Alex Rodriguez was The Prodigy, a killer shortstop in his teens that did everything. Then he was The Contract, the super star handcuffing a Texas team from being any better just by virtue of his salary. Then he was The Newcomer, the new third baseman in the Bronx that wasn’t quite a True Yankee, even when he helped bring a title to town.
Now he’s The Heel, possibly ratting on players, inspiring hate from opposing pitchers, hitting home runs and glaring back at the world as he grinds his cleats into home plate. It might be his best act ever.
But what is his fantasy value, exactly?
Let’s say we ignore the steroid implications and look just as his numbers. We fantasy players are a fairly agnostic bunch, if he’s going to produce, he’s going to be owned. Even if he is Rowdy.
In his role as a 38-year-old third baseman, he’s already in trouble before the curtains rise. Since 1994, there have been only four qualified seasons from these rare birds. Since Jamey Carroll‘s season last year (.268/1HR/9SB) only played in the middle infield, and even Wade Boggs‘ 1996 (.311/2/1) would have been out of place at third base, that means we’d be hoping for 1997 Gary Gaetti (.251/17/7), 2011 Chipper Jones (.275/18/2) or 2001 Cal Ripken (.239/14/0). More like Adullah the Butcher than Jake the Snake here.
Then again, this Alex Rodriguez won’t put up a qualified season. His reign will be short, like Billy Graham’s. He’ll be lucky to manage 200 plate appearances, something 25 men have managed in baseball’s current offensive environment. Not one of them has hit 20 home runs in a season. That’s a lot to ask of an older man trying to stay spry at the hot corner. It’s also why I wouldn’t pencil The Heel in for more than a 20-homer pace.
Right now, thanks to some love from the batted ball (there’s very little love for him elsewhere, but he does own a .371 BABIP), he’s got a good batting average. And if we believe last year’s numbers, he’s capable of stealing double-digit bases. With better-than-league average power, good speed even at his age, and a batted ball mix that skews towards grounders, we could believe that he might be able to put up his career BABIP (.318) going forward.
Give him that BABIP and his current power, and this version of Rodriguez will look the one that we saw the last two years: .270-ish batting average, 20-hr type pace, and a few steals. Maybe late-vintage Flair, but that’s a viable third baseman in most formats. Useful, but probably not better than Aramis Ramirez or Chase Headley, third baseman that are available in more than a quarter of Yahoo leagues. Todd Frazier, David Freese and Mike Moustakas? Rodriguez might be a better deal than those three guys, and they’re all owned in more leagues. (A healthy Moose would give me the most pause.)
But that would be the ‘natural’ aging curve. Of course any analysis has to wrestle with the fact that Rodriguez is accused of taking steroids recently. And that he’s admitted to doing it in the past. And that all the other co-conspirators that shopped at the same drug store have gone down. He did it. He’s been on steroids while showing those okay fantasy seasons for a third baseman.
But has he stopped? Or did he just get a new chemist? What would Vince McMahon do? (Well, we know what Vince McMahon would do.)
Without knowing that, we can’t say for sure that we can’t just look at his recent seasons in an effort to project the rest of this season. Rodriguez once said he was done doing them, and now he’s accused of continuing. You’d think that someone with his career on the line wouldn’t risk it, but he also has something to gain from playing well in this period. (“See I didn’t need them.”)
We tried a physics-based muscle-and-result approach to sussing out Ryan Braun without steroids, and we don’t need to replicate that here. There may not be much of a year next year for Rodriguez anyway. Before his mammoth home run last night, he was showing a reduced distance on his homers and flies (273 feet, down from 299 career), but that will surely change shortly. And power is such a problem child in short samples.
Alex Rodriguez has been many different people over his career, but always fantasy useful. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us, then, if even The Heel can help our fantasy teams out for the stretch run.
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