Welcome to this This Particular Week In Baseball, the baseball column that could very well receive a "you're fired" call from Hal Steinbrenner at any moment now. This week we look back at some of the great players who have defined the last decade of baseball and we look ahead to two who could define the next. It's another tender yet maudlin episode of This Particular Week In Baseball!
On Sunday we learned Alex Rodriguez will be released by the New York Yankees after this coming Friday's game. Rodriguez said he will retire immediately to become an advisor to the Yankees. This news was the keystone pebble blown free that released a pent-up avalanche of A-Rod Hot Takes, A-Rod Thinkpieces, Thinkpieces On Those Rod Hot Takes, and other essential Rod-related content. This avalanche will likely bury baseball for this whole week, and maybe longer. Authorities recommend sheltering in place and burning any and all sports columns for warmth, or just on principle.
None of this unceasing ridiculousness really matters. Alex Rodriguez will always be a lightning rod for criticism of all types, whether legitimate or nonsensical, but as time goes on more and more of that frivolity will drop away, replaced by the only thing we know for sure about the man: he was a damn good baseball player. In addition to his 696 homers, Rodriguez has totaled a ridiculous 113 WAR in his career. That's one more than Mantle, 30 more than DiMaggio, and 41 more than a certain Yankee shortstop he's always been compared to.
There are more numbers, more accolades, but the end point is this: Rodriguez was one of the all-time greats, full stop. You can adjust up or down for cheating, steroids, narcissism, and dating Madonna as you see fit, but the numbers are the numbers and the truth is the truth, and Rodriguez—love him, hate him, irrationally despise him (this last one is saved for members of the New York media)—is an inner circle Hall of Famer, and one of the greatest players of his generation. Baseball is better for Alex Rodriguez having played it, and that's about the biggest compliment that can be paid.
Speaking of WAR, Mark Teixeira has cost the Yankees almost a win this season and they've paid him $22.5 million for those services. It's fitting, then, that Teixeira, another great Yankee free agent signing and symbol of the second wave of winning Yankee teams, has decided to retire as well. Unlike Rodriguez, Teixeira—the man who taught me E-before-I then X then E-before-I again—will play out the rest of this season before calling it a career. That career has been a good one. He's no inner-circle Hall guy, and likely not a Hall of Famer of any type, but that doesn't mean his career wasn't an exceptional one.
At his height, Teixeira combined power and patience with great defense at first base. His best season was probably the one that enticed the Yankees to give him that huge contract, and it made a good argument: he put up almost seven wins for the Braves and Angels in 2008, complete with 33 homers and a walk rate higher than his K rate.
These retirements, combined with the moves the Yankees made at the deadline to move older players like Carlos Beltran signal a new approach for the Yankees, and one that could pay dividends if the team can stick with it. For now, though, let's say a preliminary goodbye to Mark Teixeira. He'll still be around through September, but if the first part of this season is any indication, we likely won't notice.
While Rodriguez and Teixeira are in varying stages of being hustled out the back door by the Yankees, Ichiro Suzuki is in the middle of a mini-renaissance in Miami, which when you think about it is both a typical and also not-that-bad place to have a mini-renaissance. After five seasons of decline, Ichiro is putting up a vintage season, hitting .318 and getting on base at a .389 clip. This is the stuff of his mid-aughts Mariners heyday, and on Sunday night he put the cherry on top with his 3,000th hit since coming to the states back in 2001.
That doesn't count the 1,278 hits he put up with the Orix Blue Wave back in Japanese professional baseball. You'll notice that if you add those two totals together you get: controversy. Pete Rose, MLB's hits leader, totaled 4,256. This is, by the properties of arithmetic, less than Ichiro's total of 4,278. Rose doesn't want to hear that shit, because he's a jerk, but 78 is more than 56.
Some will say that Rose is still the hit king because all of his hits came in Major League Baseball games, while others will say Ichiro is the new hit king because he got more hits and also because Rose is a jerk. We can't answer that question here, although Rose is definitely a big jerk, but if there were any question, Ichiro is now undeniably deserving of enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. This, it's worth mentioning, is an honor Rose will never receive, because he's a big jerk (who bet on baseball) (but also at least in part the jerk thing).
Ichiro's accomplishment underlines the greatness of his career as well as the fact that it's likely nearing its end. There might be another season left of Ichiro, but likely not much more than that, this mini-renaissance notwithstanding. Enjoy him while he's here, friends. He'll be gone too, and it will be too soon whenever it happens.
