Q&A: Alex Rodriguez talks Red Sox-Yankees, David Price, wild-card format, and more
Alex Rodriguez played plenty of games in the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, but on Sunday night he’ll broadcast his first for ESPN. A-Rod holds the record for most homers on “Sunday Night Baseball” with 22. Rodriguez, who also works as a special assistant for the Yankees, had some interesting comments about the rivalry.
Q: What are your thoughts about the Luis Severino/David Price matchup on Sunday?
AR: “I think for Price, this is the biggest start of his early Boston career, especially needing to rebound from his last outing [against the Yankees], which was one inning. This is a national stage and it would be a nice coming-out party for him. And another thing to think about, it’s a little bit of a preview of what you’re going to see in October because Game 3 is probably where he’ll pitch in the playoffs because they’ll probably split up the lefties with [Rick] Porcello and with Price. [Joe] Torre used to say he’d always want his best pitcher pitching Game 3 because it’s the swing game. He’d always put Andy Pettitte there. For Severino, it’s the biggest start of his career because he’s on the national stage. He is considered one of the best pitchers in the game and the front-runner to be the Cy Young winner.”
Q: Was this a series you looked forward to?
AR: “Yes. They’re both Goliaths, heavyweights. Think about what both teams do financially, what they do with power with their pitching. Every category, no matter how you break it down, is domination. When you think of them with the Astros, it’s a three-headed class with those teams. I don’t remember this much energy and heat coming into a season since 2004 between these teams.”
Q: We might have two 100-win teams in the same division and one of them might have to play in a sudden-death wild-card game. Is that fair? Should the system be revised?
AR: “No, I think that’s super fair. I think 1978 was the last time there was so much at stake and so much recourse for both teams, and if it wasn’t this way you’d have meaningless games in August and September. What the commissioner has done is create a system of the 30 teams where you have about 20 teams who have hope going into September. That’s not only good for the team but it’s great for the health of baseball.”
Q: But a hundred wins, you lose, you’re gone?
AR: “That’s their fault. Here’s the deal — if you don’t have this, what happens is that you have 30 games which are meaningless. It doesn’t allow you to take the foot off the accelerator and start resting people and setting up your pitching. I think people start lining up your pitching, which makes our game less interesting. The fact of the matter is when you get to the 159th, 160th, 161st, and 162nd game, it makes you have to come out with your best. The Red Sox would have to come out with [Chris] Sale, Price, and Porcello, and if you’re the Yankees you have to come out with [Masahiro] Tanaka and Severino. I think that type of premium on winning the division makes it very, very exciting.”
Q: Surprised that the two rookie managers are doing this well?
AR: “Alex Cora and I go back to when we were young men. I go back to being a teammate of his brother Joey in Seattle. And Alex is a Miami Hurricane. He’s the perfect blend of new school and old school. He’s a very good communicator. There’s baseball royalty there. He’s so smart. Aaron [Boone] is another guy who comes from baseball royalty dating back his grandpa and brother and his dad. What he’s great at is he understands both sides of the ball. He’s an old-school guy but he’s also one who played the game for a dozen years and understands the modern-day game. The one common denominator is that they have incredible ownership. They have All-Stars, leaders, and Brian Cashman and Dave Dombrowski, and they also have incredible rosters they inherited.”
Q: How do you see the rosters of these teams? Is the talent equal?
AR: “If they played 100 times, you’d have one team win 51 and the other 49. The Red Sox have the advantage in the starting pitching and the Yankees have the advantage with the bullpen. While [Giancarlo] Stanton and Aaron Judge get a lot of attention, the Red Sox have the best 1-2 punch in baseball in Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez. If you asked the insiders in the game, they would put Mookie in the top three players in the game and that’s a hell of a compliment for a guy who goes under the radar. And the reason he goes under the radar is because he’s a consummate professional. He does everything really well and he gets better every year and he does it with class, elegance, and stealth. J.D. is becoming the top slugger in our game, a combination of power and run production and contact. He’s also a very good hitter. What the most impressive thing about him is, just about everybody who comes into a big market like New York and Boston, there’s an adjustment period. The whole first half of ’04 for me was a difficult one. It was a challenging time. J.D. hit the ground running. The one to credit here is Dave Dombrowski.”
