MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay Rays

A-Rod, Anchor, or Albatross: Who Would You Cut?

Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran, and CC Sabathia were great players and one day may share the halls of Cooperstown together. Each broke in with small-market teams, were superstars during their prime, signed huge free agent contracts, and took part in franchise-altering trades.

 Player Age Years Active Career bWAR bWAR All-Time Rank Highest bWAR Season 2015 Career Earnings
Alex Rodriguez 39 21 116.5 16 10.4 (2000) $402.1M
Carlos Beltrán 38 18 66.9 123 8.2 (2008) $208.9M
CC Sabathia 34 15 54.7 232 7.5 (2011) $196.2M

As is the case with many great players, all three eventually made their way to the Yankees: A-Rod in 2003 via trade, Beltrán as a free agent last year, and Sabathia as a free agent in 2009. Despite those flashes A-Rod showed during April, none of these three players can still claim to be superstars anymore. Rodriguez, Beltrán, and CC Sabathia are dealing with eroding skills, chronic injuries, and are both deep into the post-prime decline portion of their careers. They will all likely retire when their current contracts run out.

But what if we didn’t have to wait that long? What if as one of his first tweaks to the MLB’s collective bargaining agreement, Rob Manfred gave each team a contract mulligan similar to the amnesty provision that exists in the NBA? And what if he instituted this policy tomorrow? Which of these three players would you lobby Brian Cashman to cut from the 2015 Yankees?

Amnesty Clause Terms:

  • Each team is eligible to release one player currently under contract onto waivers, immediately voiding the players contract.
  • The team would NOT be required to pay the remaining dollars owed to the player (different than the NBA) and the contract would NOT contribute towards the luxury tax ceiling.
  • The luxury tax threshold is $189M for 2015 and the Yankees current payroll is $217M.  Cutting any of the three this year wouldn’t get the team under the tax line but could in future seasons.

Two months ago your immediate reaction probably would have been “A-Rod, A-Rod, a thousand times A-Rod!”  But A-Rod’s shown he still has some thump left in his bat and is probably the most productive player of the three right now.  So before we throw A-Rod down amnesty river and call it a day, let’s give this serious consideration.


The Contracts

The main benefit of this hypothetical amnesty provision is the money it would allow teams to save. So which of these three contracts is the worst?

  Owed 2015* Owed 2016 Owed 2017 Total Owed
Alex Rodriguez $21M $20M $20M $61M**, 3Y
Carlos Beltrán $15M $15M $30M, 2Y
CC Sabathia $23M $25M $5M*** $53M, 2Y
*Includes money already paid over first month and a half
**Possible $30M for home run milestones which the Yankees are refusing to pay ($6M per milestone)
***$25M option for 2017 vests as long as a shoulder injury doesn’t cause him to (1) end 2016 on DL (2) spend >45 days of 2016 on DL or (3) make fewer than 6 relief appearances in 2016. Option has $5M buyout.  I’m assuming that the option will vest and the Yankees will buy him out.

Ok, so you’re not wrong on this front. A-Rod’s contract will always be the worst. The 10-year, $275M contract he signed in 2008 was ahead of its time, and by that I mean even inflation couldn’t prevent that contract from looking really, really awful six years in. And the $61M accounted for above doesn’t include the $6M the Yankees are refusing to pay him for hitting #660 a week ago or the $6M he could be owed if he reaches 700, 714, 755, or 762. At best, the Yankees owe Mr. Rodriguez only $61M to be their designated hitter for the next three seasons, though if he’s able to catch Ruth, Aaron, or Bonds in that time he’ll be worth every penny. The third and final year of the deal is the main issue at hand – it’s going to be difficult to stomach paying a 41-year old $20M to play DH two years from now.

CC Sabathia signed his contract during the splurge before 2009 that also netted the team Mark Teixeira and AJ Burnett. The 7-year, $161M contract stood as the largest contract given to a pitcher until Felix Hernandez’s deal four years later, which shows just how much the Yankees wanted CC. And for a few years he was worth even more than the $23.5M AAV of the contract, netting over 18 WAR during the first three years of the deal. The problem with the contract in retrospect is how the money was allocated. Instead of front-loading the contract to pay a premium during CC’s prime, the Yankees spread the money out evenly throughout the seven years. He has and will receive at least $23M until the end of the deal, and now the Yankees are left with a hefty $53M bill for his age 34 – 36 seasons.

