Can A-Rod still play? Does anything else matter?
Now that everyone has decided to play nice with one another, the Alex Rodriguez story circles back to where we were when we last saw him in uniform.
Does he have anything left in the tank?
Given that he’s 39 years old and hasn’t played in a Major League game in 505 days, this seems to be the most interesting part of his return to the Yankees.
He finished 2013 in a 3-for-39 slump. He hit .200 against left-handed pitching that season. He batted .120 in the 2012 postseason and didn’t start the final two games of the ALCS sweep by the Tigers. Since winning the AL MVP Award in 2007, his OPS has declined six straight years, to .771 in 2013.
If you wanted to make the case that this is a guy who is at the end of the road, that’s easy to do. On the other hand, he hasn’t been healthy. He has had an entire season to recover from hip surgery. Even if he shows enough in Spring Training to convince the Yankees he can contribute, it’ll be months before we know if his body can withstand the grind of a full season.
The Yankees have proceeded as if they don’t think he can help them. But it appears he’ll at least be in Spring Training. From the beginning, I couldn’t imagine he’d return to the Yankees after all that had happened. At the moment, though, it appears he’ll be in Spring Training, and if the two sides have gone this far down the road, the Yankees seemingly haven’t closed the door.
He’ll attract a lot of media, but he’s not going to be a distraction. He’s just not. One of the things that has become apparent in recent seasons is that Yankees manager Joe Girardi is really good at his job. Some men have the ability to lead other men, and Girardi is one of these.
He has been able to keep the noise out in the hallway and make the clubhouse environment as normal as is ever possible around the Yankees. General Manager Brian Cashman has done a terrific job of getting the right kind of people: Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Chase Headley, etc.
These guys are consummate professionals in terms of preparation, play, media relations, etc. So while A-Rod will be a story to watch during Spring Training, he won’t interrupt the larger goal, that is, the turning of a page and moving into a post-Jeter, post-Rivera world.
The Yankees are a popular choice to finish fourth in the AL East, behind the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays. Their list of unknowns is long: age, health, rotation, second base, shortstop. If Sabathia is healthy and productive, if Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow is sound and if the second base/shortstop situation gets figured out, the Yankees are in good shape.
Best of all, their farm system is in better shape than it has been in years, and so we will hear the names of second baseman Rob Refsnyder, right-hander Luis Severino, left-hander Jacob Lindgren, right-hander Jose Ramirez and others.
Despite the lack of a splashy off-season move, it’s easy to project the Yankees into the postseason. But theirs is a high-wire act. So while A-Rod will get plenty of attention in Spring Training, a larger picture of the franchise will begin to emerge.