It is often said that life is cyclical. What has happened once in the past, is very likely to occur in the future. And baseball is not unlike life, what with its beginning, end and footraces involving giant sausages or presidents in between. With that being said, Alfonso Soriano may be returning to the team he broke into the majors with. And he will be called on to help replace the lost production of the man he was traded for in Alex Rodriguez. Or they'll play together, but I don't claim to possess psychic powers and there's been enough prognostication about what becomes of A-Rod in the coming days to last us all an eternity. I choose to opt for for the musty smell of nostalgia. So let us enter the way-back machine and take a look at the trade that changed the futures of two teams, and perhaps all of baseball, for good.
Alex Rodriguez wasn't always a baseball pariah and (seemingly) the sole focus of the baseball media. He was once just an amazing player (and pariah in Seattle) that made a ton of money. And Alfonso Soriano...actually hasn't changed that much. He's just slower and a little less powerful. And by the end of 2003, they were two of the premier power-hitting infielders in all of baseball. Soriano was your prototypical "all-or-nothing" hitter, amassing 95 home runs from '01-'03 with a strikeout to walk ratio of over four to one. He was not a particularly good fielder at second base, either, amassing a negative UZR during that time. During his three full seasons with the Yankees, he amassed 10.6 fWAR. Overall, a very good, but flawed player.
The same could not be said, of course, of Alex Rodriguez. Well-established as one of the game's best even before the Texas Rangers lavished him with the biggest contract in history, A-Rod reached another plateau from '01-'03. He hit 156 homers and averaged an OPS of 1.011. He had a positive UZR at the toughest position in baseball (shortstop) and amassed 26.8 fWAR during his three years with the Rangers. So in the same period, Rodriguez averaged about a whole Andrew McCutchen-worth of fWAR more than Soriano. Soriano was the faster of the two, but that was about it.
If you would like a modern day equivalent of the trade that occurred in February of 2004, it's like trading Brandon Phillips for Miguel Cabrera. Sure, you're getting a good player back, but it's still completely insane. And then imagine having to throw in a ton of money in addition to giving the far superior player in the trade? But that's exactly what Texas GM John Hart opted to do when he agreed to trade Rodriguez and cover 67 million dollars worth of his contract for Soriano and a player to be named later. That player ended up being Joaquin Arias, who is still in the majors, but not exactly the sort of kicker that would have offset a trade that was as lopsided as this one was. Hart said the reasoning for the deal was to increase the Rangers' "flexibility", an odd notion for a wealthy franchise in a sport with no salary cap.
Also, let it be noted that Bud Selig had to approve a deal involving money of this magnitude exchanging hands. In his infinite wisdom, Selig said "I want to make it abundantly clear to all clubs that I will not allow cash transfers of this magnitude to become the norm. However, given the unique circumstances, including the size, length and complexity of Mr. Rodriguez's contract and the quality of the talent moving in both directions, I have decided to approve the transaction.". It was surely coincidence that this exception was made when the second best player in all of baseball was being traded to the media capital of the world.
Looking back, it was definitely one of the worst trades in Major League Baseball history. The Rangers kept Soriano for two years, in which he produced a .274/.316/.498 line, 64 homers and 4.1 fWAR until they shipped him off to the Nationals before his walk year of 2006. During the last four years of his Texas contract (before he opted out), all Rodriguez did was win two more MVPs and hit .303/.403/.573, with 173 home runs and 29 fWAR. So the trade was terrible at inception and worse over time. And no, I'm not counting the dubious extension, steroids and other centaur-related weirdness involving Rodriguez against the overall trade. But feel free to do so yourselves.
Now we've come full circle here in 2013. There is a significant likelihood that these two trade pieces will become members of the same organization. And it goes without saying that the Yankees could use both A-Rod and Soriano considering the "lineup" Joe Girardi is usually forced to trot out there, especially against lefties. So here's to both hopefully joining the team in the near future.