Thursday, October 25, 2007

A-Rod in Detroit

With the World Series under way, we are just a few weeks from the beginning of the A-Rod sweepstakes. The courtship of A-Rod will be one of the most highly publicized events in sports history. I’m getting sick just thinking about the daily coverage that we’ll have to endure. The negotiations will likely end with the richest player contract ever awarded in American sports history. Who honestly thought we’d see this again after the public outcry the last time a team handed out the richest contract in American sports history to A-Rod?

Nonetheless, the expectations are that A-Rod’s annual salary will reach $30 million if not more. There will be a handful of intriguing subplots. Boston could get involved which would add even more fuel to the Boston/NewYork drama. Boston thought it had A-Rod in 2003 when it was prepared to ship Manny Ramirez to the Rangers but the trade was vetoed by the players union. When A-Rod was finally traded to the Yankees, he said, “I don't really care what Red Sox fans are thinking." I wonder if Red Sox fans will remember that. The Yankees have publicly stated that they will not get into a bidding war. It’ll be interesting to see if they stand by that stance. It’ll also be interesting to see if the owners involved in the bidding have any spines at all when dealing with Scott Boras. There is always someone (see; the Texas Rangers) who is willing to go for broke. It would be fascinating to see the owners refuse to break the bank. That’s about as likely as the Royals getting involved in the bidding, though.

The likelihood of A-Rod landing in Detroit hovers right around 0%. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a gazillion questions Tigers fans around the country are asking each other. Here are just a few of the questions the A-Rod debate raises…

Would A-Rod ever come to Detroit?

No. There are three ways a superstar finds himself in Detroit. 1). He is drafted by Detroit. 2). He is injured and the Tigers overpay. 3). He is old and the Tigers overpay. A-Rod doesn’t fit into any of those categories. That pretty much makes the rest of this post irrelevant. However, I promised question(s)...

Would the Tigers be better with A-Rod?

I think most people would be surprised at how many fans actually think the Tigers would be worse off with A-Rod for various bum/choker related reasons. The truth is that all of those reasons are ridiculous. The Tigers would clearly be better with A-Rod. Since Carlos Guillen is moving to first-base, A-Rod would essentially be replacing Sean Casey in the lineup. The difference between A-Rod and Sean Casey is like the difference between me two minutes before a pizza buffet and two minutes after a pizza buffet. A middle-of-the order threesome of Magglio Ordonez/Alex Rodriguez/Gary Sheffield would be one of the greatest in MLB history. The Tigers almost certainly would have made the playoffs with an additional 54 home-runs and 156 RBIs despite the injuries and slumps that plagued their season.

Can the Tigers win by paying one player over 30% of the total payroll?

Dave Dombrowski referenced this statistic when asked recently about whether the Tigers would pursue A-Rod in the off-season. Dombrowski is a smart guy who has brilliantly reshaped the franchise. Although, I am surprised that he would buy into that sort of thinking. The 30% stat is mostly an empty statistic in baseball where there is no salary cap. In football—where there is a salary cap—it makes sense to want to avoid paying one player a certain amount of the payroll. In baseball—especially in the larger markets—that statistic is irrelevant. Mike Ilitch can shell out as much money as he wants so it doesn’t matter how much money one player makes. It matters how much he is willing to spend. If Ilitch were to pay A-Rod 30% of a 100-million payroll, then the Tigers could not realistically win in the near future. It would require dumping close to $30 million in salary from the existing team which would cripple the franchise. However, if he were to pay A-Rod 30% of a $125 million payroll, then the Tigers would be the best team in baseball next season. The 30% number isn’t important. The payroll is. Also, the Colorado Rockies are in the World Series as I type this and Todd Helton currently takes up 30.5% of the payroll. There is no Salary God who prevents teams with a player making 30% of the payroll from winning.

Would Dombrowski have to gut the team to afford A-Rod?

Jon Paul Morosi of the Detroit Free Press suggests that the Tigers would have to say goodbye to Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco, Jeremy Bonderman, and Brandon Inge to bring in A-Rod. Again, since there is no salary cap in baseball, the Tigers wouldn’t have to say goodbye to anyone necessarily. It all depends on what Mike Ilitch is willing to pay. I don’t know the answer to this and I don’t think Jon Paul Morosi does either. The reality is that if Ilitch isn’t willing to add to the payroll, then A-Rod won’t be coming to Detroit anyways. Giving up Guillen, Polanco, Bonderman and Inge isn’t even a possibility. It’s also important to note that adding A-Rod would be a move geared for the long term when many of the current Tigers won’t even be on the roster. Next season, Pudge and his $13 come off the books. Two years from now, Gary Sheffield and his $14 million come off the books. The Tigers have a bevy of young, relatively inexpensive talent under contract. Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, Andrew Miller, Jair Jurrjens, Rick Porcello, and Cameron Maybin are going to be the face of the franchise five years from now. Placido Polanco, Brandon Inge, and Curtis Granderson will all be affordable for the foreseeable future. If Ilitch is willing to add to the payroll temporarily, the Tigers are in a perfect position to have a player of A-Rod’s caliber—and salary—mesh with a deep, relatively inexpensive core. Only Ilitch knows his limits. If we knew his payroll limit was not a cent higher than $100 million, then we could all save ourselves another sentence on the A-Rod topic.

