Monday, February 16, 2004

The Curse of A-Rod?

So after a widely publicized courtship between A-Rod and the Red Sox that was stopped at the altar, A-Rod's suddenly a Yankee. Traded for Alfonzo Soriano and a decent prospect.

Many Sox fans are apoplectic, while the press gleefully replays the "Yankees Top Sox Again, for the 8,382th time" meme. After a winter in which Sox fans finally thought they have the upper hand, the planet reverts to its original orbit. A new larger-than-life #3 that just eluded the fumbling fingers of those cursed New Englanders.

It's all very neat, especially if you're one of those people who thought the Manny-for-A-Rod swap would lock up the AL East for the Sox. I wasn't one of them. Why? I was never convinced it dramatically improved the Sox, especially since it necessitates the complementary Nomar + Williamson for Magglio Ordonez swap. For what the Sox had to pay to get those marginal upgrades, I'm not convinced it would be a dramatic improvement. Neither did Rob Neyer. (I'd love to dig up those win share numbers crunched by SoSH folks, but I'm too lazy to look.) And given the extra financial commitments and change in personnel, it seemed like merely a good but not great deal. If it happened, great. If not, life goes on.

The hang-up proved to be money, which is the hang-up of every team in Major League Baseball save the Yankees, who operate on apparently an unlimited budget. Actually, the Yankees didn't exactly buy A-Rod; the Rangers are paying a big chunk of change and the Boone/Henson contract reductions mean that they aren't adding too much payroll. What this deal really cost them was one of the best young players in the game.

Soriano's not as good as A-Rod and likely never will be. But he's awfully good (.335/.535/.870+ & 35+ steals the last two years) and considerably cheaper. Sure his defense stinks but so does Mr. Intangible Derek Jeter, who gets to stay at SS because the team doesn't want to bruise his Cameron-sized ego anymore than it has. So A-Rod's Gold Glove D is diminished by throwing him at a new position, plus they now have to plug up a hole at 2b, a position shallow with good, acquirable players.

A-Rod won't make the difference next year. Who will prevail between the Sox and the Yankees will depend more on:

* Kevin Brown's health. If healthy, the guy's better than Schilling and close to top-form Pedro. He'll neutralize the pitching advantage the Sox presently have.

* 2003 anomalies? Bill Meuller, Varitek, Nixon, and Ortiz all had career years. Will they come close to match that production, or will there be a dramatic fall-off?

* Jon Lieber v. Byun-hyung Kim: Who will be the better #5 on an evenly matched starting rotation.

* Nomar and Manny: off years for both in 2003, will either or both bounce back after team tried so eagerly (and publicly) to trade them?

The MFYs are still the team to beat. But I wouldn't hand the AL to them just yet. An an aging all-star team does not an invincible squad make. Just ask the 2004 Lakers. Or the 2003 Yanks.