A-Rod drops lawsuit against team doc, reiterates intent to play in ’15

Alex Rodriguez has dropped his malpractice suit against Yankees team doctor Dr. Christopher Ahmad, according to Ken Davidoff. The suit had been pending since October, when he sued pretty much everyone as part of the appeal of his record 211-game suspension. “All legal matters have been resolved. Alex looks forward to taking the field in 2015,” said spokesman Ron Berkowitz.

A-Rod dropped his lawsuits against MLB, MLBPA, and Bud Selig back in February. It seems like he’s trying to un-burn some bridges at this point. Alex is still under contract through 2017 and he continues to say he wants to play once his suspension is over, so it’ll be very interesting to see what happens next year. The Yankees pretty clearly don’t want him around, but they’re stuck with him and may try to bleed whatever attendance and ratings boost they can out of him. Whether he can be an effective player is another matter.

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Remembering when the Yankees had the best infield in baseball

Those were the days. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Those were the days. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

By their own admission, the Yankees are heading into the season with some serious question marks on the infield. Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira are both coming back from what amount to lost seasons while Brian Roberts has been battling injuries for almost a half-decade now. Kelly Johnson is a solid player but nothing more, yet he is the surest thing on the infield at the moment.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the infield was the strongest part of the Yankees’ roster. Jeter has been anchoring the infield (and the entire team, really) since 1996 and he’s had some truly great teammates over the years, so strong infield units are nothing new to New York. In fact, only five teams have had a 4+ WAR player at the four infield positions throughout baseball history, and a recent Yankees squad is one of them. Here’s the list:

Fifty-nine teams have boasted three 4+ WAR players on a single infield (most recently the 2013 Rangers), but only five teams have managed four such players. That’s it. It’s happened once in the last 30 years and three times in the last century. The Yankees, of course, had that one infield full of 4+ WAR players just five years ago, during their 2009 World Championship season. Let’s look back at their performances.

1B Mark Teixeira – .292/.383/.565 (141 OPS+), 43 2B, 39 HR, 5.1 WAR

Teixeira’s first year in pinstripes was his best by a not small margin, as he led the league in both homers and runs driven in (122). He finished second to Joe Mauer in the AL MVP voting but, in reality, he wasn’t even the best player on the Yankees’ infield. We’ll get to that in a bit. Following his typically slow start to the year — he was sitting on a .191/.328/.418 batting line as late as May 12th — Teixeira was a monster all summer, hitting .315/.396/.597 with 32 homers in the team’s final 129 games of the season. He just straight mashed that year. What a beast.

2B Robinson Cano – .320/.352/.520 (121 OPS+), 48 2B, 25 HR, 4.5 WAR

Man, remember how awful Robbie was in 2008? He hit .271/.305/.410 (86 OPS+) and was worth 0.2 WAR during that miserable campaign, which landed him in plenty of trade rumors. I’m sure you haven’t forgotten about all the Cano for Matt Kemp talk. My favorite part of that was signing then-free agent Orlando Hudson to take over at second. That would have been a disaster given the player Cano developed into. That 2009 season was Robbie’s first step towards joining the game’s elite, but on a rate basis, he was the least productive player on his own infield. Bananas.

SS Derek Jeter – .334/.406/.465 (125 OPS+), 27 2B , 18 HR, 30 SB, 6.6 WAR

Remember when I said Teixeira was not even the best player on the infield? That’s because Jeter was. The Cap’n was a monster from the leadoff spot, hitting for average, getting on base, stealing bases (30-for-35!), and, believe it or not, playing solid defense. The various metrics all say Jeter was above-average with the glove that year (+3 DRS, +6.3 UZR, +4 Total Zone), and while you can’t trust one season’s worth of defensive stats, I definitely remember believing he was playing better defense that year based on what I saw. Know how I always say you need unexpected contributions if you want to win the World Series? Jeter’s defense was an unexpected contribution in 2009. His bat was pretty awesome as well. What a season that was.