Q: How about Gleyber Torres vs. Rafael Devers?
AR: “Torres has a shortstop arm playing second base. The surprising part to all of us is how quickly his power has come. He’s a 21-year-old who has the maturity of a 31-year-old. That plays in October. It looks like Devers is learning to make adjustments. Interesting batting stance, and I understand Martinez has been helping him, closing himself off a little bit, which keeps him square. Both guys have unlimited upside.”
Q: Will trade deadline deals make a difference this year?
AR: “There’s no question the 2018 champion is going to be a residual of the trade made by the general manager. Theo Epstein was the star in 2016 when he acquired [Aroldis] Chapman. [Jeff] Luhnow was the superstar in 2017 when he acquired Justin Verlander in the 11th hour. Who’s is it going to be in 2018?”
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
Amaro knows how to trade off
If Orioles general manager Dan Duquette is looking for an example in how to handle the upcoming trade deadline, he should look to how Ruben Amaro Jr. handled his final year with the Phillies.
Duquette’s contract is up after the season. In the weeks ahead, he will likely be dealing one of the best players in baseball — Manny Machado — as well as a few sought-after players in center fielder Adam Jones, closer Zach Britton, and relievers Brad Brach, Darren O’Day (injured), and Mychal Givens.
Amaro was the Phillies’ GM from 2009-15, and though the team made the playoffs in his first three seasons (losing the World Series in 2009), its window of supremacy shut quickly. Amaro recommended re-signing some of the Phillies’ core players, such as Ryan Howard, to long-term deals. The roster aged quickly and Amaro had to clear it out and rebuild.
Leading up to his final season with the Phillies, Amaro dealt Jimmy Rollins to the Giants. Before the trade deadline, he shipped off Jonathan Papelbon, Cole Hamels, and Ben Revere. In August, he sent Chase Utley to the Dodgers. Several players the Phillies got in return are part of the team’s young core.
“My approach was always the same,” said Amaro, who after leaving Philadelphia spent two seasons as the Red Sox’ first base coach, and now serves as the Mets’ first base coach. “When I took the job, I always felt the same way, that I was going to leave the organization in better shape than when I got it, but [it’s] hard to do when you’re coming off a World Series.
“Our scouts worked very hard to find the right pieces that could help us in the future. I wanted to put the organization in a good spot.”
Amaro, 53, said he was “really proud” of how his time ended with the Phillies. “If you look at players who have been acquired or drafted when I was GM, by and large 80-90 percent of those players are in the field for the Phillies right now and competing for an NL East division title, first seeing progress in ’17, and if things went right we thought we’d be competing in the ’18 year.”
Amaro said he was most proud of the deals in which the Phillies got Zach Eflin for Rollins, and Nick Pivetta for Papelbon. The righthanders make up two-fifths of Philadelphia’s rotation.
Amaro engaged in trade talks for Hamels for two years, with the Red Sox, Astros, and Dodgers part of the discussions. In the end, he sent Hamels (and Jake Diekman) to the Rangers for a package of five players, headlined by Jorge Alfaro, Jerad Eickhoff, and Nick Williams.
Does Amaro have any advice for Duquette?
”I can’t give Dan advice,” he said. “I know how long he’s been successful, and knowing Dan as I know him, he’s in a tough situation in Baltimore. Dan will stay the course and do the best job he can. He’s a very professional man and he’ll do what he can for the franchise.”
Amaro isn’t surprised that Hamels is still at the top of his game at age 34, and that the lefthander will be in demand at this year’s trade deadline.
What’s next for Amaro?
“I’m in a position where I’m an open book,” he said. “I enjoyed being on the field. I could be a manager or GM. Both are appealing to me. I love the game of baseball; it’s really all I know. I feel I still have a lot to offer. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to talk to people.”
Being on the field has taught him a lot. In fact, he thinks he’d be a better GM the next time.
“Being on the ground floor with players and being close to John Farrell [in Boston] and now with Mickey [Callaway] and the Mets. Learning from them has been a neat experience,” Amaro said. “The difficulties and challenges and the ups and downs of what it’s like to manage gives me a different perspective from when I was a GM myself.”
