Thursday, November 6, 2014

Free Advice for Brian Cashman - UPDATED

UPDATE: Dammit, it won't work. This whole idea is predicated on the idea that by shipping Rodriguez and cash to another club, the Yankees can avoid the baseball "luxury tax" on Rodriguez's salary. I double-checked baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement, and here's what it says about "cash consideration:"
Cash Consideration: An assignor Club that pays cash consideration in lieu of assigning an unnamed player or to defray all or part of the salary obligation of the assignee Club for an assigned Player shall include such cash consideration in its Actual Club Payroll in the Contract Year for which the cash consideration is paid; provided, however, that any such cash consideration included as part of a Player assignment made during the 2016 Contract Year but not payable until the 2017 Contract Year shall be included in the assignor Club's 2016 Actual Club Payroll to the extent that the assignee Club does not have equivalent salary obligations under Player contracts obtained in the assignment in the 2017 championship season or beyond. Any cash consideration that is, pursuant to the previous sentence, included in the Actual Club Payroll of the payor Club shall be subtracted from the Actual Club Payroll of the payee club in the same Contract Year in which it is added to the payor Club's Actual Club Payroll.
Let's hack through that a bit. Substituting Yankees for assignor Club, another team for assignee Club, and Alex Rodriguez for an assigned Player and getting read of extraneous words and silly capitalizations, you get:
If the Yankees pay cash consideration to defray all or part of another club's salary obligation for Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees shall include such cash consideration in its payroll in the year in which the cash consideration is paid.
So if the Yankees, as I suggested, trade the Marlins Rodriguez and $64 million for a twentysomething position player and an Amazon gift card, they'll have to pay a luxury tax on the $64 million. No escaping it.

Sorry to get your hopes up, Brian.


I'm serious about this.

The Yankees can and should trade Alex Rodriguez.

I figured this out while reading this post by Rob Neyer, in which he argues that Rodriguez will not play in a regular season game for the Yankees again. I had a hard time squaring that with this analysis of mine, in which I argued that his contract, guaranteeing him $61 million over the next three years, makes him un-tradeable. 

What makes Rodriguez particularly onerous for the Yankees, I pointed out, is baseball's "luxury tax." Teams with a payroll in excess of $189 million must pay the league 17.5% of the amount by which they exceed $189 million in the first year they're over that level. In the second consecutive year, it rises to 30%. In the third consecutive year, it rises to 40%. In the fourth and all subsequent consecutive years, it's 50%. (I keep saying consecutive because it resets if a team's payroll drops below $189 million for a season.) The Yankees are at the 50% level, having exceeded the luxury tax threshold since time immemorial. 

Rodriguez's contract pays him $21 million in 2015, $20 million in 2016, and $20 million in 2017. Assuming the Yankees' payroll stays above $189 million--a pretty safe assumption given that is was an estimated $258 million in 2014 without Rodriguez--they'll have to pay a 50% luxury tax on the $27.5 million average annual value of ten-year deal he signed after the 2007 season. (I mistakenly got that amount wrong in my post Tuesday. I've corrected it.) Last year, when Rodriguez was suspended, the Yankees withheld all of the $25 million due him but approximately $2.9 million. This year, they'll pay him not only the $21 million he's owed (along with, in all likelihood, a $6 million bonus for tying Willie Mays's career home run total of 660) but also $13.75 million ($27.5 million x 50%) in luxury tax. 

That's a lot of money for anyone, particularly a third baseman who turns 40 next year, missed all of last season, and played an average of 88 games per year in the three seasons before that, compiling an OK-but-not-great .269 batting average, .356 on base percentage, and .441 slugging percentage. That's basically Padres outfielder Seth Smith (.266/.367/.440). Seth Smith will earn $6 million in 2015. Alex Rodriguez, between his salary, likely bonus, and luxury tax, will cost the Yankees $40.75 million.

The salary's the injury, the luxury tax the insult. But the luxury tax doesn't hit all teams, of course. Last year, only the Dodgers and Yankees were above the $189 million payroll threshold, and only the Phillies, Tigers and Giants were within $50 million of it. The luxury tax is a non-issue for most teams.

