Commentary

A-Rod in 2013: Money for Nothing

Yanks will pay Alex big bucks to rehab, making his bad contract look even worse

Updated: December 3, 2012, 8:54 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

The New York Yankees' decision in 2007 to extend Alex Rodriguez's contract for another 10 years was a disaster on so many levels that it is hard to find a way in which Monday's news -- that A-Rod will need yet more hip surgery and miss at least half of the 2013 season -- makes it all that much worse.

Well, here's how: Before the injury, assuming full or near-to-full health for Rodriguez in 2013, at least the Yankees were getting something for the $28 million they are obligated to pay him for the season.

Now, they will get nothing for at least half the season, and considering the player's age -- 38 in July -- and recent injury history, likely longer than that.

This, my friends, is Webster's official definition of "dead money."

[+] EnlargeAlex Rodriguez
John Munson/USA TODAY SportsBetter off without Alex Rodriguez? A-Rod may be a shadow of his former self, but he's still better than most third basemen.

For a team determined to trim its payroll by at least 10 percent within the next two seasons, carrying $28 million on the books for a player who will be lucky to play half a season is no way to do business.

This is not to mention the $25 million the Yankees owe Rodriguez for 2014, or the $21 million for 2015, or the $20 million each for 2016 and 2017.

If there is a bright side, it is the virtual certainty that A-Rod will never collect on the $30 million in bonuses built into his new deal based on reaching home run milestones that now seem insurmountable. Anyone want to bet that he even gets the 14 home runs he needs to pass Willie Mays and pocket the first $6 million?

But the real truth is, no matter what you think of Alex Rodriguez, his contract, his character or his performance, the Yankees are better off with him than without him, if only because they have to pay the bill either way.

In fact, the only one this really works out for is A-Rod, who now has an "explanation" for his horrendous postseason performance and yet another reason to shrug off his manager's decision to keep him on the bench in the kind of games the Yankees presumably signed him to star in when they renegotiated his contract.

True, they were never going to get the player A-Rod was in 2007, or even 2009, when his excellent ALDS and ALCS performances propelled them into the World Series in which they beat the Philadelphia Phillies.

They probably weren't even going to get the player A-Rod was two years ago, when he hit 16 home runs and knocked in 62, or last year, when he upped his HR total to 18 but tailed off to 57 RBIs.

In truth, the Yankees couldn't be sure what they would get out of Alex Rodriguez next year, after his abysmal performance in the postseason, a stretch so bad manager Joe Girardi didn't even consider him part of the best team he could put out on the field for two elimination games.

But at least he was a live body in the lineup and on the field. Now, with him out at least until late June, and possibly longer than that, it won't just cost the Yankees $28 million to field a third baseman. It will be more than $30 million, and depending on how good a replacement they can find -- or determine that they need -- the price tag could be a lot higher than that.

It goes without saying that not only is this a blow to the Yankees' hopes for improvement in 2013, it also drives a huge hole in Hal Steinbrenner's edict to cut the payroll to $189 million by 2014.

Why should you care?

Because if Prince Hal is serious -- and he gives every indication that he is -- then it is going to be very difficult for the Yankees to field a better team in 2013 than they did in 2012.

Don't give me the 95 victories/AL East champion party line.

When it came time to beat the best teams in the league, the Yankees were simply, and indisputably, not good enough.

And this offseason, while their divisional rivals keep getting better, the Yankees so far are merely treading water. And as of today, getting worse.

Also, please spare me the "This is the best thing that could have happened" routine, because as diminished as Alex Rodriguez is, he is still better than most of the third basemen in both leagues. Considering what is out there, for the regular season at least, the Yankees will be hard-pressed to find his equal, let alone his better.

Eric Chavez is not the answer; Girardi played him four games in a row in Detroit last August, after which he needed the next series off to rest his aching back, ushering in the brief Casey McGehee era.

And how do you like this slate of free-agent third basemen? Jeff Keppinger (32 years old), Adam Kennedy (36), Brandon Inge (35), Placido Polanco (37), Scott Rolen (37), Kevin Youkilis (33) and the baby of the bunch, Jose Lopez (29).

Alex Rodriguez had a better season and played in more games than any of them but Youkilis, whose numbers were just about the same. So you're not getting better, or healthier, signing any of them.

And how would you like the idea of seeing Youkilis in a Yankees uniform, anyway?

You could try to pry someone loose with a trade, but that would probably mean parting ways with Curtis Granderson, and for all his flaws the Yankees will still need to replace a good part of the 43 home runs he hit for them last year.

No, the reality is the Yankees will probably have to go with a stopgap third baseman -- is Cody Ransom still out there? -- for at least half the season while they await the return of A-Rod.

The team officials I spoke with on Monday expressed optimism that A-Rod would bounce back from this second hip surgery the way he did from his first one, when he missed a month of the season and homered in his first at-bat. But that was nearly four years ago, and despite insistences that all is well, his health and durability have steadily declined since.

In fact, since he signed the contract extension, A-Rod has not been able to play more than 138 games in any season; he played in just 122 this year. And it's a lot easier to bounce back at 33, as A-Rod was after the first surgery, than at 38.

The Yankees can spin this one any way they like, but if you take a hard look at the situation facing them for the upcoming season -- Mariano Rivera, 43 years and coming off knee surgery; Derek Jeter, soon to be 39 and coming off a broken ankle; CC Sabathia coming off a puzzling season and elbow surgery; and no starting catcher and no starting right fielder on the roster as of yet -- you wonder how they can go in any direction but down in 2013.

Throw in yet another injury for Alex Rodriguez and a contract that was a disaster six years ago starts to look a whole lot worse.

Now, it looks like a catastrophe.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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