3B Alex Rodriguez – .286/.402/.532 (138 OPS+), 17 2B, 30 HR, 14 SB, 4.2 WAR

When the 2009 campaign opened, Cody Ransom was the starting third baseman. A-Rod was scheduled to miss the first few weeks of the season due to hip surgery, a surgery that kept him out until early-May. He famously hit a three-run homer on the very first pitch he saw in his first game back, then proceeded to hit (almost) like vintage A-Rod for the remainder of the summer. He and Teixeira were the most devastating 3-4 combination in the game for this one year. Rodriguez also managed to extend his record streak of consecutive seasons with 30+ homers and 100+ RBI to twelve thanks to a two-homer, seven-run batted inning in the final game of the regular season.

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Know what is really amazing about this infield? These four guys combined to play 594 of 648 possible games (91.7%) even though A-Rod missed the start of the year with the hip issue. They were awesome when they were on the field and they were on the field pretty much the entire season. The Yankees didn’t just have the best infield in baseball back in 2009, they legitimately had one of the best infield units in baseball history. It was the centerpiece of the championship team — everyone else was part of the supporting cast.

Inside the A-Rod trade

Ten years ago today, the Yankees acquired Alex Rodriguez and $67M from the Rangers for Alfonso Soriano and Joaquin Arias. New York landed the best player in baseball at age 28 on what amounts to a seven-year, $112M contract. Things with A-Rod are terrible now, but he was a monster from 2004-07 before using his opt-out clause. It was one of the best trades in history.

Joel Sherman has a look inside how the trade went down, including the failed deal with the Red Sox. It’s similar to ESPN’s 30 for 30 video but it includes some more big picture and long-term information. For example, Rangers owner Tom Hicks hoped signing A-Rod would lead to developers gobbling up the 270 acres he owned around The Ballpark in Arlington. Texas also came close to flipping Soriano for Jose Reyes after the trade, and the opt-out was designed to help Rodriguez finish his career with the Mets, his favorite team growing up. Check it out, there’s some pretty interesting stuff in the article.

Mailbag: Diaz, 5th Starter, A-Rod, Contact Rates

I’ve got six questions for you this week. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us anything, as you probably know.

(Photo via Dodgers Nation)
Diaz. (Photo via Dodgers Nation)

Many people asked: What about Aledmys Diaz?

Diaz, 23, will be eligible to sign next Wednesday after being suspended for a year because he lied about his age. Believe it or not, he tried to pass himself off as older than his actual age so the international spending restrictions wouldn’t apply to him, allowing him to receive a much larger bonus. How about that? A Cuban player trying to trick people into thinking he was older than he really is.

Anyway, the suspension ends next week and he can indeed sign for any amount now that he is 23. The Yankees had a “large presence” at one of his workouts last year and they were among the teams to scout him just yesterday, says Jon Morosi. Their interest level is unknown but if they’re still on him, they probably like him. Here’s a scouting report from Ben Badler, dated last January:

Age questions and unblocking issues aside, scouting reports on Diaz’s talent remain modest. Though Diaz has played shortstop in Cuba, scouts have said he doesn’t have the lateral range, quickness or footwork to stay at the position. Diaz has shown some ability with the bat, hitting .315/.404/.500 in 313 plate appearances for Villa Clara in his final season in Cuba, albeit in a high-offensive environment in which he ranked 30th in the league in OBP and tied for 20th in slugging.

That’s everything I know about Diaz right there. I don’t know if he is ready to step right into the big leagues but I assume he will need some time in the minors. Most guys do. (Yoenis Cespedes is the only big name Cuban player to jump straight into MLB in recent years). The Yankees need long-term help at both second base and shortstop, and Diaz is as good a candidate to plug one of those holes as anyone. As always, his asking price will be a factor.

Jamie asks: 5th starter competition: of Vidal Nuno, Adam Warren, David Phelps and Michael Pineda, none of these guys threw more than 86 IP last year. Can we really expect 150 innings out of any of these guys in 2014? Isn’t that kind of an IP jump from one season to the next a big stretch?

Pineda is the one I worry about the most because of his injury. The Yankees will have to watch him very carefully. I’m not worried about the other guys at all though. For starters, they aren’t particularly young. Warren is the youngest and he’ll turn 27 in August, so these aren’t 22 or 23-year-old kids. Secondly, all three threw at least 120 innings (postseason included) in both 2011 and 2012, plus both Warren (2011, 2012) and Phelps (2009, 2010) have multiple 150+ inning seasons to their credit. I don’t know if the Yankees can run these guys out there for 200+ innings this summer, but I wouldn’t sweat 150 innings at all.

