A-Rod + Lou Pinella, Let’s Make It Happen

Once upon a time Alex Rodriguez was not the highest paid baseball player. He did not play third base. He did not always choke in the post season. Hell, he once hit .406 and slugged .773 in the ALCS. He got along with his manager.

A-Rod’s recent falling out with Joe Torre has probably been overblown by the controversy-loving media, but there are definitely some lingering issues. The question will be whether those issues are strong enough to affect Rodriguez’s performance, and more importantly, the performance of the Yankees. It would be in the Yankees best interests to not find out. They should trade him this off season, primarily for young pitching talent.

Alex Rodriguez, despite his recent troubles, is still an all-star, a future hall-of-famer, and will be in the prime of his career for the remainder of his contract. Speaking of which, Rodriguez may be the highest paid player in baseball, but any potential buyer would not have to pay him as such. He has four years remaining on his contract at $25 million each. However, the Texas Rangers are graciously paying $9 million of that for each season, leaving his new team with only a $16 million a year commitment.

This is a very reasonable deal, especially for a player of Rodriguez’s talent. In comparison, the Red Sox will be shopping Manny Ramirez with a price tag of $20 million per season. The best third baseman on the free agent market, Aramis Ramirez, will have to void the remaining two years of his deal at $12 million each, and will be seeking something in the range of $15 million a year for five or more years. Consider that Aramis Ramirez is coming off perhaps his best season and his production just matches one of A-Rod’s worst years. Rodriguez’s contract will not be an issue.

Thus, Rodriguez will be very attractive for numerous teams, as they will be obliged to pay him a rather reasonable salary for what should still be his prime years. He becomes only more attractive if the Yankees offer to pay for part of that salary, though this is very doubtful.

The trick lies in A-Rod’s no-trade clause. He still wants to play and succeed in New York. However, he has already admitted that he will waive the clause if the Yankees truly desire to move him. The question will be to where.

The list of potential trade partners will be numerous, from both Chicago teams, to Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Diego, Philadelphia, Houston or even Florida if the Yankees were willing to eat a decent share of his contract. This is the list of teams that will want Rodriguez and could afford him, both in trade offering and salary. Which teams will Rodriguez want to play for?

He makes his home in Miami and would obviously like to play closer to there. However, there is no chance the Yankees would trade him within division leaving only Philly or Florida. Philadelphia makes little sense to both Rodriguez and the Yankees. There is little veteran talent that would tempt the Yankees, and stars such as Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels are untouchable, even for A-Rod. Rodriguez and cash for Dontrelle Willis makes some sense, but constitutes a long shot at best.

There are no geographic reasons to entice Rodriguez to leave New York, but perhaps we should visit that manager issue again. His relationship with Joe Torre has been business-like at best and could degrade fast depending on the after-affects of Torre’s decision to bat him 8th in the final game of the division series. Perhaps Rodriguez’s New York career may have been saved by replacing Joe Torre. The most obvious candidate for that replacement would have been Lou Pinella, a Steinbrenner favorite and a mentor to Rodriguez. In fact, Lou managed Alex in Seattle from the very start of his career. However, the Yankees decided to stick with Joe Torre for better or worst, and the chance of a A-Rod/Pinella reunion was dashed. Or was it?

Lou Pinella recently accepted the manager job for the Chicago Cubs, a team in deep need of an image change and star power. The Cubs will just happen to have a nice wide opening at third base when, not if, Aramis Ramirez decides to use an escape cause to void the last few years of his contract. Ramirez is very likely to split from Chicago and cash in elsewhere, perhaps the Yankees if Rodriguez is in fact traded.

The Cubs and Alex Rodriguez make perfect sense. They have a manager who A-Rod respects and responds to. They have an anemic offense in desperate need for production outside of Derrek Lee. Rodriguez would fit perfectly at third base and slotting in at third right before Lee in the batting order. The Cubs could even play Rodriguez at short if he could transition back and the team desired, though he makes far more sense sticking at third.

The issue now is what exactly do the Cubs have to offer New York in return?

Mark Prior.

The Yankees need young pitching badly. Healthy young pitching would be even better, but beggars cannot be choosers. Besides, many scouts believe that Prior’s injuries are entirely due to mechanics and standard Dusty Baker overuse. The Yankees could work on his mechanics to minimize his injury risk and be far more careful in his use. Joe Torre treats starting pitchers just fine, it’s relievers he runs into the ground. Chicago fans are starting to get tired of the Prior/Wood injury dance and would be glad to rid themselves of his potential if they were to receive a talent and star as bright as Rodriguez.

The package would have to include a bit more than just Prior, perhaps a relief pitcher and a prospect or two. The Yankees are always in need for more relief pitching thanks to Joe Torre’s previously mentioned tendency to abuse them, and prospects are always in need as trade bait to fix whatever holes develop by the July 31st trading deadline.

This is a win-win deal for both the teams and A-Rod. The Cubs get a team make-over, shipping the injury albatross Prior for a new face of their franchise in Rodriguez. The Yankees get rid of a potential migraine while it is still a small headache and in return gain a young power arm to build their rotation around and perhaps teach Philip Hughes a thing or two. And Alex Rodriguez gets another new start, but also a reunion with a coach that can motivate him to his fullest ability. This trade makes too much sense not to happen.

Of course the Yankees will probably end up keeping A-Rod and signing some washed up starting pitcher or trade him to a team like the White Sox for a washed up starting pitcher like Freddy Garcia.

However, these teams could take my advice, make this trade, and live happily ever after.