Alex Rodriguez and the Phillies

October 28, 2007.

A date nearly five and a half years past, by now. The date Alex Rodriguez opted out of his initial 10-year, $252 million contract with the New York Yankees via the Texas Rangers, a decision announced (pre-Twitter) smack-dab in the middle of Game 4 of the World Series between the eventual champion Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies.

It was crazy to think about, but at the time, A-Rod had just completed what would eventually be crowned an MVP season: .314/.422/.645, leading the Majors in home runs (56), RBI (156) and runs scored (143) while posting a 9.2 rWAR, tied for his personal second-best. It was a monster season, and the absolute perfect time to opt out and get even more money than was originally thought possible.

The Yankees were, realistically, the only team that could afford A-Rod’s services at that time, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some calls for the Phillies – just prior to their halcyon days of a title and mega-contracts – to break the bank to bring Rodriguez to Philadelphia (Crashburn’s own Michael Baumann among them). Admittedly, I was intrigued at the thought, especially as some seemed convinced this opt-out actually meant Rodriguez and the Yankees would part ways (check out the lede from this AP story).

We all know how the story ends. But let’s indulge the hypothetical for a moment: what if the Phillies shook the baseball landscape in the winter of 2007 and signed Rodriguez to the deal currently binding him to the Pinstripers? What if his current 10-year, $275 million behemoth was on the Phillies’ payroll from 2008 on?

First, let’s consider the third basemen he would be replacing. Just as the Yankees wouldn’t move Jeter away from shortstop for A-Rod, the Phillies would also probably prefer to keep Jimmy Rollins at that position. Rollins, at that time, had three years and an option remaining on his own deal and was about to win the MVP Award for the National League.

The contractual situation for each position’s starter, entering the 2008 season, looked something like this for the Phils:

C: Carlos Ruiz (pre-arb)
1B: Ryan Howard ($10M paid as Arb1)
2B: Chase Utley (6/$80.5M remaining)
3B: A-Rod goes here instead of Pedro Feliz
SS: Rollins (3/$22M remaining, plus $8.5M option)
LF: Pat Burrell (1/$14.25M remaining)
CF: Shane Victorino (pre-arb; fills in for the departing Aaron Rowand)
RF: Jayson Werth ($1.7M paid as Arb1)

Before adding Rodriguez’s money, that’s a very affordable and productive starting offense, prior to decline and injuries wreaking havoc.

On the pitching side of things, we don’t find the Phils in quite as rosy a situation. The five pitchers that would eventually make the most starts for the Phils in 2008 were:

SP1: Cole Hamels (pre-arb)
SP2: Jamie Moyer (1/$6M remaining)
SP3: Brett Myers (2/$20.6M remaining)
SP4: Kyle Kendrick (pre-arb)
SP5a: Adam Eaton (1/$8M remaining)
SP5b: Joe Blanton (1/~$1.5M remaining after trade from OAK)

Monetarily, yes, there’s seemingly plenty of budget room. But this was not a wholly effective rotation; only Hamels and Moyer went on to post ERAs below 4.20, and the team ERA of 3.88 was buoyed by a very effective bullpen. In that bullpen, Brad LidgeRyan Madson, Chad Durbin, J.C. Romero and Clay Condrey would combine to make about $12.3M (with Lidge accounting for more than half that on his own). The addition of Scott Eyre cost in the neighborhood of $1.5M after his trade.

So the foundation of the 2008 club, pre-Rodriguez, comes in at a rough $65.7M. That number is a bit difficult to fathom given the new eras of spending that this team is currently in, but five years ago, that was the situation. Could $27M have fit into the budget for that season, boosting it to nearly $93M? Maybe. For 2008, things probably could have worked. But with the escalators and incentives built in, how would things have looked going forward? This is a table of future payroll as it stood entering 2008. Actual commitment that were eventually made are denoted (inside parentheses).

