On-Base Perception

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What if the Yankees never re-signed Alex Rodriguez?

Alex Rodriguez looks on during batting practice against

Alex Rodriguez looks on during batting practice against the Detroit Tigers during the American League Championship Series at Comerica Park. (Oct. 16, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

In the aftermath of a report alleging that Alex Rodriguez used performance-enhancing drugs from 2009-2012 – a charge he's denied – it's become popular to wish the Yankees had never re-signed A-Rod to a massive $10-year, $275 million contract after the 2007 season. After all, five years and more than $100 million remain on the deal.

But what if the Yankees indeed hadn't signed A-Rod?

Using media reports from the time, a healthy dose of informed speculation, as well as a little bit of history, we piece together two George Bailey-like alternative universes wherein A-Rod signs with someone else and the Yankees replace him:

Option 1 – Trade for Miguel Cabrera

The plan: The Yankees trade Ian Kennedy, Jose Tabata, Alan Horne and Humberto Sanchez for Florida Marlins slugger Miguel Cabrera (*The Yankees were linked to Cabrera at the time, and those prospects were being bandied about in trade reports). Cabrera has gotten too expensive for the skinflint Marlins, and the Yankees use their prospect might to reel in the stocky third baseman. The Marlins have demanded one of the Yankees' “Big Three” prospects – Phil Hughes, Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy – in the trade, and the Yankees reluctantly part with Kennedy who's thought to be a Mike Mussina-like pitcher with great smarts on the mound. Kennedy has had success in his first taste of the majors, going 1-0 with a 1.89 ERA in three starts. But Cabrera, who will enter his age 25 season in 2008, is too good to pass up. He's just posted a .320 batting average with 34 home runs, and would instantly replace A-Rod's power in the middle of the Yankees lineup, with a chance to exceed it.

How it works out: The Yankees immediately sign Cabrera to a big money, multi-year extension and he hits 183 home runs with a .323 average over the next five years. But not all is perfect. Cabrera's weight quickly proves an obstacle to consistently third base, and the Yankees have to switch him to first base early in the season, forcing Wilson Betemit, Morgan Ensberg and Cody Ransom into significant action at third base.

Seeking to fill the third base hole for the second time in two years, the Yankees pluck Casey Blake off the third base free agent market before the 2009 season, giving him a three-year deal. Blake is serviceable enough in 2009, hitting .280 with 18 home runs, but he declines in 2010 and by the middle of 2011, the Yankees are forced to once again find an alternative at third base. Blake departs after 2011 and the Yankees sign Aramis Ramirez, the top free agent third baseman on the market, to a three-year deal before the 2012 season. He bats .300 with 27 home runs in 2012, combining for a fearsome middle of the order with Robinson Cano and Cabrera.

Of the prospects they parted with, Kennedy develops into a very good National League starter, while none of the others establish themselves sufficiently at the major league level.

Option 2 – Sign Mike Lowell

The plan: Lowell is one of the top free agents, and the second best third baseman on the market, after A-Rod. Stealing him away from the World Champion Red Sox would just be a sweetener (*the Yankees were linked to Lowell by many media reports, and it was thought for a period that the Red Sox and Yankees might essentially trade third baseman that offseason, with A-Rod going to Boston). The Yankees commit four year and $48 million to bring Lowell to the Bronx. In his two previous seasons in Boston, Lowell has hit .305 with 41 home runs; and he also brings the pedigree of a two-time World Champion to the Yankees (Lowell also won a ring with the Marlins in 2003).

How it works out: Lowell puts up decent numbers in 2008 and 2009, hitting .282 with 34 home runs. But he doesn't play in more than 119 games in a season, exposing the Yankees' role players. Injuries hamper him again 2010, when he plays in only 73 games, batting .239 with five home runs. But the Yankees see Lowell's decline coming and bring in Adrian Beltre to man third base in 2010, while Lowell rotates between first base and designated hitter. Over the next three years, Beltre hits .314 with 96 home runs, while Lowell retires after the season. Beltre combines with Cano for a ruthless middle of the order.

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