Mark Didtler of The Associated Press caught up with Hank Steinbrenner to talk about Alex Rodriguez today. Here’s the story:
Suspended last season for violations of baseball’s drug agreement and labor contract, Rodriguez reported to the Yankees’ spring training camp Wednesday at George Steinbrenner Field. A-Rod is trying to return as his 40th birthday approaches in July.
“Hopefully this spring he can contribute, that’s the bottom line,” Steinbrenner, the Yankees’ co-chairman, said Wednesday. “He can hit. He’s a natural. Hopefully he can still do it. We’re just going take it as it goes. As far as whether he can contribute or not, we’ll have to see. Hopefully he will. Hopefully he’ll help the lineup.”
Steinbrenner was heavily involved in the team’s decision to sign Rodriguez to a record $275 million, 10-year contract in December 2007 after the three-time MVP terminated his $252 million, 10-year deal with three seasons remaining.
Rodriguez has not played a full season since then because of injuries, which led to operations on both hips, and the suspension. Rodriguez has apologized to the Yankees and to fans, but didn’t go into specifics on his actions that led to the ban. Six years ago, he admitted using performance-enhancing drugs while with Texas.
Rodriguez completed his physical Wednesday, which he said he passed, and met with manager Joe Girardi before making the mile trip for his third early workout at the Yankees’ minor league complex. He hit five homers in 102 batting practice swings.
General manager Brian Cashman said he was surprised when Rodriguez arrived Monday.
Rodriguez declined to say whether he apologized to Girardi, saying “I’m going to keep our conversions private.”
“It was a good meeting, positive,” Rodriguez said. “I think Joe’s position has always been one to back me up. I’d go through a wall for Joe.”
Girardi also wouldn’t say whether an apology was made.
“We had a good conversation, and he’s ready to go to work,” Girardi said. “We talked a little bit about what our goals are in spring training. I told him I’d get him as many at-bats as I could that he could physically handle. He said I’m here to try to help this team win. I want to play, I want to help this team win.”
Girardi and Cashman say Chase Headley will be their starting third baseman and Rodriguez will compete for at-bats at designated hitter. Rodriguez could see some time at first base.
“I told him whatever he needs, I’m all in,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez said the biggest thing for him in Thursday’s first full-squad workout is “just being back in pinstripes.”
“It’s been a long time,” he said.
The Yankees are hoping for a turnaround season after missing the playoffs the past two years.
“We could have a really good team and do well this year,” Steinbrenner said. “It’s going to be the same as the last two years, hopefully we won’t have the injuries we had. We just have to hope for the best this year.”
Healthy seasons for Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda will be key.
Tanaka made two late September starts after missing 2 1/2 months last season with a partially torn elbow ligament. Pineda went 5-5 with an 1.89 ERA in 13 starts after returning from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for two years.
“If Tanaka and Pineda can stay healthy, we’re going to be very tough in that area with the other guys as well,” Steinbrenner said. “We’ve got two legitimate top-notch starting pitchers. Nobody would deny that. If they can stay healthy, we can be very tough this year.”
Associated Press photos
From the moment it started, this whole Hank vs. Derek controversy had a shelf life of 48 hours at most.
This afternoon, Hank Steinbrenner said his “mansions” comment was never directed at Derek Jeter, and maybe that’s true. Steinbrenner might have used the word “mansions” same way the political strategist in the West Wing intended to use the phrase “bigger swimming pools and faster private jets,” as a catchall image of luxury and satisfaction. Whatever the intention, calling out Jeter’s competitiveness was always going to be dismissed in an instant.
It was a joke before it was a story.
The bigger issue is the one that stretched beyond Jeter to the other players and coaches in the Yankees clubhouse. It’s the issue Steinbrenner didn’t take back when he once again addressed the media this afternoon, saying the Yankees inability to win last season was at least partially the result of some players being “a little complacent.”
This was Joe Girardi’s response:
I think Hank is expressing his frustration. The same frustration we all had last year, that we didn’t accomplish what we wanted to. He’s the owner of the club. You may have seen a lot of us right after the (final) game or the day after, cleaning out our lockers. Maybe some of you didn’t see Hank. We were frustrated. I was not happy about the way we played, the players were not happy with the way we played.
We won 95 games last year and swept though that first round, won the first game (of the ALCS) and then didn’t play well against Texas. What you want to attribute that to? There are a lot of reasons: We didn’t necessarily hit, and we didn’t necessarily pitch. That’s a bad combination when you get into a series. Our guys are working hard, and we know what our goal is.
When Mr. Steinbrenner passed away, we knew the expectations weren’t going to change.
By the way, if you couldn’t tell, this was the first really absurd day we had out here. It was a day that started with Jeter actively discussing whether or not a word was or was not plural — mansion or mansions? — and whether that meant he was or was not being called out by one of the Yankees owners. It was a day that ended with Girardi basically being asked whether it was true that his team simply didn’t try hard enough to win those last two games that would have gotten them to the World Series last season. Just a weird, goofy day.