Looking back, what would he have done differently as Phillies GM?
“There’s always a few things,” Amaro said. “I understand now there’s greater value about something I should have been more adept with, is data. I was very proud of the way we managed our scouting and player development. I would not do much different there. As far as the other piece of the puzzle, I wish I had been more aggressive analytically. We were in that transition phase when I was let go. I felt we were doing fine without it. I wish I’d been out in front of it more.”
Updates on nine
1. Jim Riggleman, manager, Reds — He has always been a manager I respect because he is as solid as they come. He had the unfortunate situation in Washington where he had the contract dispute and quit. But he’s recovered nicely after years of repaying his dues. He’s taken a dire situation in Cincinnati and turned it into a more palatable one since taking over for Bryan Price in April. Riggleman was 31-32 entering Friday, and has seemingly shed the interim label. He’s drawn rave reviews on how he’s handled the Reds’ bullpen, arguably the toughest part of the job. It appears there’s less talk of John Farrell, a special assistant with the team, taking over as manager next season.
2. Sandy Alderson, GM, Mets — Wishing Alderson the best as he undergoes treatment for a relapse of cancer. The Mets certainly have capable decision-makers in place in John Ricco, J.P. Ricciardi, and Omar Minaya. Ricciardi and Minaya have run organizations in the past, and Ricco is a longtime Mets employee who has been a chief negotiator on contracts and is ultra-familiar with the league. Minaya ran the Mets before Alderson.
3. Zach Britton, LHP, Orioles — GM Dan Duquette feels Britton simply needs more reps to smooth out his game. “He didn’t pitch much last year or this year so he needs the reps,” Duquette said. “Zach will be what Zach has been. We’ve received a lot of interest in our players.” Duquette has virtually his whole roster on the market, but there are some players, such as Mark Trumbo, whom he won’t likely be able to move.
4. Raisel Iglesias, RHP, Reds — The Astros are looking hard at Iglesias, but so are other teams, including the Red Sox. The Astros had Kelvin Herrera in their sights before the Nationals picked him off. Britton has long been an Astros target, but with his struggles, Houston is looking for more of a sure thing.
5. Blake Snell, LHP, Rays — The Rays rarely say never on a player, but Snell comes close. Nevertheless, if they get blown away with a package they can’t refuse, they’d do it. The Yankees, Braves, and Phillies definitely have the resources to make it happen. But the more likely pitcher the Rays would give up is Chris Archer, once he comes off the DL.
6. Michael Fulmer, RHP, Tigers — Fulmer isn’t someone the Tigers necessarily want to trade off, but that hasn’t stopped teams, including the Yankees, from scouting him. Tigers GM Al Avila would prefer to build around Fulmer, but someone could put the right deal together.
7. J.T. Realmuto, C, Marlins — No fit has really developed for Realmuto as the Marlins are holding out for a hefty trade package. The Astros have shown interest but they don’t appear to be willing to meet the Marlins’ price right now.
8. Francisco Liriano, LHP, Tigers — Liriano is being viewed as a possible relief piece by some teams scouting him. The first two times through the order as a starter, he’s held batters to a .580 OPS, which is sixth best in the American League. But the third time around, the league has a 1.056 OPS against him.
9. Jacob deGrom, RHP, Mets — Evaluators around baseball are skeptical that the Mets would part with deGrom in a deadline deal, but Ricco has said he’s on the table. The price would obviously be high. Would the Mets consider dealing him to the Yankees, who may have the chips to land the NL ERA leader (1.69)?
From the Bill Chuck files — “J.D. Martinez and Mookie Betts are attempting to do something that has been done only twice in Red Sox history: have two players finish over 1.000 in OPS in a season. In 2006, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez did it, and in 1939, Jimmie Foxx and Ted Williams did it.” . . . Also, “Derek Jeter’s Marlins dumped about every one of their stars and were 32-49 at the halfway mark. Last season through 81 games, the Marlins were 36-45” . . . Happy birthday, Billy Rohr (73).