ARod 2004: The Greatest Fantasy Baseball Player Ever
By Rick Morris 

For at least the past five years, Alex Rodriguez has been the best pick in mixed-league and AL-only fantasy drafts. But for this year, and this year only, he's the greatest fantasy player that has ever materialized in the quarter-century era of fantasy baseball. 

Many pundits are pontificating about the fact that ARod tops off what could potentially be the greatest lineup of the modern era. That much is true, notwithstanding the fact that he already had good protection in Texas and Seattle. 

But that surface logic misses the point about ARod's true worth in Gotham. The Yankees' ill-considered plan to move him to third base (more about that below) increases his value even beyond what anyone had previously thought possible. 

Given that most leagues operate by the rule that one must play five games at a position to establish eligibility in a season, ARod will be dual-position eligible one week into the campaign. The notion of the greatest player in baseball and greatest fantasy baseball player of the decade adding the additional benefit of dual-position eligibility seems almost beyond belief. 

Now, in addition to possessing his electrifying skills, fantasy owners can save a roster spot by not needing separate backups at shortstop and third base. This means, of course, one additional spot that can be spent on “the best available player” and one less space filled by a warm body taking up a roster spot as a backup. Titles have been won and loss by margins less than that. But owners must enjoy this delicious bounty while they can. 

If the script plays out according to the dictates of the Yankee brass, ARod will play exclusively at third base. He will not be allowed to usurp the playing time at shortstop that has been reserved for the modern Yankee icon, Derek Jeter. 

In this instance, politics comes before the good of the Yankee team and fantasy owners. Since most leagues require a player to serve 20 games at a position to be eligible at that spot the next year, ARod will most likely enter 2005 stripped of his qualifications at shortstop. For him to keep every bit of his true worth, an owner would have to hope that he'd somehow finagle five games at shortstop in '05. As a player with eligibility at the Keystone Corner only, his value would dip to the point where he might not be the consensus top pick in mixed and AL-only leagues in 2005. 

And the Yankees figure to suffer as well. Jeter's range no longer matches that of ARod, and all things being equal, he should be the one to make the “Ripken move” over to third. But with chemistry already being a precious commodity on this team, the Yankees don't wish to incur any problems that might come from the perception of displacing a legend. Such a dictate to Jeter could also jeopardize the modern-day Mantle & Maris advertising campaign sure to be emanating soon from the Bronx. 

One further note about chemistry: for myself, and perhaps for many other observers, the Anaheim Angels had been the favorite to win the pennant. Purchasing a championship, after all, is done successfully on very rare occasions. Just ask the New York Rangers how much payrolls matter. They're the leading spenders in the NHL and have missed the Stanley Cup playoffs six years in a row. And as much as the Yankees and Detroit Red Wings have been accused of buying titles in recent years, the fact remains that core character players on both teams held together those high-priced locker rooms and made the melding of egos and roles possible. 

So the Yankees' off-season spending spree didn't impress me nearly as much as the Angels' one did. After all, Anaheim is only one year removed from a World Series title, and their off-season moves seemed to be impressive and not at the expense of team chemistry. 

But this latest acquisition by the Yankees indicates a tipping point. In this most extreme of circumstances, chemistry has finally been trumped by talent. The Yankees already had five players who could, if healthy, provide “mega-star” production this year (even without “mega-star” Alfonso Soriano, who was traded for ARod): Jeter, Jorge Posada, Jason Giambi, Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera. Now, with their off-season acquisitions, they have nine: ARod, Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown and Javier Vazquez. That's 36% of their roster with an outstanding chance to win the MVP and/or Cy Young Award! 

So, barring the obliteration of Yankee Stadium by asteroid, look for the Yankees to make a run rivaling their storied 1998 campaign and for ARod's insane level of production to be at the center of it.