Associated Press photos
Andrew Brackman is not new to Yankees camp. He’s a familiar face around here, and almost everyone in the big league clubhouse is long past first impressions of the tall right-hander.
But Justin Maxwell is new. He arrived in Tampa having only heard of Brackman, and today Maxwell faced the highly touted prospect for the first time in live batting practice. Maxwell’s first impression?
“Really good command,” he said.
Never would have heard that two years ago. Today, Brackman opened eyes with an impressive batting practice session that included all of his pitches, and most importantly, included a bunch of strikes.
“He’s much further ahead than he was (at this time last year),” Joe Girardi said. “He had a hard time consistently throwing strikes, where now it appears that’s behind him. You look at what he’s done the second half of last year, what he’s done here in spring training, he’s throwing a lot of strikes. That’s a big part of the battle when you’re pitching.”
As Mark Feinsand detailed this weekend, Brackman has been fighting that battle ever since his 2007 Tommy John surgery, and he finally seems to be winning after a breakout 2010 season in Trenton.
“My first two camps, those BPs would have been awful,” Brackman said. “Nowhere near the plate or anything like that. The further away I get from surgery, the more comfortable I get on the mound.”
• Hank Steinbrenner spoke after the Rodriguez press conference this afternoon, including a comment that seemed to be a shot at Derek Jeter. In fact, I have a hard time coming up with another way to take it: “Sometimes I think maybe they celebrated a little too much last year,” Steinbrenner said. “Some of the players are too busy building mansions and doing other things, not concentrating on winning. I have no problem saying that. I think they’ve come into this spring with a new hunger.” There’s always something unexpected that pops up around here.
• Jorge Posada did the catching portion of team fielding drills this morning. It was the first time he’d gone through catching drills. The Yankees still haven’t had him squatting or throwing to second base, but that will happen soon. He’s supposed to catch a bullpen Wednesday or Thursday. “He’s been great talking to the players and being involved, but we haven’t asked him to do much behind the plate,” Girardi said.
• Mariano Rivera will throw his first bullpen this week, probably Wednesday or Thursday. “It won’t be long now,” Girardi said.
• Girardi said no injury concerns have popped up. Gustavo Molina was dealing with a quad issue, but he caught a bullpen today and is feeling fine.
• Just a personal observation: Eric Chavez still looks awfully good at third base. He made some solid plays going to his right during batting practice.
• Speaking of BP defense: Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Eduardo Nunez were taking turns fielding grounders at shortstop — it’s just a ground ball drill, the position on the field doesn’t really matter — and after Jeter charged a ball kind of awkwardly, Nunez started dancing around in shallow left field, mocking the Captain’s approach. Cano and Jeter were cracking up, and Jeter gave Nunez a little shove.
• I mentioned it earlier today, but Ronnie Belliard got some time at first base after working at second yesterday. Kevin Russo worked at second after working in the outfield yesterday.
• Boone Logan signed autographs for a while after the morning long toss session. One of his throws had sailed way over Buddy Carlyle and hit a little girl in the stands, so Logan tried to make up for it. Head’s up people! Even the pros let one slip every now and then.
• Joe Girardi is still trying to figure out, plan and schedule a team outing, but there aren’t many options, and the dates are limited before this weekend’s first game. Friday might be the best bet. “We’re going to try,” Girardi said.
Associated Press photos. That’s Kyle Higashioka at the top.
During a Fan Fest in Arlington on Sunday, Rangers CEO Chuck Greenberg said it’s his belief that Cliff Lee was going to sign with the Yankees until Texas made one last attempt, keeping the door open just long enough for the Phillies to swoop in and land the left-hander.
“Even though Philadelphia was probably not in, they were always in the back of our mind,” Greenberg said. “I think if we wouldn’t have gone to Arkansas that last time, I think he was going to sign with the Yankees. We pried the door open a little bit to give ourselves another opportunity. And ultimately the Phillies were able to take advantage of that opportunity that we created.”
A few more notes and links on this Wednesday night.
• Hank Steinbrenner says the Yankees “have to win.” Actually, he said it a little more colorfully than that.
• David Cone is returning to the YES broadcast booth. He’ll do 25 games, according to Joel Sherman.
• Keith Law says the Yankees have the ninth-best minor league system in baseball, directly ahead of the Mariners, Red Sox and Rangers. The Royals, of course, are at the top.
• I’ve never met him, but I’ve always rooted for Rocco Baldelli to stay healthy enough to keep playing. It just wasn’t in the cards, though, and Baldelli now says he’s finished for good.
• According to a press release, the YES Network finished 2010 as the most watched regional sports network in the country for the eighth straight year.
• Just in case you missed it, Brian Cashman acknowledged yesterday that Joba Chamberlain’s injury in Texas in 2008 has significantly impacted his performance and perceived future.