Beltrán’s contract isn’t an albatross by any measure so the contract is not the main issue with him. Sure he’s not playing like a $15M per year player anymore but it’s the Yankees for God’s sake – they’d probably pay $15M for a years-worth supply of eggplant calzones.

Worst Contract: Alex Rodriguez


On-Field Production

On the open market, the going rate for a win above replacement these days is generally agreed to be somewhere around $7M. By that measure for the team to break even, A-Rod needs to average about 3 WAR per year, CC over 3.5 WAR per year, and Beltran a little over 2 WAR per year for the remainder of their contracts. Beltrán has the lowest performance threshold but in this case that doesn’t matter. I doubt any of the trio will play up to that figure but who will underperform the most?  Let’s take a look at what each player has done over the last few years on the field.

Alex Rodriguez

2012-2015 201 116 35 98 .262 .352 .451 118 4.1
*BBREF’s oWAR only – Ignoring defensive component because he is exclusively a DH now

To get a sufficient sample of A-Rod’s recent history you have to go all the way back to 2012, his last full season of baseball. While he’s been on the field since then he hasn’t been a superstar, but he’s proving to be a valuable bat and still an above-average hitter. You could certainly make a case he’s been the best Yankee hitter in 2015, and considering they’ve been a top-ten offense so far that’s incredible from a 39-year-old. Shifting him permanently to DH is a good move to prevent deterioration and if he keeps up some semblance of his current production it’s entirely possible that he’s worth a good portion of 3 WAR/year for the rest of his contract.

Carlos Beltrán

2014-2015 141 56 17 65 .233 .294 .398 94 -0.7

On the heels of a nine-game hitting streak, Carlos Beltrán upped his 2015 batting average to .234 this week.  Woo!  In other news, he should not be playing right field. He’s a poor fielder by most defensive metrics and the negative bWAR is mostly due to his bad defense – he has 0.2 oWAR as a Yankee. He would be better employed as a designated hitter at this point in his career, but Chase Headley and Mark Teixeira’s presence on the team forced A-Rod to DH, leaving Beltran to “patrol” right field. Additionally, his extended slump to start the year had everyone lose faith in his ability to hit anymore and calling for his head. PECOTA expects a decent rebound to about league average hitting for the remainder of the year but it wouldn’t surprise me if his career .692 OPS in pinstripes is the new normal for Carlos.

CC Sabathia

2013-2015 48 19 22 4.83 4.20 1.38 7.7 82 0.2

For most of his career, CC Sabathia was a power pitcher whose repertoire was built around a 95-mph fastball. Since 2013, his fastball velocity has steadily dropped and his ERA has steadily risen. Tim Lincecum, Roy Halladay, Jered Weaver, there are a number of formerly great pitchers in recent memory  who’ve experienced this same abrupt loss in velocity and as a result struggled. For Halladay it happened late in his career and after some chronic injury problems, he called it quits. Lincecum and Weaver were younger and were forced to fundamentally change the way they pitch. Sabathia is somewhere in between – he’s 34 right now and three years into his decline. He’s not even pitching at a league average clip anymore and will likely hover around replacement level until he’s bought out a year and a half from now, a large problem for a guy still owed $53M.

Most Likely to Underperform: CC Sabathia


Replacement Options

A-Rod is officially a full-time designated hitter now. DH used to mean something but in today’s MLB the role is mostly filled by old guys, regulars in need of a break, or a bench platoon. As I alluded to in a previous section, the Yankees would probably follow suit and make Carlos Beltrán their full-time DH in A-Rod’s stead, creating an opening in right field permanently for Chris Young. The long term solution in right field will hopefully be Aaron Judge, the Yankees hulkish prospect currently tearing up Double-A in Trenton.

Cutting Carlos Beltrán would result in the same exact scenario outlined with A-Rod. But Beltrán is the worse player right now so replacing him would be less harmful to the team.

