Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A Most Unlikely Return?
By Zach

Since the trend 'round these parts seems to be figuring out what one's favored team would/should give up in order to acquire Alex Rodriguez, it figures that I might as well examine what it would take to return A-Rod to the organization which made him the first overall pick in the 1993 amateur draft. With the Mariners in the midst of a rather pathetic playoff race in the AL West, trade scenarios are always fun, especially when they involve the most hated ex-player in team history.

Mariner assets: The biggest is clearly "King" Felix Hernadez. Despite struggling at times this year, he's still one of, if not the, best pitching prospects in baseball. Just 20, he's got fanastic stuff and will be cheap and controlled for a few more years down the road. Behind him, the Mariners have a pair of young middle infielders, Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez. Lopez was an all-star second baseman this year, while Betancourt is hitting nearly .300 and playing stellar defense. Recently-promoted centerfielder Adam Jones, also just 20, looks to be a star in the making as well. As far as more established players go, the Mariners have stud relievers Rafael Soriano (who perhaps could be reconverted to a starter) and JJ Putz, starter Gil Meche, third baseman Adrian Beltre, first baseman Richie Sexson, and outfielders Raul Ibanez and Ichiro Suzuki. Catcher Kenji Johjima, just a rookie, is another compelling player. The farm system is rather barren. Last year's first round pick, catcher Jeff Clement has looked decent, while Chris Snelling is a talented hitter who is frequently injured. Beyond that, it's the usual grab bag of power arms, guys with command problems, and hitters who either strike out too much and/or lack power. Basically, if a deal were to happen, it would almost certain involve guys on the big league roster.

Who the Yankees would want: King Felix, first and foremost. He's the only guy on the Mariners who could one day equal A-Rod in value. But I'd be stunned if he were moved: while this year has been disappointing at times, he's got almost limitless potential and is just 20. If the Yankees want youngsters, Jones is probably the next guy on their list. He fills a vital need by giving them some youth in the outfield, and he's got the potential to be a Mike Cameron/Eric Davis-type player. Assuming the Yankees wanted help this year, they could also look to grab either Ichiro or Ibanez. Ibanez has the added value of being cheap both this year and next, while Ichiro, though not in A-Rod's league, costs a fair chunk of change. Pitching help would be hard to come by from the M's: Meche could be made available, and the Mariners would gladly throw in either Jarrod Washburn, Jamie Moyer (though he has a no-trade clause due to being a 5-and-10 player), or Joel Pineiro.

On the Mariners end, unless the Yankees picked up a lot of A-Rod's deal, any potential trade would have to include Beltre: first of all, he'd be expendable with A-Rod, and second of all they've committed a lot of money to him. He might be attractive to the Yankees: he's still young, and has tons of potential, and he's a much better fielder than A-Rod. Perhaps in that lineup he might see better pitches and succeed.

So here's the prospective deal: the Mariners send Beltre, Ibanez, Jones, and Meche to the Yankees for A-Rod. The Yankees get back an outfielder better than anyone they have on the field currently, plus a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy in Meche. They get a natural third baseman in Beltre who, while no guarantee to come even close to A-Rod's production does have that massive 2004 season in his history. Who knows, he might be able to regain his form in pinstripes. They also get a talented young outfielder who could become the latest in a long line of Yankee greats in center. The Mariners get back perhaps the top player in baseball, and while losing Jones hurts, the other parts are fairly easy to replace: Meche is going to be a free agent this offseason anyhow, Ibanez has been productive but could drop off the face of the earth, and Beltre has been a massive failure in Seattle.

Would the Yankees do it? Probably not. I doubt they're actively shopping A-Rod, but if they were I'd have to imagine they could get more in return. On the other hand, this deal gives them more usable parts then, say, Ben's deal, so it's a possibility.

Would the Mariners do it? From a talent standpoint they'd be stupid not to. They give up one top prospect in order to get back one of the best players in baseball. While they'd take on slightly more salary, it would be worth it to add a bat like Rodriguez's to the lineup. But then again, there's the PR factor. I was at the first game A-Rod played in Seattle after signing with Texas, and while the fan reaction has mellowed since then he's still the most-hated former Mariner in history. It would take a rather large set of, um, courage on the part of Bill Bavasi to bring him back, and while Seattle is far more civil then New York he'd be booed almost instantly unless he produced. In the end, I think the baggage and the money probably scare the Mariners off, but it's a tough call.


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