It’s a shock that I still haven’t recovered from, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. (No, I’m not writing about Yale’s loss to the 3-18 power house that is Harvard men’s basketball.) All of a sudden, less than 24 hours after I first heard the rumors, the Yankees had acquired the best player in baseball.
The deal was finalized on Tuesday, and I still can’t get used to the sight of A-Rod in pinstripes. How was this trade completed so quickly? Deals like this are usually in the news for days, if not weeks, before they’re done. And a deal with all these financial complexities? Remember how long the A-Rod-Red Sox news was in the air.
The Yankees’ other big off-season moves — trades for Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez, and especially the signing of Gary Sheffield — took awhile to come together. I had time to organize my thoughts and visualize the superstars’ impact on my team.
I never saw this one coming. Yes, the Yankees needed a third baseman, but what were the odds? I was thinking Adrian Beltre. During his free agency after the 2000 season, A-Rod denied that he would consider a move to third base to play for the Yankees. He reiterated the same unwillingness to switch positions this very offseason. Why would he? He’s the greatest shortstop ever.
The message here is that losing really sucks. A-Rod’s thought process: sure, I’ll defer money in my contract, switch positions, leave a ballpark that would have given me Hank Aaron’s homer record, and say goodbye to a state with no income tax. Just don’t let me finish in last place again.
I can’t find any fault in this trade. Alfonso Soriano is an incredibly talented player, but there are some serious flaws in his game. He has speed and power, and it was amazing to watch him stand in the very front of the batter’s box and still swing early on a pitcher’s best fastball. But Soriano also has absolutely no command of the strike zone, flailing away at all curves and sliders that are three feet outside and in the dirt. He couldn’t touch any of the good pitching the Yankees faced in the postseason. At second base he was improving, but I doubt that he will ever be a good defender.
Meanwhile, the Yankees got the best player in baseball — with Texas picking up $67 million of his contract — and a guy who may one day be considered one of the top five players of all time. And they took him away from Boston. The Red Sox had their chance and blew it. If this blockbuster lives up to its hype, the comparisons to the Babe Ruth sale will never end. Hey, did you know that both guys wore #3? Oh, you heard that a thousand times, too.
Since the Bambino’s number is retired, A-Rod is switching to #13, forcing me to consider all the unlucky side effects that number may bring. Everyone is talking about the extraordinary pressure on this team to win, but that’s true of every Steinbrenner team. Right now, everyone — including the Boss — is saying the right things.
But what about when the Yankees lose a few games and Jeter makes a few errors? Steinbrenner will demand that Jeter and A-Rod, who has won the last two gold gloves at short, make a switch. Torre will refuse and then get axed. No, it’s too predictable and A-Rod would be better at third than Jeter anyway. There are other issues that concern me.
I think that team chemistry is so underrated in baseball. I know from watching the Yankees during the Joe Torre era. Sure, the Yankees now have Giambi, A-Rod, and Gary Sheffield, but it was the teams with Tino Martinez, Scott Brosius and Paul O’Neill that brought home championships. Maybe it’s worth noting that the Yankees haven’t won a title since they started signing big-time free agents, beginning with Mike Mussina in 2000.
Who knows what the clubhouse will be like with all these new acquisitions? Will guys like Kevin Brown, Sheffield, and A-Rod keep it together under the spotlight of New York publicity? It really makes me regret the Yankees’ biggest loss in this year’s off-season — Don Zimmer.
Then there is the other major factor that wins championships — pitching. New York’s bullpen should be much better than last year’s, but four of the five starters are questionable. Brown gets hurt and might not like New York. Vazquez is a kid who’s never been in a big market, high-pressure situation. Jose Contreras has nasty stuff but only has nine career starts. Jon Lieber is surrounded by many questions, but injuries are probably the best place to start. Oh yeah, the Yankees have all right-handed starters in a ballpark made for lefties. Ask Andy Pettitte.
So the A-Rod trade was a blow to the Red Sox, but not a knockout. Not when Boston can send Pedro and Schilling out on consecutive days.
So do I feel bad about the rich getting richer? Well, the numbers are appalling. The Yankees payroll is creeping towards $200 million. There are eight $100 million contracts in baseball, and New York has four of them. The economic gap grows larger every year and knocks most teams out of contention before opening day.
But this trade might not be all that bad for Major League Baseball. Let’s remember what this offseason was all about — Yankees vs. Red Sox. This was already the most intense off-season battle between two teams, and that was before a reigning MVP was traded for the first time ever. As opening day approaches, the best rivalry in professional sports is rising to an unparalleled intensity. That can’t be too bad for baseball.
By the way, the Yankees and Red Sox play seven times in April. Not that I’m checking the schedule.