Thursday, April 26, 2007

Jumping the Gun With Future Fun: Miguel Cabrera & A-Rod


I took the above picture of Manny Ramirez, Big Papi, and Miguel Cabrera last summer when I interned with a company down in Fort Lauderdale, FL. It happened that the Red Sox were scheduled to spend a weekend down in Miami vs. the Marlins, and I was able to get tickets and go. Aside from seeing the Red Sox and attending a game at a new (to me) stadium, I really wanted to watch current hitter-extraordinaire Miguel Cabrera. Big Papi and Manny both hit two homers apiece while Cabrera settled for a single as the Red Sox routed the Marlins, 11-5.

I bring this up because there is an interesting thread over at mlbtraderumors.com concerning Cabrera and his future. Cabrera will be a free agent in three years, after the 2009 season, but he is already getting pretty expensive for the cheap-ass Marlins. (Don't tell me they are a 'small market' team. Have you ever been to the Miami area? Its huge and expensive.) This season, Cabrera is making $7.4 Million, which is just under a quarter of the Marlins payroll of $30 Million. While the team's payroll isn't likely to increase substantially, Cabrera's salary is.

It is possible that Cabrera could be shopped around the league for cheaper talent, possibly next off season. It is unquestionable that he would bring a king's ransom in return, especially if the Marlins were to trade him sooner (this coming off season) rather than later (two years from now). Teams will pay more the longer they control a player, so in that sense it behooves the Marlins to trade Cabrera sooner.

Its fun to speculate (and let me be clear: thats all I'm doing here) about the potential for interesting possibilities that this brings up. There are a number of teams that could afford to trade the required bounty of minor and/or major league talent to acquire Cabrera and pay him at the same time. The Angels have been looking for a big hitter to compliment Vladimir Guerrero for a few years now, and the Dodgers definitely have the talent and the need at third base.

Still, predictably, its the Yankees and Red Sox that I'm interested in discussing. Both teams potentially have a need at third base, the talent to trade, and the payroll to absorb Cabrera's salary now and in the future when he gets really expensive.

For the Red Sox, current third baseman Mike Lowell's contract is up after this season. Great as he's been since he came from the Marlins in trade last year, Lowell is no Miguel Cabrera. The Red Sox could re-sign Lowell, but considering his age I'd find it unlikely unless there is nothing else available. However, its likely that there will be something, or someone I should say, else available: Alex Rodriguez.

As everyone not living on the moon knows, A-Rod has a clause in his contract that allows him to opt out of his current contract and become a free agent. Anyone who thinks that he won't at minimum use this clause as a bargaining chip to get extra years and dollars added to his current contract is dreaming, but the most likely scenario is that A-Rod will simply exercise the out clause. As a Scott Boras client, A-Rod will be seeking the highest dollar (as he should be, you won't find me bashing him for successfully making money here) and that will come if he can leverage teams against each other, something he can't do by just bargaining with the Yankees. Opting out doesn't preclude him re-signing with New York, but it does mean that he will listen to other offers.

If A-Rod opts out and becomes a free agent then his salary will no longer be subsidized by the dim-wit owner of the Texas Rangers, the aptly named Tom Hicks. Right now, A-Rod costs the Yankees about $16 Million a year, but his take home salary is $25 Million. Texas pays the difference for the life of the contract. If A-Rod were to opt out of his contract and the Yankees were to resign him to the very same contract he plays for now, it would cost NY about $40 Million more than they will pay him under the current conditions. Then, add any additional years at full price plus the penalty for going over the luxury threshold and you can see that it would be a massive expenditure for the Yankees, especially in light of the sweet deal they are currently enjoying.

This isn't to say that signing A-Rod would be any cheaper for anyone else, but when you consider the fact that the Yankees are reportedly trying to cut salary down to a more manageable number you have to wonder if A-Rod opted out, how big an offer would he get from NY. Complicating the matter is the fact that the Yankees don't have much in the way of salary coming off the books after this season. Abreu ($16M club option), Rivera ($11M), and Posada ($12M) are all free agents or have club options after this season, but at least two out of three and likely all three will be re-signed. This doesn't give NY much wiggle room unless they want to simply add payroll.

This all leads back to Cabrera. If Cabrera were available, he would allow the Yankees to replace A-Rod's production for pennies on the dollar. The Yankees have the top tier prospects that Florida would likely be looking for in Jose Tabata and/or Phil Hughes. Packaging one or both with Melky Cabrera or Robinson Cano... well, I'm making things up, but its likely to take an immense package of talent to bag Cabrera. Fortunately for them, the Yankees have that talent, and they have the funds and the room in the lineup if A-Rod opts out.

At the same time, the Red Sox will also have a hole at third base. I would argue that it makes more sense for Boston to try to sign Rodriguez than it does to trade for Cabrera, (although I'd rather have Cabrera simply because of his youth). Despite their spending spree this past off-season, the Red Sox will have some substantial salaries coming off the books after this season. Lowell, Schilling, Clement, Hinske, Piniero, Tavarez, and Timlin are all free agents to be who cost the Red Sox $43 Million this year. The Red Sox can absorb the salary hit better than NY this coming off season, in part because of the glut of talent in their minor leagues. While they don't appear to have the top tier talent that NY has in Hughes and Tabata, they could adequately replace the free agents above with minor league talent and not miss as step in the process.

While the Yankees would have to increase their payroll substantially to re-sign Rodriguez, the Red Sox could sign Rodriguez, re-sign Schilling, fill the vacancies with minor league players, and hardly increase their payroll at all. If Cabrera is available, its possible that the Yankees would simply let Rodriguez go, whether it be to Boston or not. This could be a more interesting off season for the two protagonists than we've seen since the Yankees signed Rodriguez in the first place.

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