Trades Of The Decade: A-Rod For Soriano

You might remember that the Red Sox were very nearly the ones to acquire Alex Rodriguez when the Rangers made him available after the 2003 season. According to USA Today, the reigning MVP would have gone to Boston, Manny Ramirez would have gone to Texas and the Red Sox would have dealt Nomar Garciaparra to the White Sox. The blockbuster Red Sox-Rangers deal fell through when the MLBPA stepped in, providing the Yankees with the opportunity to acquire Rodriguez.

That's exactly what Brian Cashman did on February 16th, 2004. The Yankees obtained the 28-year-old shortstop for Alfonso Soriano and a player to be named later (the Yanks would eventually send Joaquin Arias to the Rangers to complete the move).

Rodriguez OK'd the deal, waiving his no trade clause and agreeing to move to third base because of incumbent shortstop Derek Jeter, but the Commissioner's office had to approve the move, too. Bud Seilg gave the deal his blessing because of the "unique circumstances" of Rodriguez's contract.

The Rangers took on $67MM of the $179MM A-Rod was still owed under his historic $252MM contract, though they did save some of it when A-Rod opted out of the deal. (Texas is still paying Rodriguez under his previous contract, even though the Yankees signed him to a new deal two winters ago.) 

The Rangers ultimately saved money, despite the salary they still owed A-Rod. Soriano was set to earn $5.4MM in 2004, his first season of arbitration-eligibility, and the difference between the two stars' salaries contributed to the Rangers' decision.

"We need flexibility," Rangers GM John Hart told USA Today. "It's a win for the Rangers, Yankees and Alex."

The Rangers needed flexibility because they'd handed out bad contracts to expensive non-contributors like Rusty Greer, Jeff Zimmerman and Chan Ho Park.

Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus said the Rangers should have tried to create financial flexibility in some other way. He wrote that trading A-Rod to subsidize the Park deal was "unbelievably dumb," even though the Rangers "made a great decision in 2000," when they signed Rodriguez to the record-setting deal.

To replace A-Rod, the Rangers obtained an All-Star caliber player in Soriano, and a minor leaguer. Arias, now 25, has a .748 OPS in 141 big league plate appearances, but isn't considered much of a prospect now.

Soriano hit .274/.316/.498 in two seasons for the Rangers, with 64 homers and characteristically poor pate discipline. (In case you're wondering, FanGraphs says he was worth the $12.9MM he cost them.) The Rangers would go on to flip Soriano to the Nationals for Armando Galarraga, Termel Sledge and Brad Wilkerson after the 2005 season.

Two years of Soriano at market value doesn't seem like much for A-Rod, but as Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News pointed out right after the trade, the Rangers had limited negotiating power. In a sense, they had to take what they could get.

A-Rod, meanwhile, faced intense pressure in New York. Soon after the trade went through, George Steinbrenner said Rodriguez had the potential to make a Reggie Jackson-esque impact on the club. A-Rod has since made the occasional faux pas, endured a postseason demotion and admitted to banned substance use, but he hasn't stopped producing.

In six seasons with the Yankees, Rodriguez has averaged 40 homers and 20 steals, hitting .300/.401/.567 and winning a pair of MVP awards. The Yankees have paid him generously and FanGraphs suggests he's earned his money. It would have cost $156MM to replace that production on the open market and Rodriguez has earned a base salary of $157MM so far. Now that he's been part of a World Series champion, A-Rod has done it all in New York.

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