Player 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Rodriguez $27M $32M $32M $31M $29M $28M $25M
Howard $10M ($15M) ($19M) ($20M) ($20M) ($20M) ($25M)
Utley $7.5M $11M $15M $15M $15M $15M FA
Rollins $7M $7.5M $7.5M $8.5M ($11M) ($11M) ($11M)
Burrell $14.25M FA
Victorino $480K ($3.125M) ($5M) ($7.5M) ($9.5M) FA
Werth $1.7M ($2M) ($7M) FA
Ruiz $425K ($475k) ($1.9M) ($2.75M) ($3.7M) ($5M) FA
Hamels $500K ($4.35M) ($6.65M) ($9.5M) ($15M) ($19.5M) ($22.5M)
Moyer $6M ($6.5M) ($8M) FA
Myers $8.5M $12M FA
Lidge $6.35M ($12M) ($12M) ($12M)
TOTAL $89.71M $62.5M $54.5M $54.5M $44M $43M $25M
FUTURE - ($43.45M) ($59.55M) ($51.75M) ($59.2M) ($55.5M) ($58.5M)

Lidge’s extension took place in-season, so it’s listed as future commitments instead of actual commitments. Of course, adding A-Rod’s money to the books may make the Phillies hang onto Michael Bourn in the first place instead of dealing him away in the package for Lidge.

The ripple effects are all sorts of interesting. Does Howard get his massive extension (or, at least, does RAJ wait until a more appropriate time to negotiate it)? Does Raul Ibanez get signed to replace Burrell, or someone else? Does this ripple out to draft and international spending to further restrict them?

Even A-Rod’s lowest OPS since signing the new deal (.783 in 2012) easily eclipses the best any Phils 3B has put up in that time (Placido Polanco in 2010 with .726). The future money is the rub, though, obviously.

There are numerous ways to branch out in thought here. Obviously, we know now that making such a commitment would not have been worth it in almost any case, but it’s an interesting thought exercise, if nothing else.

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21 comments

  1. Phillie697

    January 31, 2013 07:45 PM

    I can make a case that it might have been worth it anyway.

    1) ARod’s signing would have made Howard’s extension next to impossible to do 2 1/2 years before his old contract ran out, and extremely unlikely, i.e. we don’t end up signing Howard to The Worst Contract In Baseball Ever.

    2) First 5 years of ARod’s were actually not much of an overpay.

    3) If ARod ends up being badly or suspended, looks like Yankees wisely bought insurance to recuperate some of the cost (and presumably the Phillies would have done the same thing) and/or the contract would be voided; if not, it’s likely he out-produces Howard in the second 5 years of his contract than Howard would in his extension.

    4) Having an average 3B >>>>>> Having a deadbeat 1B.

    Essentially, we would be in a better situation right now than how things actually occurred. As ridiculous as it sounded when MB called for the deal, it might have been a blessing in disguise…

  2. Phillie697

    January 31, 2013 07:47 PM

    And yes, that thought experiment above is just further proof how BAD that Howard extension really is, that it makes signing ARod all the way back in 2007 a better choice.

  3. Kingofzed

    January 31, 2013 09:50 PM

    So you actually think Howards contract was worse than Roidin’ Rod? Lets compare their RBI’s at the end of the year to see who was more productive.

  4. Kyle

    January 31, 2013 10:11 PM

    I don’t care about production, I care about RBIs

  5. Ryan

    February 01, 2013 12:06 AM

    It’ll be interesting to see who’s more productive over the next four years or however long Howard’s deal runs for. ARoid’s getting into some shaky territory with the injuries, age, and no PEDs to save him.

  6. pedro3131

    February 01, 2013 12:49 AM

    lol @kyle … Even if Arod posts a negative 2 war every year for the rest of his career he’s likely to post a better total War then Howard over the length of his contract. Over simplifying things yes, but I think it’s easy to undervalue his contributions of a few years back

  7. Bill Baer

    February 01, 2013 03:00 AM

    The following charts show how each player has fared in the past five years.

    $/WAR is what the player would have had to produce to match his salary from each season. For instance, in 2012, Ryan Howard was paid $20 million. At the rate of $4.5 million per WAR (FanGraphs, or fWAR), he would have had to post 4.4 WAR to break even. In total, A-Rod was paid $151 million over the last five years while posting 20.9 fWAR. Based on his salary, he would have had to post 33.6 fWAR, so he only met 62 percent of his goal. Meanwhile, Howard was paid $84 million in the same span of time while posting 9.7 WAR. based on his salary, he would have had to post 18.7 fWAR to break even, so Howard was just a little over the halfway point (52 percent).

    Over the next five years, Rodriguez will be paid $114 million, which comes out at an expected 25.3 fWAR. Given his prior 12.7 fWAR deficit, he will have to post 38 fWAR over the next five seasons (7.6 fWAR per season) to break even overall. Howard will be paid $105 million (assuming only the $10 million buy-out in 2017), which comes out at an expected 23.3 fWAR. Given his prior 9 fWAR deficit, he will have to post 32.3 fWAR over the next five seasons (6.5 fWAR per season) to break even overall.