Taking Sabathia out of the rotation right now would be troublesome. Tanaka is still a question mark and with the recent elbow injury to Chase Whitley, Chris Capuano is no longer just an extra starter, so the team would likely turn to latin pop superstar Esmil Rogers (Editor’s note: or Bryan Mitchell) in the short term. The long term solution to cutting Sabathia would be to use the money owed him to lure in a younger, better soon-to-be free agent pitcher. Jordan Zimmerman, Jeff Samardzija, Zack Grienke (probably not, but maybe), Johnny Cueto, and David Price are all free agents this offseason and some of them could even become available at the trade deadline. Replacing CC Sabathia’s innings-eating with an ace within the next year is a huge potential upgrade for the team.

Best Replacement Option: Carlos Beltrán (short-term), CC Sabathia (long-term)


Injury History

A-Rod’s hip is probably bionic by now, which means this might be possible, but he could also lose permanent function of his legs altogether at any moment. The positives are (1) he hasn’t gotten hurt yet, and (2) he is no longer playing the field. The move should improve his durability, though I was hoping to see more of A-Rod’s adventures at first base.

Carlos Beltrán’s injury history is staggering and impressive – indirectly it may even keep him out of the hall of fame. In an injury competition he usually comes out on top.

CC Sabathia made only eight starts last year before having season-ending knee surgery to remove bone spurs but prior to that he was Mr. Reliable. He’d started no fewer than 28 games in a season since coming up for the Cleveland Indians as a 20-year-old.  Having a generally “balky knee” these days isn’t ideal but for a 300-pound man after 14 straight years of injury-free pitching it’s hardly surprising.

Most Likely to Get Injured: Carlos Beltrán forever and always


Fan Perspective

The final category is the most subjective, but the basic premise is “How much would you care if he got cut?”

Alex Rodriguez, the fans, and the media have had their differences. In New York he always played second banana to Jeter from a popularity standpoint, even though his numbers during most of those years were downright gaudy. The steroiding and re-steroiding forever tarnished A-Rod’s credibility as much as the fire hydrant in front of Tiger Woods’ house damaged his. Despite this, he’s the default face of the franchise at this point. Without him, people might not hate the Yankees as much. And what is baseball if people don’t hate the Yankees?

Carlos Beltrán is the new guy. He doesn’t have a huge, boisterous personality and hasn’t really endeared himself to fans on or off the field. Beltrán joined the team as a 37-year-old and never had a vintage year in pinstripes so there’s no real feeling of attachment to him.

CC Sabathia is the most likeable guy of the three. He had a few great years, got a ring with the team, and he’s been an all-around superb Yankee since he came here. The organization feels a strong sense of loyalty to him.

Easiest to Break Up With: Carlos Beltrán


The Verdict: CC Sabathia

Before writing this article I bounced the amnesty provision idea off two other people and asked what they would do if they were Brian Cashman in this scenario. One said he would cut A-Rod, the other Beltrán, and I said CC Sabathia. I don’t think any of the three is especially wrong here, but each choice represents a different school of thought.

By amnestying A-Rod, the team would be cutting ties with the most productive of the three players. The move would sacrifice success in the present for flexibility in the 2016 offseason. It’d allow Brian Cashman to purge his backlog of terrible contracts all at once (Teixeira comes off the books in 2016 too) and dive into the 2017 offseason with an open checkbook ready to treat himself. But the Yankees aren’t a team known to postpone contending and keeping A-Rod would give them the best chance to win before 2016.

Beltrán would be the right choice if his contract was on the same level as the other two. He’s the worst player of the three and nearly 150 games into his tenure with the Yankees, it’s getting hard to call his lack of production a slump as opposed to simply reality. Cutting him also seems like the easiest decision of the three. Beltrán hasn’t done anything to deserve our loyalty, Chris Young seems like a decent replacement, and he’s going to retire after his contract is up anyways – cutting him would be the baseball equivalent of euthanasia. But the money isn’t that wasteful and the Yankees will see what they can get out of him this year and next.

But the right choice would be to cut CC Sabathia.  He’s the right combination of costly, unproductive, and expendable for me.  With the 2017 buyout, his contract is a year shorter than A-Rod’s but he’ll cost just $8M less.  He’s going on 50 starts now allowing more than half of a run per inning.  And the thought of adding David Price to a rotation already featuring Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda makes my heart race.

Photo: Jonathan Dyer-USA Today Sports

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