Alex Rodriguez has had an interesting few years. Ok, so that’s a big understatement. Besides the controversies, the 3,000 hits, and the various arguments with management and professional baseball catchers, we’re now witnessing something most people didn’t expect: a 39-year-old A-Rod putting together an incredible offensive year. As he heads toward the final two years of his contract in New York, two questions arise: has Rodriguez been worth the incredible amount of money he’s received over the span of his current contract? And has he been worth the money he’s getting this year?
First, it’s important to establish just how great and anomalous Rodriguez has been this season for, well, how old he is. It is pretty well known that most offensive categories should have taken a serious hit by the time a slugger approaches 40, but A-Rod has bucked that trend — in fact, he’s been close to his former greatness, at least offensively.
We can measure his success this year in a number of ways: by simple numbers (his current 152 wRC+ is in line with some of his better previous seasons — he posted the same wRC+ in his stellar 2008 campaign), average batted-ball velocity (he’s top five in the league), and fly ball/home run distance. The short story: A-Rod is hitting the ball really hard, really far, and he’s even being pitched to like he’s a slugger in his prime.
Now that we’ve established how great he’s been this season, let’s talk about the contract, and free agent deals. We often hear about teams backending contracts. They do so because inflation will devalue the later years of a deal, and they might be able to deal the player to a team who will eat some of the contract later on. It’s the free agent version of kicking the can down the road: sign the player now, get the production, and deal with the hard decisions later.
Owen Watson writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @ohwatson.