A-Rod trade winners, losers

The Alex Rodriguez-to-Yankees trade is certain to send shockwaves through baseball beyond New York.

Originally Published: February 15, 2004
By Tim Kurkjian | ESPN The Magazine

It will be remembered as one of the biggest trades of all time. Alex Rodriguez became the first reigning MVP to be traded. Two home runs away from having the most ever by a shortstop, and following consecutive Gold Glove seasons, he gladly moves to another position. Unprecedented. So is the magnitude of his remarkable trade. Here are the winners and losers.

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Winners
A-Rod: He got his wish, a chance to win. It wasn't going to happen anytime soon in Texas, so he pushed and pushed until the trade got done. Now he moves to the center of the baseball cosmos, to the middle of a lineup that might score 1,000 runs (seven teams have done that, four of them Yankees) and to a place where he'll never wonder again about marketability. The pressure of New York will be enormous -- 10 times as large as Seattle and Texas combined -- but his talent is so impossibly high, he will play his way through it. Maybe he'll hit his 700th homer as a Yankee. Maybe if he stays there for 12 years, we'll someday say that the two best players ever were Yankees, Babe Ruth and A-Rod.

The Rangers: Rodriguez's contract was strangling the organization, preventing it from doing what it should have done four years ago: acquire pitching. This offseason, the Rangers have lowered their payroll from $105 million to $65 million, giving them the elasticity to move forward in a very difficult division. Even though the Rangers will pay a portion of A-Rod's contract, they'll make roughly $20 million more on this deal than they would have on the proposed trade with Boston. And they have a core of young players, including Hank Blalock, Mark Teixeira, Michael Young and Alfonso Soriano, who will get a look in center field for the Rangers.

The Yankees: They didn't have a third baseman. In Rodriguez, they acquired the game's best player. They haven't addressed other issues, including defense at first base and center field, and no left-hander in the rotation, but with Rodriguez in the lineup, they'll just slug their way through any problems. Who needs a lefty when you score 6.5 runs a game? The record for runs in a season is 1,067 by the 1931 Yankees. It is now in jeopardy.

Honus Wagner: A-Rod would have been, in a couple of years, considered the best shortstop of all time. Now that he has moved to third base (where he surely will become the first third baseman to hit 50 homers in a season, as he was the first shortstop to do so), Wagner, the first, greatest player of all time, likely will hold that title for a little while longer.

Third base: It is an unappreciated position, one highly underrated in its degree of difficulty, especially defensively. Now it gets a chance to humble yet another terrific player. Third base requires power, a strong arm, great reflexes and tremendous courage. Former gold glover Doug Rader once said that playing third base "is like recovering a fumble." Unlike shortstop, the ball is on you in an instant, there is no time to set your feet, sometimes the only play you have is to let the ball slam into your chest. It is an extremely difficult transition from shortstop: Rico Petrocelli and Jim Fregosi, among others, had a very hard time making the switch late in their careers. Cal Ripken made the move as seamlessly as one can, and we're betting that Rodriguez in time will be a great defensive third baseman. But Ripken began his career as a third baseman. "I used to get hit in the (protective) cup all the time at third," Ripken once said. "Then I moved to shortstop, and didn't get hit there for 15 years. Then I moved back to third, and got hit again."

Losers
The Red Sox: They were roughly $20 million away from having A-Rod as their shortstop, and not having to worry about the contract status of Nomar Garciaparra, or the hurt feelings of Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez. But the Red Sox weren't willing to pay all of A-Rod's contract and part of Manny's contract, so their arch enemy, the Evil Empire, the Yankees, moved in and traded for the game's best player. There are similarities between the Red Sox's sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees, including that the Babe and A-Rod wore No. 3. The Red Sox had a terrific offseason, and might be the team to beat, but there's no denying that the Yankees finished the winter with an incredible burst.

Small-market teams: The Yankee payroll could exceed $200 million in 2004. It could be nearly seven times as high as, say, the Devil Rays. How are these small-market teams supposed to compete? OK, OK, so the Yankees can afford $200 million, and another, say, $70 million in luxury tax and revenue sharing, but it just doesn't seem right that whatever they want, they get. They now have four players -- Rodriguez, Kevin Brown, Jason Giambi and Derek Jeter -- who have $100 million contracts. No team has ever won a World Series with a player who has a $100 million contract. No team has ever had four such guys.

Yankee beat writers: Say goodbye to your wife and children, fellas, your lives are over. Although there's nothing better than having something to write about every day, the 2004 Yankees will be relentless from today until the end of the World Series. What if the Yankees start slowly? Will Joe Torre be fired? What if Jeter makes a few errors, will they want A-Rod at shortstop? What if A-Rod struggles mightily at third base? What happens if the Yankees don't win the World Series? Gary Sheffield? Kevin Brown? Kenny Lofton? How will the chemistry in the clubhouse, which was once the ultimate strength of the Yankees, be affected by all these new faces and dominant personalities? It is a fascinating story, one with no end. Check back in eight months to see who is still standing.

Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight. E-mail tim.kurkjian@espnmag.com.

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