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The alternate histories of Alex Rodriguez on the Dodgers, Mets, Braves, and more

There were six other teams rumored to be interested in signing Alex Rodriguez after the 2000 season. What would have happened if any of them were successful?

It’s important to remember just how ridiculous of a free agent Alex Rodriguez really was. When he reached free agency, he had just turned 25 and was already one of the greatest shortstops ever. That isn’t hyperbole. He was already in the top-40 list of all-time shortstops according to career WAR, ahead of Chris Speier, Garry Templeton, Ozzie Guillen, and Walt Weiss. Again, that was after his age-24 season.

You might see another superstar free agent who’s just a year or two older than the typical prospect. But you won’t see one that young, that great, who plays one of the hardest positions to fill, for a long, long time. Mike Trout being a free agent tomorrow would be the only comparison that makes sense.

The most amazing thing about A-Rod’s contract might be that it was a pretty sweet deal. Rodriguez was worth an average of seven wins in every season of the original contract, from a low of 4 WAR to a high of 9 WAR. He made the All-Star team in nine of the 10 seasons, and he finished in the top 10 for MVP voting seven times between 2001 and 2010, winning three MVPs.

It turns out that Alex Rodriguez was pretty good. And he was worth the money, at least from a production standpoint. That wasn’t enough for the Rangers, who decided to blame at least some of their woes on their best player, eating more than $60 million just to exchange him for two years of Alfonso Soriano (and all the Joaquin Arias memories a person can handle.) Even today, you’ll hear people chuckle about the mistake the Rangers made, as if it wasn’t a much bigger problem to give Chan Ho Park $65 million to make the team much worse.

So it’s time to appreciate A-Rod for what he was — one of the very best free agent signings of all-time, behind only Barry Bonds and Greg Maddux — and that means it’s also time to find him a new team. An old new team. A new old team. That is, a different team than Tom Hicks’ Rangers.

Let’s have someone else give A-Rod the money in 2001 and see what happens. Which teams were interested in signing Rodriguez? We have a list from ESPN:

Aside from Texas, teams that reportedly expressed interest in signing Rodriguez included the Atlanta Braves, Chicago White Sox, Colorado Rockies, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets and Mariners

This will do. This will do for the messy business of inventing alternate histories and parallel universes. We need to go back in time and put Rodriguez on a team that would follow through and make him the franchise player he deserved to be.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Why it would have made sense
This was back in the days of ol’ Sheriff Malone, the toughest, rootin-tootinest feller in any front office anywhere. He was also writing the checks on behalf of News Corporation, the ominously named media conglomerate, which is why the Dodgers had spent hundreds of millions on Kevin Brown, Gary Sheffield, and Shawn Green.

Those were all great players. But none of them were A-Rod.

What would have happened
The Dodgers were coming off an 86-win season in 2000, and they were on their way to an ... 86-win season in 2001. In those two seasons, they got 843 at-bats from Alex Cora, most of which came at shortstop, and he was worth -0.3 WAR.

That makes it so, so easy to just copy and paste Rodriguez’s numbers onto the Dodgers’ season total.

Wins with Alex Cora Finish Wins with A-Rod's WAR clumsily slapped on top Finish in alt. Universe
2001 86 3rd 94 1st
2002 92 3rd 101 1st
2003 85 2nd 90 2nd
2004 93 1st 101 1st

Cora had a very nice 2003, but otherwise the swap of Alexes would have made the Dodgers mega-contenders. That 2nd-place finish in the hypothetical world was just a game below the 2003 championship Marlins, so it’s possible that the Dodgers would have taken the wild card away, too.

It’s too much to say that the Dodgers would have won at least one pennant with Rodriguez, so I’ll just say this: The Dodgers probably would have won at least one World Series with Rodriguez. There was no team that could have benefited more, no contending team with such an obvious, gaping hole at shortstop.

The butterfly effect
Well, if the Marlins don’t win the wild card in 2003, the Cubs win the World Series. Obviously. More importantly for Dodgers fans, though, the 2005 Dodgers would have won 78 games instead of 71, which means they would have picked 13th in the 2006 Draft ... which means that they would have picked Kasey Kiker instead of Clayton Kershaw.

So is it worth it? Extra pennants and a championship, combined with a Hall of Fame-caliber legacy, in exchange for just one pitcher? Tick tock, tick tock.

Atlanta Braves

Why it would have made sense
The Braves won the division every year. Every damned year. And when they were in jeopardy of losing the division, they used subterfuge to cause a player’s strike, along with Freemasons and the architects of the Denver Airport. It’s all in the history books, just not the ones they taught in your school, man.

But in 2001, they were an awful hitting team.

They still won the division — see the above — but they did it in spite of their hitters. The 2001 Braves team OPS+ was 87, which is only slightly better than the mark that the 2016 Braves have posted. There wasn’t an obvious spot for Rodriguez in ‘01, not with Rafael Furcal and Marcus Giles emerging as the middle infield of the future. But teams were generally willing to make room for a 25-year-old shortstop god.

What would have happened
At least one more title. I have no idea how the Braves managed so many first-round exits, either. Defies description. But give them the best all-around player in the game while they were at their division-winning peak, and the obvious would have happened at least once.

The butterfly effect
The Braves wouldn’t have been able to afford an extension for Andruw Jones, who would go to the Cubs. His range would have allowed him to call off Moises Alou down the line in the 2003 NLCS, taking the ball away from Steve Bartman.

More importantly for Braves fans, though, they would be down a Jones, and they would have had a tough time retaining both John Smoltz and Greg Maddux. When things turned south in 2006, it would have been pretty easy to blame A-Rod for whatever ailed them, and he would have been dealt. It would have been a wild ride, though.

