×

Why the Yankees would have been better off without A-Rod

Alex Rodriguez plays his last game in pinstripes Friday, but the New York Yankees might have been better off not signing him in the first place.

There's no question that A-Rod has had a remarkable career as a ballplayer. He played in 14 All-Star games and won the American League MVP award three times. His 696 career home runs place him fourth on the list of career leaders. He also signed the then-biggest contract in sports history with the Yankees.

But his career has also been marred by controversy over the use of performance-enhancing drugs, evidenced by popular plays on his nickname such as A-Fraud and A-Roid.

To some players, he's been known as "The Cooler" for his seeming ability to come to a team on a hot winning streak and cool it off. (He started with the Yankees in 2004, after the Bronx Bombers had gone to the World Series six times in the previous 10 years and won it four times. They didn't win the pennant again until 2009.)

Then there's the substance issue. In 2013, then-Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig suspended A-Rod and 13 other players for violations of the league's drug agreement and labor contract in connection with the Biogenesis investigation. Rodriguez ended up sitting out all of the 2014 season. He forfeited 162/183rds of his salary and took home $2.9 million, according to the Associated Press.

Not much to show for $317 million

Alex Rodriguez speaks during a news conference on August 7, 2016 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. Rodriguez announced that he will play his final major league game on Friday, August 12 and then assume a position with the Yankees as a special advisor and instructor.
Jim McIsaac | Getty Images
Alex Rodriguez speaks during a news conference on August 7, 2016 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. Rodriguez announced that he will play his final major league game on Friday, August 12 and then assume a position with the Yankees as a special advisor and instructor.

By the time he cashes his last paycheck at the end of next season (he'll be staying on in an advisory role), he will have taken in $317 million from the team. Twelve seasons, 1,508 games and one World Series championship begs the question: Was it all worth it for the Yankees?

The team would have been better off without signing A-Rod, at least according to a CNBC.com analysis of pay and performance records.

Baseball is a sport replete with statistics, and they all mean different things, making it hard to compare players at different positions with different talents. Power hitters can help their team, but so can a consistent batter with an above-.300 average. (In his prime, A-Rod was both.) So sports wonks developed a statistic called wins above replacement, or WAR, which basically measures how many wins a particular player helped his team achieve over that of a replacement-level player.

Fangraphs has a way of converting the WAR statistic into a dollar figure based on what a player would make if they were to become a free agent. Comparing that figure with what Rodriguez was actually paid can show an approximate surplus value that his team achieved for his talent. (To be clear: These figures are estimates and involve plenty of guess work.)

It turns out that the Yankees would have been better off not taking A-Rod from the Rangers all those years ago, according to CNBC.com estimates and calculations. Overall, he cost the club around $9.4 million more than it would have been to hire that talent elsewhere.

He was hot in his first years as a Yankee and provided the team with serious surplus value — upward of $26 million in 2005. But after signing that $275 million 10-year deal in 2008, things changed. In 2009, his batting average fell below .300 and stayed there, and his WAR with the Yankees dropped from a high of 9.4 in 2007.

The calculations use his actual pay, as laid out in documents obtained recently by AP, rather than contract figures.

It's not a perfect formula: The pay-for-performance figures are, by nature, estimates and players bring more to a club than their on-field performance. Who knows how many fans bought tickets to Yankees games just to see A-Rod clobber a homer? That $9 million is not a lot for a club that built a $1.5 billion stadium (made possible partly with public funding) and has revenues of more than $500 million.

Attendance in the Bronx fell by 5.5 percent, according to Forbes, the year after fan-favorite Derek Jeter hung up his pinstripes. We'll have to wait till next year to see if A-Rod's departure will have the same effect.

Correction: This story has been revised to correct the spelling of Selig's first name.