  8. Ryan

    February 01, 2013 08:09 AM

    Thanks, Bill. That’s interesting enough. I’m of the opinion that Howard could certainly out produce ARoid over the next four years. It will be interesting to see how they both age and who is the bigger albatross as far as their team’s potential avoidance of the luxury tax!

  9. pedro3131

    February 01, 2013 11:29 AM

    Well I just got a healthy dose of math to the face. For some reason I completely neglected the $ amount for either.

  10. Pencilfish

    February 01, 2013 11:34 AM

    Paul,

    With A-Rod’s contract until 2017, it is also likely the Phillies don’t sign Halladay and then Lee. While one can argue it would have kept RAJ from trading away the farm, the Phillies arguably do not get into the post-season without Halladay and Lee.

    Bill,

    If I follow your calculations correctly, Howard would have to produce 42 fWAR to break even by 2017 (189M total earnings), while A-Rod would have to produce 58.9 fWAR by 2017 (265M total earnings).
    Howard has produced 9.7 fWAR (23% of the break even point), while A-Rod has 20.9 (35.5%) so far, but let’s not forget that Howard is paid through age 36, and A-Rod is paid through age 42. It is far more likely for Howard to finish his contract than A-Rod (ie, see Cashman’s recent comments about A-Rod missing all of 2013), so there’s a good chance Howard will come closer to breaking even than A-Rod when it is all said and done.

  11. Jeffrey

    February 01, 2013 01:33 PM

    I cannot understand the hate for Ryan Howard! All he has done is be one of the most prolific RBI men in baseball since he has become a full time player, and he heats up every year down the stretch when the playoff push begins. Yes he strikes out and is often inpatient, but the failure of the Phil’s to protect him in the line up is a major factor, yet he still produces! Get a life!

  12. Greg

    February 01, 2013 02:24 PM

    The best thing about this ARod debacle is that at least now there can be SOME argument that RyHo’s contract is not the biggest albatross in MLB.

  13. Phillie697

    February 01, 2013 02:31 PM

    @Pencilfish,

    You’re ignoring the fact that with ARod on the roster, the wins we would have gotten from Halladay or Lee, we would have gotten from ARod. So no, I don’t agree with your conclusion that we don’t make it to the post-season.

    Furthermore, we started at less than $100M in 2008 to $180M. ARod didn’t cost $80M a year. We could have added a BUNCH of pieces, INCLUDING Halladay and Lee.

    And btw, like I said, ARod’s contract is insured. So if he doesn’t finish his contract due to injury, Yankees wouldn’t lose all of that money, and I would assume Phillies would have done the same. I haven’t heard anyone say Howard’s contract was insured. Plus if ARod is suspended due to PED usage, voila, Yankees/Phillies wouldn’t owe him a dime.

    In the end tho, it does come down to what people think ARod would do from 2012-2017 vs. what Howard would do from 2012-2017. Based on what we know, yes, I am assuming ARod, assuming no drastic injury and/or suspension (which would cause his situation better than Howard’s due to insurance/void), would perform better than Howard. Based on the trends, I don’t think that’s an unreasonable assumption.

  14. LTG

    February 01, 2013 03:06 PM

    “Get a life!”

    Either a non-sequitor or a suggestion that one only has a life if one praises Ryan Howard. I think we’ve discovered what existence means to Jeffrey.

  15. Pencilfish

    February 01, 2013 04:54 PM

    Phillie697,

    We are discussing two separate issues. First, could the Phillies make into the post-season without these two aces? Second, could we afford them if we signed A-Rod?

    From 2008-2011, Halladay averaged 7.3 WAR/season, and Lee averaged 6.2 WAR/season. Over the same period, A-Rod averaged 4.5. Other players such as Howard averaged 1.8, while Cole Hamels averaged 4.3. I think the Phillies would be hard-pressed to make the playoffs with A-Rod but without Halladay and Lee. A baseball truism is that good pitching beats good hitting.

    The $80M cushion you spoke is an illusion. A-Rod costs ~30M/yr, Halladay and Lee cost another 35-40M. Assuming we ditched Howard in 2012 but signed Rollins and Hamels to their current contracts, the Phillies would not be in a better situation money-wise.

