A-Rod, Soriano certainly comparable

While Alex Rodriguez is a superstar, it's crazy to think his presence vastly improves the Yankees.

Originally Published: February 23, 2004
By Rob Neyer | ESPN.com

A week has passed, and so perhaps it's time to let one of the cooler heads speak his piece ...

    Rob,

    I don't get why everyone thinks the Yankees are now the clear favorite over Boston. When Aaron Boone was still sound, Las Vegas thought the much improved Red Sox were the favorites. But is there really that much difference between the Yankees with Alfonso Soriano and Boone then they are with Alex Rodriguez and Enrique Wilson? Not to mention the reduction of financial resources for the Yankees who contrary to popular belief can't spend forever.

    I think the world of A-Rod's value, but it ain't near as valuable when you need him to replace your third baseman rather than your shortstop. It's great for the Yankees that when hit with a negative like Boone's blown out knee that they can turn it into a plus with a deal like A-Rod's, but it isn't the kind of plus to have all these fans suddenly thinking the tide has totally shifted to New York again.

    Am I missing something?

    -- Craig Wright

Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez hit 26 of his AL-leading 47 home runs at home last season.

I don't think you're missing anything, Craig.

I think the world of Alex's value, too. But as a few cooler heads have pointed out, Rodriguez did benefit from playing half his games at The Ballpark in Arlington, which is probably the hitter-friendliest park in the American League (well, it or Kauffman Stadium). And Soriano suffered from playing half his games at Yankee Stadium, which is fairly kind to pitchers.

Here are the home stats for Rodriguez and Soriano, 2001-2003:

      OBP  Slug   OPS
AR   .466  .666  1082
AS  .305  .466   771

Big edge for A-Rod. Now the road stats:

      OBP  Slug   OPS
AR   .375  .564   939
AS  .346  .543   889

And they'd be even closer if we looked at just the last two seasons, as Soriano was just fair in 2001.

Granted, there are plenty of caveats here. Players naturally enjoy a home-field advantage, due to familiarity and (probably) other reasons. On-base percentage is more valuable than slugging percentage, so Rodriguez's advantage in the road stats is larger than the OPS's would suggest.

Which is to say, I'm not arguing that Soriano is Rodriguez's equal. What I'm arguing is that the difference between them, right now, probably isn't large enough to justify the argument that the balance of power in the American League East took a big swing last week. The moment the Yankees and Rangers consummated their big trade, the Yankees improved by roughly two games. And it's the rare pennant race that is decided by two games.

I do have to disagree with Craig about something, though ... I do not think adding Alex Rodriguez does much to reduce the Yankees' financial resources. Most of the analysis I've seen suggests that a $190 million payroll is well within the franchise's financial means, and if they 1) sell more tickets, and 2) reach the postseason -- both of which seem exceedingly likely -- then next year they can spend quite a bit more. Too, the salaries for superstars are actually trending downward, while the Yankees' revenues are actually heading upward. My guess is that a year from now, we'll see Eric Chavez or (more likely) Mike Lowell at third base (with Rodriguez at shortstop and Derek Jeter at second base), and Carlos Beltran in center field.

There's no guarantee they'll win on the field. But I'm not sure there's any reasonable limit to the Yankees' financial power. And you know, it's been like this for a long time. I attended a local SABR meeting this weekend, and Mike Rice noted that the Yankees' payroll, as a percentage of all MLB payroll, was essentially the same in 2003 as it was in 1977, and generally has remained stable since then.

In fact (and now this is me theorizing), since World War I there was only a brief stretch when the Yankees didn't have a significant financial advantage: from 1965 through 1976, after the amateur draft was created but before full-blown free agency. Prior to 1965, the Yankees routinely paid the largest bonuses to amateur players, and they routinely traded for poor teams' high-salaried players.

I'm not saying that it's OK, and in fact I think you could argue that it's exactly the opposite of OK. I'm just saying that it's nothing new, and the sky probably is not falling.

Senior writer Rob Neyer writes three columns per week during baseball's offseason. This spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-authored with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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