It keeps coming back to Alex Rodriguez, doesn’t it? As the Yankees have struggled this postseason, every story seems to find its way back to the hot-button third baseman who’s always worth a back page and a big, bold headline.
“I think a lot of it is something he’s had to deal with his whole career,” Joe Girardi said. “Alex has always been someone who’s been talked about a lot, and that’ll continue, because he is Alex.”
Because he’s Alex, the stories don’t stop at his offense struggles. There’s a girl in the stands and a trade in the works and an ulterior motive to every decision. There’s something to be said for all of it, but all of it is meaningless without the bad at-bats and the disappointing numbers. None of it would matter if Rodriguez were still hitting.
“I always feel like I deserve a shot,” Rodriguez said. “Because I have tremendous confidence in my ability, and I feel like I started swinging the bat better at home, and I feel like at any point any time I’m in the box, there’s damage in the near future. That’s just the way I feel. I’ve never changed that feeling.”
If the Yankees still felt the same way, none of the secondary story lines would matter.
Alex Rodriguez as the scapegoat
Robinson Cano set a Yankees postseason record for consecutive hitless at-bats. Curtis Granderson has 15 strikeouts in eight playoffs games. Nick Swisher is hitting .154 with no track record of postseason success. Why is Rodriguez the one being benched all the time? Because he’s the one who’s been doing this most of the year, and he’s the one with a proven alternative.
“This isn’t just a short-term decision,” Brian Cashman said. “It’s a short-term decision based on the strikeouts that have occurred against the right-handed pitching during the playoffs, but if you look at his splits versus right-handed pitching and left-handed pitching for the season, it’s not a short-term sample.
“He has struggled with right-handed pitching this year altogether. It’s .600 OPS — somewhere in the .600s OPS — against right-handed pitching for the season. He’s .900-and-change OPS against left-handed pitching. So there’s a radical split there, for whatever reason. And it’s obviously gotten worse here in the postseason for some reason with the strikeouts. So we’re just making an adjustment as we move along, and we’re hoping that it gives us a better shot. And the only way you can make an adjustment (is to have an alternative). You referenced Robinson Cano. We have a legitimate guy with Chavez (to play third base). If you look at his year, he had a tremendous season for us. If you don’t have a legitimate alternative that happens to be left-handed, the opposite side, we probably aren’t doing anything. But since we do, we’re forced to have discussions about it and think through it and make a call.”
Alex Rodriguez as punished malcontent
In the late innings of ALCS Game 1, Rodriguez tried to get the phone number of a girl in the stands. That’s how the story goes. The New York Post has been reporting it for a few days now citing sources in the stands and friends of the women involved. Those of you who read my stuff regularly know that I just don’t care very much about the gossip stories. A player hitting on someone while in the dugout is bad and embarrassing, but if that player is hitting .350 with power, who cares? Might not be happy about it, but few people would question the player’s dedication.
Rodriguez works hard. Despite some outside opinions, he seems to be generally well liked and respected in the clubhouse. He’s said all the right things and has refused to rock the boat since being benched. Right now the Yankees are trying anything and everything to find a lineup that will produce, and if the Yankees wanted to punish Rodriguez, now would not be the time to do it.
“I love the Yankees,” Rodriguez said. “I love this organization. My focus right now is to help this team come together and win a game. Do not allow all this negativity and questions and gossip stuff or this crap or that crap, let’s just focus on winning a game and go from there.”
Alex Rodriguez as trade bait being forced out
Cashman has denied any trade talks with the Marlins, but that’s to be expected. It doesn’t mean there haven’t been vague conversations between non-GM front office officials. Doesn’t mean that somewhere, someone hasn’t engaged in a what-if phone call about what might or might not work. Rodriguez’s contract is a problem, and it makes sense to ask around to find out if anyone is interested.
But how does benching Rodriguez in the postseason help with that goal? The problem with Rodriguez is the perception that he’s a fading player who’s not worth such a massive deal. Benching him in a must-win game only reinforces that idea. The Yankees might need to convince Rodriguez to accept a trade, but they’d need to have a deal in place for that to matter. Is that really worth losing a postseason series?
“I’m looking at his at-bats against right handers,” Girardi said. “That’s what I’m looking at. … If he hadn’t struggled, he’s in there.”
There are other things going on with Alex Rodriguez — there always other things going on with that guy — but the real issue here is cut-and-dry. If Rodriguez were hitting, he’d be playing. Everything starts from that reality.
“I really feel that in my heart, anytime I’m in that lineup the team is a better team, without any question,” he said. “We’ll disagree there to the end, but I like Joe. I support Joe. Our job right now is to come together like a family. There’s tons of distractions, there’s a lot of wedges trying to be driven between us, and it’s not going to happen. We’re here to win a game. Our focus is to win one game tonight. I will be ready, I will be available, and if we win tonight, I like our chances.”
Associated Press photos