I could've left it on that note, with some "we have to appreciate things while we have them because before we know it they'll be gone and life feels slow but then" blah blah blah. But I couldn't leave it at that, because yesterday Mike Trout turned 25. Remember all those true things I said about Alex Rodriguez? Inner-circle Hall of Famer, generational talent, and all that? I bring this up again because, so far, Mike Trout is better than Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod's best season by WAR is 10. He had five seasons between nine and 10, but never topped 10. Mike Trout beat that in his first season in the bigs. And then he did it again in his second season.
He might also do it again this year; if he doesn't, it'll be close. Mike Trout could be the greatest player of all time. He could be that good! Lots of awful things could happen between now and then—me listing them would be awful, too, so I won't—but right now all we can say is that he's on pace to do it. He already has the exact same career WAR as Mark Teixeira, and Teixeira just gave a crying presser declaring his intention to retire while Mike Trout just celebrated his 25th birthday by stealing a grand slam with a leaping catch.
We know Trout is great. That's not news. But because the Angels are so dreary and because of how we watch things, it's easy to forget how great he is. Three greats of the last 20 years are ending their careers either this week, this year, or very soon after. Mike Trout, as it stands now, is already better than one of them and will soon pass the second. You don't have to squint hard to see him passing the third at some point. Enjoy your mid-twenties, Mike Trout.
Top Three Teams Of The Moment
This is TPWIB's attempt to highlight three teams of interest. They might not be the best teams, but they are the most of the moment.
Might the Mariners get back into the race? Yes they're seven games out as of this writing, but James Paxton was spectacular against a sleepy-seeming Red Sox team last week and then again against the Angels, raising hopes he could finally reach his potential at age 27. They already have Felix Hernandez, who has his own problems but is still at least some version of Felix Hernandez. More realistically, the Mariners have passed Houston and are only 3.5 out of a Wild Card. Something that looked like a long shot a few weeks ago is looking less and less so.
I didn't intend this to be a list of the hottest teams, but while we're here: the Tigers are 8-2 in their last 10 games and are just two games behind Cleveland! Scorching! Part of this dominant stretch is that seven of the last 16 have come against the White Sox (and the Tigers are 6-1 in those games) but still. Getting J.D. Martinez back from the DL can only help. Very hot! No touchy Tigers!
Hey! Look it's the Cubs again! They're 9-1 in their last 10 games and have won seven straight. In the last ten, Cubs opponents are averaging 2.1 runs a game. On July 30 the Cubs division lead was down to 6.5 games. It's back up to 11.5 now. In case anyone was worried. I honestly doubt anyone was ever really worried.
Bottom Three Teams Of The Moment
This is TPWIB's attempt to highlight three lousy teams. They might not be the worst teams, but they sure do suck.
Name one player who is 1) on the A's, and 2) not on the DL. You can't do it! Remember 2014 when they, for the first time in Billy Beane's time running the team, went 'all in?' They traded for Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, and Jason Hammel and then lost in the Wild Card game to the Royals. After that, all three of those guys left, and the team inexplicably dealt Josh Donaldson to Toronto. Shock of shocks all this didn't work. And now, having traded Josh Reddick and Rich Hill, and with Sonny Gray out with elbow problems, A's fans can pretty much tune the team out until the off-season. Maybe much much longer than that, if they choose.
2. Red Sox
The Red Sox invested over $200 million in David Price this past off-season because they needed an ace. Now they have him and they still need an ace, because Price is not very good. Price sports an ERA over four and according to Tim Britton of the Providence Journal the Red Sox are 11-13 when Price starts. Finally, this is the amazing part, they've lost 10 of his last 13 starts. You'd think the Red Sox just gave $200 million to John "Wayback!" Wasdin. The playoffs are slipping away from Boston, and this is pretty much the reason.
1. White Sox
On June 4, the White Sox were two games out of first place, and acted quickly to address the pitching problems that had not yet tripped them up. And so they moved to acquire James Shields from San Diego, and while he was not great with the Padres, nobody was prepared for the level of horrendousness he's attained in Chicago. On Sunday he gave up eight runs in 1.1 innings, including four homers. Four homers, four outs! The Padres are paying more than half his salary in the coming years, but no player is worth even a minimum salary and a roster spot when he's this bad.
The best part, and by "best" I mean "worst," is that now the White Sox get nothing. They have no hope of making the playoffs, they're out two actual living baseball players to the Padres, and they're stuck with the desiccated remains of James Shields until 2019. Well done!
The Matchup Of The Year Of The Week: Rays at Yankees (Friday, Saturday, Sunday)
Nothing fancy here, just Alex Rodriguez's last game. You should watch it. One day you might have grandkids who will want to hear about it.
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