Dominik asks: Now that Alex Rodriguez has been suspended, will he be drug tested during his suspension? Are there still increased testing protocols for once he gets reinstated and do they apply during the suspension if he is tested? Thanks!

Oh yes, he will absolutely continue to be drug tested. In fact, he will be tested even more now that he’s been suspended for violating the Joint Drug Agreement. That continues even after he is reinstated. Even if the Yankees plan to release A-Rod at some point, they won’t do it during the suspension because he could potentially fail a test and be suspended again, saving them an even bigger chunk of his contract.

(Patrick Smith/Getty)
(Patrick Smith/Getty)

Christopher asks: Should the Yankees pass on Stephen Drew this year and look to replace Derek Jeter with next year’s bountiful crop of Hanley Ramirez, J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie, and Asdrubal Cabrera?

They could do that but it would be really risky, not to mention it doesn’t help the 2014 team at all. There is no guarantee those guys will actually hit free agency, and Hardy is the only true shortstop of the bunch. The other three are terrible defenders and that figures to be even more evident after another season. Hanley’s bat makes his defense less of an issue, but he recently said he wants to be a Dodger for life. The Yankees could, conceivably, sign Drew now and still add Ramirez (third base) or Lowrie (second) next winter. (Asdrubal is pretty bad and has been trending down for several years now.)

Gilbert asks: Instead of just basing how good of a contact hitter someone is by their batting average, is there a stat like keeps track of the percentage of pitches a batter sees that he makes contact with (in play or foul)? This way we can say “He makes contact 47.1% of the time.”

Definitely. Thanks to PitchFX we have all sorts of neat information and most of it is easily available. Here is the contact rate leaderboard from 2011-13, courtesy of FanGraphs:

Contact Rate Leaderboard 2011-13

So, over the last three years, Marco Scutaro has made contact on 95.2% of his swings, the most in baseball. O-Contact% is contact rate on pitches out of the zone, Z-Contact% is contact rate on pitches in the zone. Pretty simple, right?

Ichiro is 15th in baseball with a 89.6% contact rate since 2011 while Brett Gardner is 18th at 88.9%. On the other end of the spectrum, Mark Reynolds is dead last with a 66.7% contact rate over the last three years. Ryan Howard (67.0%) and Giancarlo Stanton (67.3%) are second and third worst. Batting average can fluctuate wildly from year-to-year — Robinson Cano is a career .309 hitter, but he hit .342 one year and .271 another — but contact rates tend to be very steady. It is important to remember that not all contact is created equal though. Some guys simply hit the ball harder than others.

Matt asks: If teams usually sign Japanese players from the posting system for six years, since they would be under team control for six years anyway, and would be only arbitration eligible at the end of the contract if they only signed for say, four years. Why is this working differently for Masahiro Tanaka‘s opt-out clause? It seems if he opts out, of the contract, he should still be under team control for the remainder of the six years.

This is just a courtesy MLB extends to veterans of the Japanese leagues. Rather than maintain the full six years of team control, they’re treated as regular free agents, guys who have already accrued that much service time. Hideki Matsui became a free agent when his original three year contract expired following the 2006 season, for example. Yu Darvish’s contract works the same way as Tanaka’s. He can opt-out after the fifth year and become a free agent. I think it’s fair and a good thing. Those guys have served their time.

Video: ESPN’s 30 for 30: The A-Rod Trade

I haven’t seen too many of them, but from what I have seen, ESPN’s 30 for 30 series is rather excellent. The latest (or one of the latest, anyway) entry looks at the Alex Rodriguez trade, specifically the failed trade with the Red Sox. The Yankees swooped in after that and acquired him rather stealthily. I found out about the deal by catching a glance at a television showing ESPN while hanging out with some friends in college. That was pretty fun.

Obviously things with A-Rod are disastrous these days, but the trade itself was marvelous. Alex was a beast from 2004-07, winning two MVPs along the way. The new contract, the one they gave him after he opted out, that’s a nightmare. Anyway, the video is 22 minutes long and includes first-person accounts from Brian Cashman, Theo Epstein, and several others. Check it out. It’s really well done.