    A-Rod hip injury was not a minor ailment, and he’s expected to miss the first-half of the 2013 season. He will be attempting to come back at age 38, so I don’t understand your optimism regarding his 2013-2017 performance. Bill wrote a piece earlier this week on RAJ paying big money to old players, so by advocating paying A-Rod big money over Howard is like an endorsement of what RAJ has done in the past 4 years. Isn’t that contradictory?

  16. Phillie697

    February 01, 2013 05:04 PM

    Pencilfish,

    Again, you ignored that we made the playoffs by some pretty healthy margins those years. You didn’t ask if we would finish with the same records; you asked if we could make it to the post-season.

    I view ARod and Howard’s contract going forward as equally crappy, except with ARod there are outs, whereas with Howard’s aren’t. Plus ARod is likely to perform better; he hasn’t posted any negative WARs yet, and he’s a 3B, so easier to perform above replacement due to position scarcity. These are all points that needs to be taken into consideration.

    Believe you me, I wouldn’t sign EITHER contract. My thought experiment was to show that we would have been better off with ARod’s. There is no contradiction. I would be bashing RAJ if he had signed either contract; except RAJ wouldn’t have had the opportunity to sign ARod since that would have been in 2007 :) You’re letting your defense of RAJ clouding your judgment on two completely separate discussions :)

  17. Pencilfish

    February 01, 2013 11:29 PM

    Phillie697,

    The Phillies made the playoffs by the following margins from 2008-2011: 3, 6, 6, and 13. If I do the following exercise:

    2008: add 6.2 WAR (A-Rod) –> 6.2 more wins
    2009: add 4.4 WAR (A-Rod), subtract 1.0 (Lee’s partial season with Phillies) –> 3.4 more wins
    2010: add 3.5 WAR (A-Rod), subtract 8.3 (Halladay) –> 4.8 less wins
    2011: add 2.3 WAR (A-Rod), subtract 16.8 (Halladay + Lee) –> 14.5 less wins

    The Phillies still make the playoffs every year (though 2010 is a squeaker and a repeat of 2007) except for 2011. Of course one has to assume Halladay and/or Lee do NOT pitch for Atlanta or San Diego in 2010, in which case the Phillies would not make the playoffs that year either. The Phillies would have gone back-to-back to the WS with or without A-Rod in 2008 and 2009, and we just about miss the playoffs in 2010 and 2011 without Halladay+Lee, again with or without A-Rod. Pitching truly rules.

    I didn’t say RAJ would have signed A-Rod in 2007. I simply asked if being in favor of signing A-Rod is an endorsement of RAJ’s practices as written by Bill. There you go again distorting my comments :-) (paraphrasing a line from the Reagan-Carter debate in October 1980)!

  18. Phillie697

    February 02, 2013 01:28 AM

    By 2011 we would have added $45M a year worth of salary ON TOP of ARod’s $30M/yr. I’m pretty comfortable with thinking that we would have made the playoffs. Like I said, we would have been able to add at least one of either Halladay or Lee, if not both; after, we did even after signing Howard to The Worst Contract In Baseball Ever.

    I’m not in favor of signing ARod. The article was (by the way not by Bill, but Paul) merely posing a hypothetical about whether signing ARod would be worth it given today’s circumstances. Well, my thought experiment was to show that even tho signing ARod would have been a monumental mistake, it’s still less of a mistake than Howard’s contract. In essence, if I had to choose today or 2007, I would choose the lesser of two evils (and evils they are still, no question).

  19. Phillie697

    February 02, 2013 01:37 AM

    In other words, Phillie697′s hypothetical shitty GM of 2007 would have been a better GM than the real RAJ :P

  20. Pencilfish

    February 02, 2013 04:52 PM

    I was referring to the article about RAJ devoting a large portion of the budget to older players (which was written by Bill on Jan. 28).

    Another interesting “what-if” scenario to consider is the trade of Cliff Lee to Seattle. If he had stayed in Philly, I wonder if we would have lost the NLCS to the Giants. That certainly stands out as a blunder by RAJ. He admitted it and then brought him back after the Giants beat the Rangers in the WS.

  21. Kevin Bruton

    February 05, 2013 02:58 PM

    Or look at it this way we would win it all in ’08, then since we played the Yankees the next year having a-rod be the x-factor in the series, we would win back to back championships, (very few have done that) and probably go really far in ’09 as well. So just maybe it was worth it

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