get as many plate appearances as possible. Whenever he does sit, it’ll likely be so Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter or even Robinson Cano get a day off from the field. I know Fukudome has a nice OBP (.361 career), but he has no power (career .139 ISO), doesn’t steal bases (29-for-57 career, or 50.9%), and the advanced metrics haven’t liked his defense in a few years now. He’s not worth taking plate appearances away from Montero. The Yankees have a fine fifth outfielder in Chris Dickerson, who can hit righties (career .341 wOBA), steal some bases (24-for-32 career in MLB), and play solid defense in all three outfield spots. His skill set fits the roster better.

Tucker asks: When was the last time the Yankees traded a major leaguer for a prospect(s)?

The Yankees are never really sellers, so they haven’t traded too many established big leaguers away for prospects in recent years. The last time it happened was after the 2006 season, when they sent Gary Sheffield to the Tigers for Kevin Whelan, Humberto Sanchez, and Anthony Claggett. The Randy Johnson trade kinda sorta counts, since the return was highlighted by the three prospects (Ross Ohlendorf, Stephen Jackson, Alberto Gonzalez) they received and not the middle reliever (Luis Vizcaino). Tony Womack for Ben Himes and Kevin Howard is really pushed the limits of “prospect;” that was a clearly a “get rid of Womack at all costs I don’t care what we get back” type of move. Other than that, there haven’t been too many big leaguer-for-prospect moves in Yankeeland over the last decade or so.

Past Free Agent Review: Kenny Lofton

Visual proof that Kenny Lofton was indeed on the Yankees.

For the Yankees, the 2003-2004 offseason was an adjustment period. After an emotional victory over the Red Sox in the ALCS, they had fallen flat to the Marlins in a six-game World Series. Andy Pettitte would decamp for Houston; Roger Clemens would retire for the first time; David Wells was persona non grata. With prized Cuban hurler Jose Contreras in tow, the Yankees had to restock the club.

That winter would be George Steinbrenner‘s last hurrah. Before taking a step back due to his health, the Boss went on a rampage. Marginalizing Brian Cashman to an extent, Steinbrenner brought in Gary Sheffield instead of Vladimir Guerrero and oversaw a trade for Javier Vazquez. Jeff Weaver, goat of the 2003 World Series, wound up in Los Angeles in exchange for the perennially disgruntled Kevin Brown. Steinbrenner, who banned Yankee officials from attending the Winter Meetings that year, had one more player in mind, and despite objections from Joe Torre, he brought him in.

That player was ticketed for center field. For Bernie Williams, 2003 was a turning point. Williams hurt his knee early in the year, and he would never be the same offensive force again. After the season, it was clear the Yanks needed some outfield help, and so the Boss brought in Kenny Lofton, against everyone’s wishes. Bernie was one of Joe Torre’s guys through and through, and the Yankee skipper wanted little to do with a 37-year-old interloper.

From the start, the Lofton relationship seemed strained. Despite assurances during a press conference that he would even park cars if the Yanks wanted him to, Lofton never really fit. He played in just 83 games for the Yanks, often sitting for stretches at a time because Torre often wouldn’t play him. He hit .275/.346/.395 but brought in for his speed, he was successful in just seven of ten stolen base attempts. He battled some injuries throughout the year and never seemed to fit.

When the postseason rolled around, Lofton had a bare role to play. He appeared in three of the Yanks’ seven games against the Red Sox, and despite some limited success at the plate, he made no appearances between games 2 and 7. When the Yankees could have used his speed, Torre kept him on the bench. The decision still haunts Yankee fans today as they assess the missed opportunities and blown chances from that historic ALCS.

When the season ended as it did, it was clear that things would change in the Bronx, and Lofton became one of the scapegoats. During the first week of December, the Yankees shipped him to the Phillies for Felix Rodriguez. Yet, Lofton had no love lost for the Yankees. He become enmeshed in controversy when he sounded off with Gary Sheffield against Joe Torre and reportedly urged CC Sabathia to turn down the Yankees. Bad feelings, it seems, run deep.

The bad feelings left over from Lofton’s tenure in New York weren’t entirely his fault. He arrived at a time of conflict between warring factions in the Front Office, and Joe Torre wasn’t about to let George Steinbrenner dictate his starting lineup. Still, the Yankees had a potential weapon in Lofton, and their field general didn’t want to recognize that. Today, the Yanks’ roster is far more balanced, and the players all have their roles. The team has certainly come a long way since the days of Kenny Lofton.

Open Thread: Rob Cano

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

Over the last two season, no player has been more integral to the Yankees’ success than Robinson Cano. Well, maybe CC Sabathia, but we’ll stick to position players tonight. Cano, who turned 29 back in October, has hit .311/.365/.533 with 87 doubles and 57 homers since the start of the 2010 season. In terms of fWAR (12.1) and bWAR (10.9), Robbie’s been the 10th and 11th best position player in all of baseball over the last two seasons, respectively.

Eleven years ago today, the Yankees signed Cano as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic for just $150k. That’s $25k less than they gave Melky Cabrera the very same year. Cano has been the Yankees’ best homegrown position player since Derek Jeter and Jorge Posada, an MVP candidate who’s come into his own as one the game’s best players over the last few seasons. Is there a player on the team more fun to watch hit? I don’t think so.

