Alex Rodriguez: Yankees Must Make A-Rod a Full-Time DH to Maximize His Value
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There was simply never a chance of him being worth that kind of money and the Yankees should have anticipated A-Rod breaking down once he got into his late-30s, a nightmare that has become a reality over the last two seasons.
To say that A-Rod is overpaid is a statement that doesn't require much of an argument. In fact, all one has to do is take a look at the specifics over at BaseballPlayerSalaries.com. A-Rod's $29 million salary accounts for 14.79 percent of the Yankees' payroll. He has accounted for just 3.79 percent of the team's "on-field performance."
So yeah, A-Rod is overpaid. Go, tell the people.
Observing this is easy enough. Saying that the Yankees shouldn't have signed A-Rod to such a fat contact five years after the fact is just as easy. That Captain Hindsight guy has an easy job.
Coming up with ideas for how the Yankees can actually get better bang for their buck where A-Rod is concerned is slightly more difficult. It's not like they can wave a magic wand and make him five years younger.
One thing they can do is make A-Rod a designated hitter.
Joe Girardi hasn't been shy about using A-Rod as the designated hitter this season. Per Baseball-Reference.com, he's penciled A-Rod into the DH spot in his lineup 25 times already this year.
What's fascinating is how much more productive A-Rod has been as a DH this season. Observe:
So, in over a hundred plate appearances, when A-Rod DHs his average jumps over 100 points, his OBP jumps up over 70 points, his slugging percentage jumps up over 100 points and his OPS jumps up nearly 200 points.
It's not like we're talking about a small sample size either. A-Rod has spent roughly a third of his playing time this season as a designated hitter, and the numbers he is putting up in the spot at this point in the season are getting harder and harder to ignore.
Girardi admitted recently that he's not totally blind to what's going on.
“It’s not a sample-size I’m unaware of,” Girardi said, via the New York Post. “It could be a weird coincidence or there could be something to it. I’m not sure.”
Asked if he was ready to capitalize on this trend by making A-Rod the Yankees' full-time DH, Girardi said he's "not to that point yet."
That's totally understandable. The DH spot represents an excuse for Girardi to give some of his older players a light day at the ballpark. He's used 10 different players as designated hitter this season, including Raul Ibanez, Derek Jeter, Eric Chavez and Andruw Jones. All four of them have seen a lot of winters.
To boot, the Yankees are not faced with a situation similar to the one the Boston Red Sox had to deal with earlier this season that involved Kevin Youkilis and Will Middlebrooks. A-Rod is not blocking a younger player with more ability every time he starts at the hot corner.
There's nothing the Yankees can do about this in 2012. The status quo will have to do. To be fair, the status quo is working just fine to this point. Since they're already sitting on the best record in the American League, the Yankees shouldn't feel any pressure to make any drastic changes.
It's after this season that the Yankees should transition A-Rod into an everyday DH role, whether he likes it or not.
He probably won't. He told the Post that he "loves" playing third base, and we can take it for granted that he's no different from any other aging star; change is not something he's going to welcome lightly.
But if I'm the Yankees, I look at the numbers and say, "Too bad."
Making A-Rod an everyday DH would be a gamble simply because it would be a pretty big change for him, and there's a chance it would go to his head. But that's a gamble worth taking for a variety of different reasons.
The first, obviously, is the numbers. For whatever reason, A-Rod has been a more productive hitter when he's played DH than he has when he's played third base. A full season of that kind of production would result in impressive numbers, and the Yankees need to get impressive numbers from A-Rod in order for his absurd contract to be justified.
Second, having A-Rod serve as an everyday DH would keep his legs fresh. He's been healthy this year, but nothing can be taken for granted, seeing as how he's only getting older. The Yankees need to be proactive in terms of keeping A-Rod healthy, and DHing him every day is by far the biggest favor they can do for themselves to that end.
Third, making A-Rod an everyday DH would take care of the revolving door the Yankees have had at designated hitter over the last couple years. That, in turn, could save them from spending big on a free agent, a la David Ortiz.
Instead, the Yankees could use that money to find a defensive upgrade at the hot corner. A-Rod has held his own there this season, but a quick look at FanGraphs will show that he qualifies as a below-average defensive third baseman as far as the advanced defensive metrics are concerned.
The third-base market is going to be pretty thin this offseason, but it's not hard to imagine the Yankees making an under-the-radar trade to acquire a defensive-minded third baseman. Names like Josh Donaldson and Alberto Callaspo come to mind.
While they're at it, the Yankees should look for a defensive upgrade at shortstop too. But that's a headache for another day.
Should the Yankees use A-Rod as their full-time DH in 2013 and beyond?
A few years ago, I would have been wasting my breath with all of this. The Yankees would have scoffed at the notion of tinkering with Alex Rodriguez, and then they probably would have gone out and spent a ton of money on a new DH.
But the Yankees are different now. One finds it easy to believe Hal Steinbrenner when he talks about lowering payroll, and that's an effort that will require efficient spending. That means fewer big-money free-agent signings, and that means the Yankees will be forced to make do and get maximum production out of the players they already have.
That's going to be easier said than done in most cases. But in the case of A-Rod, moving him into a full-time DH role is about as easy as it gets.
Should the Yankees actually go through with it it, they'll have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
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