Chicago White Sox

Why it would have made sense
Like with the Dodgers, the White Sox were a perennial close-but-no-champagne team, finishing behind the Twins in every season from 2001 through 2004. Unlike the Dodgers, though, they had a pretty good shortstop (Jose Valentin), and the Twins usually finished so far ahead that even A-Rod might not have put them over the top. This was the era of the Moneyball A’s, where the wild cards were generally 95- to 100-win monsters for some reason, so there wasn’t even that safety net available.

On the other hand, Rodriguez was a better player than anyone on the team. So it would have made sense in that respect.

What would have happened
One of the more frustrating teams from the early 2000s would have been one of the more frustrating teams of their generation. Just with more A-Rod, which is a fine consolation prize.

The butterfly effect
The Cubs, feeling like they had to keep pace with their regional rivals in a de facto arms race, would have signed Jason Giambi before the 2002 season. That would have meant a superstar at first in 2003 instead of a 35-year-old Eric Karros. Which would have meant ... well, you know.

More importantly for White Sox fans, though, in a 2005 regular season game, Rodriguez would have spent 10 minutes arguing with home plate umpire Doug Eddings that he should be awarded first on a catcher’s interference call. By the time A.J. Pierzynski ran to first on a fake-dropped third strike in Game 2 of the ALCS, Eddings would have had just about enough of the White Sox’ malarkey. The Angels win the game and the series.

Yeah, the White Sox probably didn’t need to sign Alex Rodriguez.

New York Mets

Why it would have made sense
Because the Big Apple was made for Alex Rodriguez, for one. What with all the bright lights and attention and such.

Also, the Mets were still starting Rey Ordonez in 2001, sooooooo ...

What would have happened
Ordonez was replacement level, at best, for the ‘01 season. The Mets lost the NL East that year by six games. Rodriguez was worth eight wins above replacement. That puts the Mets in the postseason, where they win the pennant (homer from A-Rod against Randy Johnson in Game 7 of the NLCS, no big deal). They would meet the Yankees in a genuinely beautiful and emotional all-New York World Series that would help the country heal.

Rodriguez signing with the Rangers took that all away.

Thanks a lot, Alex Rodriguez.

The butterfly effect
Because the Mets contend for much longer than they did in our universe (see below), they swing a huge trade for Rich Harden to stay afloat. Which means the Cubs keep Josh Donaldson. Which means they have him right now, with Kris Bryant playing in the outfield full time. Also, the Cubs really are threatening the 2001 Mariners right now, and they totally would win the World Series this year. They still could! Maybe Rodriguez is responsible for that, too.

More importantly for Mets fans, though, the team would win more games, which would mean that they miss out on Philip Humber with the no. 3 overall pick in the 2004 draft, taking Neil Walker instead.

The following year, with their draft position knocked back a couple rungs, they would have missed out on Mike Pelfrey, and they would have settled for Andrew McCutchen instead. The resulting Wright-Rodriguez-McCutchen middle of the order would have been one of the greatest of all time, even though the McWrightRod nickname would have murdered us all.

Seattle Mariners

Why it would have made sense
He was a Seattle hero who could have been a Seattle legend. The team was just moving into a new, publicly financed stadium, and they were thriving. It’s a little silly that they traded away Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey, Jr., then let one of the greatest young players in history leave, and somehow came away with a 116-team on the other side. I’ll never figure that out.

What would have happened
A-Rod would still be universally beloved today, a real Cal Ripken/Tony Gwynn type. He would have stayed with the Mariners his whole career, chasing records and being awesome. He never would have slapped the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove. He never would have dated Madonna. He never would have commissioned that centaur painting. When he was feeling insecure, the city would have whispered "We love you Alex," and he wouldn’t have used performance-enhancing drugs.

Today, the day of his last game with the Mariners, would be something like a national baseball holiday. We’ll miss you, Alex! Everyone will miss you and the joy you brought to our lives!

The butterfly effect
The Rangers, runners up in the A-Rod sweepstakes, would have signed Manny Ramirez to a huge deal. The Red Sox would have signed Mike Hampton, who would have made Fever Pitch end the way it was supposed to. The Yankees, who realized the Red Sox were about to sign Hampton, focused their attention on the lefty, ignoring Mike Mussina, who signs with the Cubs. The workhorse ability of Mussina allows Dusty Baker to work Mark Prior less, and the Cubs win back-to-back-to-back championships. Also, Prior is still pitching now, somehow, and he would help them win this year, too.

More importantly for Mariners fans, though, they would have watched their team win a World Series, which would have pushed them down in the draft in 2003. Because they couldn’t pick in their original spot, they wouldn’t have drafted LINGERING SADNESS with their first-round pick, and they would have been a normal franchise forever more.

Colorado Rockies

Why it would have made sense

What would have happened



The butterfly effect
Uh, I guess the Cubs would have won the World Series or something in some vague, cherry-picked way, but did you see those stats? Rodriguez would have been so close to the home run record before turning 30 that Barry Bonds would have convinced the Giants to let him pad his career record for another two years. By the time he finishes his tour with the Giants, the steroid furor would have died down a bit, freeing teams to sign him without feeling like they’re stepping into a PR nightmare.

Also, that team would have been the Cubs who would have won the World Series with him, SO, what have we learned? Probably that Alex Rodriguez should have signed with the Mariners if he wanted to be a beloved baseball institution, or that he should have signed with the Dodgers if he wanted to be a part of a big-spending, championship-winning juggernaut. We also learned that he’s responsible for everything bad that’s happened for the Cubs, as you might expect.

Instead, he signed with the Rangers, which was a curious choice then, and a curious choice with the benefit of hindsight. We can’t possibly know the ripples in time that would have spread out from a different A-Rod cannonball.

The guesses sure are fun, at least.

Seriously, though, check out those Coors Field stats.