Calling Alex Rodriguez a scapegoat might have been the most supportive thing said about him in the past week and a half. It was Rodriguez who was benched three times, Rodriguez who was pulled for a pinch hitter in the late innings, and it was certainly Rodriguez who drew the bulk of the attention as the Yankees offense let this season slip away.
“The one thing I don’t want to focus on is Alex, because it wasn’t just him that didn’t hit,” Joe Girardi said. “If the other guys hit, one guy’s struggles aren’t going to show as much. But when you have so many guys struggling, and you’re Alex Rodriguez, he is going to be the one that people talk about the most.”
That’s not going to change any time soon, because not since Rodriguez opted out of his contract in ’07 has he entered an offseason with so much uncertainty.
“The thing with this whole situation, if I’m playing my game, Joe has no choice but to play me,” Rodriguez said. “If I’m not playing my game, then he’s open for options. I’ve got to look in the mirror. I sat in this room in 2006 and some of you guys were here. There was a lot of doubters. I said I was going to go back to the drawing board and I did. I came back with a vengeance in ’07, and I’m looking forward to hopefully doing the same.”
So much has changed since the Tigers knocked Rodriguez and the Yankees out of the playoffs in ’06. Rodriguez is six years older now, he’s gone through multiple lower-body injuries, and his statistics are trending overwhelmingly in the wrong direction. This was a postseason when he was benched, embarrassed by a story about a swimsuit model in the stand, and put in the center of trade rumors.
He did bounce back from a disappointing ’06 postseason to have an MVP year in 2007, but does that mean anything at this point in his career?
“I expect Alex to be here (next season),” Brian Cashman said. “I expect Alex to come back and be our third baseman. Obviously what just happened here (in the playoffs), I just don’t think it’s reflective of Alex’s abilities. … Despite being not the Alex Rodriguez of years past, he’s still above average at that position. That’s it. That’s all I can say. He’s still, despite what we saw recently, for the year he’s still an above-average player at that position, at the very least. Is there (potentially) more? Absolutely.”
Given the contract and the declining offensive numbers, the Yankees would be foolish not to entertain trade talks — “I wouldn’t be willing to get rid of anybody unless it made sense for us,” Cashman said — but even under these circumstances, it’s tricky to trade a player like Rodriguez. With so much money and notoriety, the Yankees can’t simply chose to trade him and then figure out the details later. The details are going to matter a great deal.
“I love New York City, and I love everything about being a Yankee,” Rodriguez said. “The highs are very high and the lows are extremely low. There’s no question the last few weeks have been extremely difficult, not only on me but all my teammates. … I’ve never thought about going to another team. My focus is to stay here. Let’s make that very, very clear. No. 2, I don’t expect to be mediocre. I expect to do what I’ve done for a long time.”
Associated Press photo