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Thursday, November 8, 2012
Updated: November 9, 11:01 AM ET
Yankees, learn from Mets' Bay move

By Wallace Matthews
ESPNNewYork.com

INDIAN WELLS, CA. -- There haven't been too many instances in their recent history when they New York Yankees have viewed a move by the New York Mets with anything but bemusement, or even scorn.

But this week, the Mets were able to do something the Yankees may well have looked upon with a touch of envy.

They succeeded in removing their own mini-version of the $114 million elephant in the Yankees' clubhouse out of the room.

Don't you think the Yankees look at the way the Mets were able to buy off their Jason Bay problem and wonder, wistfully, "Wouldn't it be nice if we could do the same thing with Alex Rodriguez?"

They can't, of course, not right now, anyway.

It's one thing to eat $21 million of dead money in exchange for clearing the dead wood off your roster. It's quite another to be force-fed nearly six times that amount and get nothing in return other than the comfort of knowing the pest is no longer around.

The Mets haven't disclosed any of the details of just how they were able to get rid of Bay, whose three seasons in Flushing were a spectacular bust. But assuming they had no legal grounds to send Bay off with a penny less than the $21 million he had coming to him under the contract, it is likely that a good portion of the contract is deferred over a number of years, similar to how they are paying off a big bust from an earlier era, Bobby Bonilla, in 25 yearly installments of $1.2 million.

For the Yankees to swing a similar deal with A-Rod, they would be paying him not until 2017, but 2126.

Not going to happen.

Alex Rodriguez
Brian Cashman still has faith in Alex Rodriguez's ability to help the Yankees win another World Series.

But what is going to happen is the same situation that confronted Mets GM Sandy Alderson and owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon: At some point, the Yankees will decide it is better to burn the money than to continue to carry A-Rod on their roster, and in their lineup.

As Alderson put it, rather delicately, on Thursday morning: "I felt this might be an opportunity to resolve it in his best interest and ours."

In other words, even the cash-strapped Wilpons ultimately decided it was better to pay Bay than to play Bay.

Sooner or later, the Yankees are going to have to come to the same conclusion with A-Rod.

Although on Wednesday GM Brian Cashman laid out, in painstaking detail, the reasons why he still believed A-Rod could be a productive player for the Yankees: "As long as he can stay healthy, I think there's no reason for him not to be productive.

"Alex Rodriguez is always competitive, fiery. He doesn't want to be just good. He always wants to be the best of all time. No one works harder than he does. No one cares as much as he does. His intent and interest is to be the best every day that he takes the field."

The combined realities of his age (he turns 38 in July), unsteady health, steadily declining production and the collateral damage done by his benching in three of the last five playoff games this year make it highly unlikely he will be good enough to be in this lineup three years from now, let alone the five more his contract has to run.

The question is not how much money can the Yankees afford to eat in order to be free of A-Rod, but how long can the Yankees afford to have A-Rod as an anchor in the middle of their lineup.

The answer, probably, is a couple of more years. If Rodriguez can match, or slightly improve upon his 2012 production -- .272 batting average, 18 home runs and 57 RBIs -- his presence in the lineup would not be a catastrophe if others, such as Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, can maintain or improve their own production.

But at 29, Cano may have reached his ceiling. Granderson, who strikes out way too much, makes way too little contact and doesn't drive in enough runs to go with his 40-HR power, may not be here beyond next year, if he even makes it that far. And Teixeira, who is signed through 2016, has shown signs of his own deterioration.

At some point, an offensive upgrade is going to have to be made, and the easiest place to make it may be at third base.

When that point arrives, the Yankees are going to have to do some serious math. And some serious swallowing.

"I've already been on record right after the postseason, we're not trading Alex," Cashman said on Wednesday. "And I'm reiterating, we're not trading Alex Rodriguez."

That doesn't mean he wouldn't love to, only that he can't find any other club willing to take him off the Yankees' hands, and so far, the situation is not so dire that the Yankees are willing to flush wads of cash into the Harlem River.

But that day is coming, and probably sooner rather than later. What if A-Rod gets off to a slow start next season and manager Joe Girardi decides to sit him not for a playoff game, but a late April meeting with, say, the Kansas City Royals? What if his role is limited to being a DH against left-handed pitching, and he becomes a $25 million a year Andruw Jones? What if, a year or two from now, he's not even good enough to do that regularly?

Even more ominously, what if the fans at Yankee Stadium, who can turn viciously against players who don't produce, and seemingly in direct proportion to the size of their paychecks, start to make A-Rod's life a living hell every time he sticks his head out of the dugout?

If you don't think that can happen, ask Nick Swisher, former bleacher darling.

Could it get bad enough that A-Rod would waive his no-trade clause and demand a one-way ticket out of town?

Or that the Yankees could come to the same conclusion that the Mets did with Jason Bay, that even though it would cost them a fortune, they would be better off without him?

Cashman worked what many thought was a miracle when he was able to move A.J. Burnett, and $13 million of the remaining $33 million on his contract, to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

But that was ashtray money compared to what he would have to burn to be rid of Alex Rodriguez.

Lately, the Yankees haven't seen much from the Mets they would want to emulate, but they may have seen something this week.

What the Mets were able to do to solve their Jason Bay problem could serve as the Yankees' blueprint for how to untangle the Alex Rodriguez mess.

And even if it can't happen now, they may keep that blueprint handy, to be pulled out a couple of years down the road.