Are A-Rod’s playoff struggles valid concerns?

No. Some—not all—media people love to harp on this sort of thing. Just last year the Red Wings re-signed Pavel Datsyuk which prompted major criticism from much of the Detroit media because of his underwhelming playoff performances. Yep, Datsyuk’s reputation was all but sealed after just 21 playoff games. The rest—as we know—is history as Datsyuk tore up the first three rounds of the playoffs just a couple months later netting 16 points in 18 games. The Yankees—as a team—have struggled mightily in the playoffs over the last three seasons. The New York-experience has humbled the careers of many superstars such as Randy Johnson, Jason Giambi, Kevin Brown, and Mike Mussina just to name a few. Alex Rodriguez has flourished in New York winning two MVPs in just four years (The ’07 MVP is a mere formality). Just three years ago, he was considered an excellent playoff performer having amassed a .330 batting average in 103 postseason at-bats. A-Rod is not damned to be a playoff-choker for the rest of his career.

Should the Tigers make a play for A-Rod?

Yes with the caveat the Ilitch be willing to add enough to the payroll where the Tigers would keep A-Rod and their core. A-Rod—barring injury—would keep Detroit on the forefront of the baseball world for ten more years at a minimum. There is a good chance that he’ll break the all-time records for home runs, RBIs, and hits among others. Think Bonds’ home-run chase times three without all of the negativity. It will be huge. Despite the Tigers recent resurgence, the Red Sox and Yankees are still the center of the baseball universe. A-Rod would change that immediately. His presence would have a far-reaching impact on everything from attracting free-agents to increasing the franchise’s value. I’ve always felt that A-Rod is as much a “numbers” guy as he is a “Championship” guy. I just get the feeling that he is well aware of the pace that he is on and the records he could break. He is in tremendous shape. When you put those two things together, A-Rod could easily be playing baseball for 14 more years.

Would it be disappointing if the Tigers don’t sign—or even attempt to sign—A-Rod?

Well, since there’s probably less than a 1% chance the Tigers actually sign or even go after him, my answer is no. The Tigers are in excellent shape as they stand right now. They have more youthful talent than any other organization in baseball. The core is young and—most importantly—wants to be in Detroit. The Tigers should be even better next season when injuries probably won’t have the same factor and the lineup is more potent with the expected return to health of Gary Sheffield and the hopeful addition of a productive shortstop such as Edgar Renteria. The Tigers don’t need A-Rod. If Ilitch has a cap limit that makes signing A-Rod impossible, then it’s no big deal. However, if he has the money, he should give it a shot. I would certainly not want Ilitch and Dombrowski to fall under the Boras spell and give into all of the inevitably ridiculous demands he will ask for. There is a fine line between being the highest bidder and outbidding yourself. Dombrowski knows that line which makes the Tigers unlikely suitors. Some team will come along ala the Texas Rangers in 2000 and bite hard on the Boras sell. The only chance the Tigers really have is if every team backs off on talks of $30 million. The problem then would be that the Yankees would likely be back in the picture for an extension at that point. It would take the perfect storm of relative league-wide disinterest, the Tigers willingness to pay between $28 and $30 million, and a willingness by A-Rod to play in Detroit. In other words, start thinking about Raul Ibanez and Edgar Renteria.

Will the Tigers even make an official offer?

I highly doubt it. Anaheim won’t win until it gets Vlad some help. The New York teams have a ton of money to spend. Boston will surely get involved. The Tigers may stick around just long enough to check out the competition before politely saying, “not interested.” However, one question that I would love to ask Mike Ilitch is how much he would have paid to guarantee a playoff bid in 2007. More specifically, if he were told by an all-knowing oracle before the ’07 season that the Tigers would definitely not make the playoffs but he could change all that for an additional $30 million, would he have paid it? I really have no idea how much simply making the playoffs is worth to an owner. Knowing that would help many of us understand how much a player of A-Rod’s caliber is worth.

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