Back in February, longtime baseball columnist Bill Madden argued that the New York Yankees should "finally ditch A-Rod" in the aftermath of Rodriguez's name being linked with steroid use. Madden, outraged over the revelation, even suggested that the Yankees should eat the remaining $270-M on Rodriguez's contract and throw the slugger to the wolves.
Here is a snippet from his column:
Now that A-Rod's pursuit looks as counterfeit as Bonds', they should do what's best for the organization: Cut him loose -- no matter the cost. As difficult as it is to imagine eating $270 million, the Bombers will be making a statement, not just for the Yankee brand but for baseball as a whole. They will be applauded for it. The Yankees operate under two basic tenets: The relentless pursuit of championships and the fierce protection of their brand. If they are going to remain true to both, then they have no choice but to sever ties with Rodriguez.
I was absolutely shocked when the column was written, literally laughing out loud over the absurdity of the premise. Madden wanted the Yankees to release their best player and pay the remainder on his contract without receiving anything in return all because Rodriguez did something that a lot of players did: he tried to gain an edge with steroids. The Maddens of the world love to cling to the notion that baseball was once a pure game, and that stars of yesteryear would never consider gaining an illegal competitive edge. Thus, it was not surprising to read his anti-A-Rod Hall of Fame piece. Urging New York to take such an extreme action and simply wash its hands of Rodriguez really took it way too far, though. He was hoping that the Yankees would take a moral stand against steroid use with one player, Rodriguez, despite the fact that all 30 clubs have at one point had a steroid user on their 25-man roster.
Regardless of the industry, it is generally not an effective business strategy to simply eat $270-M. Smart companies know when to recognize a sunk cost and take action, but giving up on that kind of investment over some immeasurable brand image was absurd. Also, those purchasing Yankees tickets do not care about steroid use as much as the older generation of sports writers want them to. We went through that with Bill Plasckhe and the Manny Ramirez saga later in spring training and throughout the season. And if the customers--the fans--continue to show up, the brand argument loses its merit. Which is exactly what happened.
Plus, Rodriguez was anything but a sunk cost. Despite what Madden and the small sample size, unclutch brigade may have thought, he was hardly a bust in New York. In fact, headed into 2009, the veteran third baseman amassed an incredible 36.3 Wins Above Replacement during his tenure with the Yankees. According to FanGraphs, he incredibly outearned his massive annual salary in all but two years while providing $15.8-M in surplus value on the dollars earned/made scale; his WAR totals translate to $136.2-M, and he was paid $120.4 during that time span.
As Madden alluded to in the piece, the Yankees put winning above everything else. The Steinbrenner doctrine is to win the World Series at all costs, and anything else--ignoring the fact that random variance and luck play a major factor in October--is considered a failure. Dropping Rodriguez would have significantly hurt the team's chances of carrying out their end of the bargain. Madden never named a potential replacement at third base for the Yankees, but the team could have searched high and low for a replacement and fell well short of the level of production that the Yankees have become accustomed to with Rodriguez at third base. Did Madden really expect Cody Ransom to get the job done over a full season?
The most ridiculous paragraph in the article came at the end, however. Madden finished his tirade with this final thought: "As painful as swallowing that $270 million might be, there will be consolation for the Yankees when no other team elects to besmirch their brand by taking in A-Rod -- even for nothing."
If the Yankees agreed to pay the entire amount remaining on the contract, every team in baseball would have jumped at the chance to take Rodriguez. He is, after all, one of the best players in baseball, and arguably of all time. If a general manager would not want to have A-Rod play third base for their team for free, over the steroid issue, they should be fired for incompetence--and then rehired only to be fired again. The fact that Madden would expect a Barry Bonds-type blackballing for a player in his early-30s was so devoid of logic it is almost comical.
Also, how would the Yankees take consolation in watching A-Rod sit around without any offers while they continued to pay him obscene amounts of money and had a hole at third base? That is a pretty awful consolation prize, if you ask me.
Clearly, the column was dumb. Perhaps Madden was looking to generate some controversy and some hits to the Daily News' website, baiting rational baseball followers everywhere. In hindsight, though, it looks even more ridiculous. Rodriguez returned from injury with a bang, batting .286/.402./.532 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs in 530 plate appearances. He put up 4.6 WAR in only 124 games, which was worth $20.6-M. And, as you may have heard, he had quite the postseason, leading the Yankees to their 27th World Series championship.
Winning cures all when it comes to perception. Now that A-Rod has performed on the grandest stage, hopefully the fans that once bashed him will appreciate how great of a player he is and recognize him as a "true Yankee." One thing that New York winning a championship unfortunately cannot cure, however, is Bill Madden???s misguided outlook on baseball. I know it was only one column, but if you have not already done so, stop valuing his opinion on such matters as New York baseball.