So here's my idea: Trade Rodriguez and a ton of cash to a lower-payroll team. By a ton of cash, I'm thinking $64 million, which would be enough to cover all but $1 million per year of his $61 million salary and the $6 million Willie Mays bonus. (Rodriguez will also get $6 million bonuses for home run No. 714 tying Babe Ruth, 755 tying Hank Aaron, 762 tying Barry Bonds, and 763 passing Bonds, though those all seem a stretch, given that the last time he hit even 19 in a season was 2010.) In return, the Yankees could get, I don't know, a position player under the age of 30 and an Amazon gift card? It wouldn't have to be much. Sending Rodriguez and a big check would cost the Yankees, obviously, that big check, but it would save them $13.75 million in luxury tax payment in each of the next three years. That's $41.25 million, almost enough to cover the $45 million they still owe first baseman Mark Teixeira!

The question is who'd take Rodriguez. He's not exactly what you'd call a fan favorite. Playing him every day at third base probably lands him on the disabled list more than you'd like, so that rules out teams like the Phillies and Padres that got limited production from their third basemen. First base? That's been a perennial problem in Milwaukee, but they already have Ryan Braun, which probably puts them at the roster limit for players with long drug suspensions who get booed everywhere. Houston and Minnesota got minimal first base production, but they're committed to youth. The A's Brandon Moss had a down year but he's cheap and nine years younger than Rodriguez. Rodriguez is best suited for DH, but it's hard to see him with a team like Kansas City, which didn't get much production yet seems to be leaning toward re-signing free agent Billy Butler.

So I think the most logical finalists are:

  • Mariners: DHs hit .190 last year, primary first baseman Logan Morrison can play the outfield.
  • Pirates: Their problems at first base rival those of the Brewers; Pirate 1Bs hit .226 the past season.
  • Rays: Tampa Bay DHs hit .229 in 2014 and the team is a little bit of the Oakland Raiders of baseball, willing to take on controversial players.
  • Tigers: They have a huge hole at DH if they can't re-sign Victor Martinez.
But I'm going to pick none of them. Instead, I think the Yankees should send Alex Rodriguez and $64 million to the Miami Marlins. Here's why:
  1. Mariners owner Jeffrey Loria really doesn't care what you, or anybody else, thinks.
  2. Rodriguez is from the Miami area and if he has any kind of fan base, it's in south Florida. He paid for a $3.9 million renovation to the University of Miami's baseball stadium, now called Alex Rodriguez Park
  3. The Marlins were last in the National League in attendance. If I'm right about Rodriguez drawing some fans to Miami, that's good. If I'm not, it's not like they have a lot to lose.
  4. Miami's incumbent first baseman, Garrett Jones, is signed to a relatively cheap contract ($5 million in 2015) but he'll be 34 next June, he's hit just .240/.300/.415 with 30 homers over the past two seasons combined, and he's pretty useless against left-handed pitching (.197 lifetime average), so Rodriguez could either replace him or be a right-handed platoon partner/pinch hitter/DH in American League parks/sometime third baseman.
There's one potential problem here. Baseball's Commissioner can review and veto trades for cash. That famously happened in 1976, when A's owner Charlie Finley traded three stars for $3.5 million (pitcher Vida Blue to the Yankees for $1.5 million and outfielder Joe Rudi and reliever Rollie Fingers to the Red Sox for $1 million each) and Commissioner Bowie Kuhn disallowed the trade. I don't recall any trade reversals since, but a deal such as this would draw a lot of scrutiny, as it would be a pretty transparent attempt by the Yankees to evade the luxury tax. But would new commissioner Rob Manfredi be willing to draw the ire of the league's most marketable franchise? I'm not saying he wouldn't--after seeing the Yankees get out of paying all but $2.9 million of Rodriguez's $25 million salary last year, a lot of teams would be legitimately steamed by a move like this--but it's not at all clear.

So go for it. Rodriguez and cash to the Marlins. Do it, Brian.

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