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Here is tonight’s open thread. The only local team in action is the Rangers, who Time Warner customers still won’t be able to watch because the Dolans pulled MSG. Use this thread to talk about anything your heart desires, it’s all good.

Next Up: Eric Chavez

Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees are now turning their attention to Eric Chavez after failing to sign Hiroyuki Nakajima. The Nationals, Rays, and Padres also have interest in the corner infielder. If he wants to win, he’ll sign with the Yankees or Rays. If he wants to be close to home, he’ll sign with San Diego.

Chavez was decent for the Yankees in 2011, especially before a 5-for-29 finish the season uglified his batting line. He played surprisingly strong defense at third (not so much at first), had a few big hits, and of course got hurt. Hopefully he’s willing to take a minor league deal with a similar salary as last year ($1.5M), because anything more is probably pushing it. If he takes that and makes the team, his inevitable injury will give Brandon Laird a chance, so hooray for that.

The difficulties of building a quality bench

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

In the mid 2000s the Yankees had a penchant for building weak benches. Players such as Matt Lawton, Bubba Crosby, Mark Bellhorn, Miguel Cairo, Craig Wilson, Nick Green, and Wil Nieves routinely sat near Joe Torre during those years. It wasn’t exactly a fatal flaw; the Yankees did manage to make the playoffs basically every year in that span, and it’s not as though the bench makes a huge difference in the postseason when a team has nine clearly superior starters. It wasn’t until 2009 that the Yankees actually managed to assemble some talent to back up their starters.

While the 2009 bench, highlighted by Erik Hinske and Jerry Hairston, was built through mid-season trades, the 2011 bench, perhaps the Yankees’ strongest in a decade, came fresh out of the box on Opening Day. In a way the Yankees got lucky there. The circumstances happened to line up. They needed a right-handed fourth outfielder, since two of their three starters were lefties and the other was a switch-hitter. A left-handed infielder came in handy, too, because most of his work came spelling the right-handed Alex Rodriguez and the switch-hitting Mark Teixeira. It was mere chance that a solid-hitting right-handed outfielder, Andruw Jones, and a reclamation project infielder, Eric Chavez, happen to be not only available, but willing to take on a reduced role.

For the most part, the bench moves worked out. After struggling in the first half, Jones came back with a huge second half performance. Chavez did miss considerable time with a foot injury — worse, because it overlapped with Alex Rodriguez’s knee surgery — but he still managed to hit .263/.320/.356 when healthy. Considering the playing time available and the playing time they actually got, Jones and Chavez were two of the better bench players in the entire league last year.

It’s tough to mete out actual bench players. We can look at plate appearances, but there are so many variables that we can’t control for. Some bench players turn into starters when the player they back up gets hurt. Some players begin the season as a starter only to lose the job. There are also mid-season call-ups who are actually starters, but end up with a number of plate appearances similar to a bench player. And, of course, some bench players do get hurt, and others are so bad that they’re replaced — in which case neither of a team’s backups might fit into a plate appearance range. This is a long way of saying that it’s tough to place Chavez and Jones among their peers.

Keeping the above caveats in mind, Chavez fared very well compared to other infielders who got between 100 and 250 plate appearances in 2011. His .320 OBP in 175 PA ranked seventh in that group, all but a couple of the players ahead of him were injured starters (Casey Blake) or late call-ups (Brett Lawrie, Jason Kipnis, Dee Gordon). Using the same parameters for outfielders, Jones fares even better. His OBP ranked third among that group, and his SLG ranked second (by 25 points to a guy whose BA was 80 points higher). You can sort it out any way you want, but when you look at non-starters and compare them to Jones and Chavez, they come out looking great.

This is actually a remarkable feat for the Yankees, especially considering these players came from the free agent market. After all, who wants to sit on the bench while Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Robinson Cano play every day? Perhaps Jones made sense, because he could play platoon caddy to Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson. But before that the Yankees have had pretty solidly set outfields, which hurt the market for free agent backups. Remember, before the 2009 season both Hinske and Hairston signed elsewhere. It took a trade to get them in pinstripes, and even then it lasted just half a season.

The Yankees failure to sign Hiroyuki Nakajima now re-opens the door for Chavez, and the Yankees would do well to bring him back. He’s not ideal in many ways, particularly his penchant to land on the DL every year, but seeking out bench players is essentially choosing which ones have the most manageable flaws. If Chavez can avoid hurting his foot while running the bases, he could be one of the more productive infield options, both offensively and defensively. It’s hard to see any options on the free agent market, or any worth their price in a trade, who has the potential to add as much as Chavez.

(And that’s most certainly a commentary on the quality of bench players and not on Chavez himself.)

If the two sides don’t work out a deal, it won’t threaten the season. The Yankees will simply roll with Eduardo Nunez as their all-purpose infielder and perhaps carry another lefty, say Chris Dickerson, on the bench. But given their current options and needs, Chavez seems a nice fit. He’s not going to hit like a starter, but of course, few if any bench players do. He can, however, provide production superior to his direct peers. That’s really what matters in this situation. While there’s plenty of risk involved, he is once again a nice fit for the Yankees.