The New York Yankees entered the offseason with a number of question marks after being swept in the American League Championship Series by the Detroit Tigers. One of those questions was the fate of Alex Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, who missed several weeks with a broken hand, recorded a triple slash line of .272/.353/.430 in 529 plate appearances. He hit 18 home runs with 57 RBI and scored 74 runs. He also stole 13 bases. These numbers are obviously not spectacular or worth the $30 million he earned in 2012, but he still placed number eight among MLB third basemen in wOBA (.342) and wRC+ (114).
Rodriguez notoriously had an awful postseason, much like many of the Yankees’ lineup. Rodriguez’s plight received more attention when he was pinch hit for and then completely benched during the playoffs. The topic of conversation among many fans was how to get rid of Rodriguez. Pipe dreams evolved about suitors who could take some of the strain of Rodriguez’s salary away via a trade.
The Yankees professed rather quickly after the postseason that Rodriguez was not on the trading block and he was viewed as their everyday option at third base for 2013. The Yankees had far too many other items needing their attention and the market for third baseman was not exactly rosier than having Rodriguez back at the hot corner. The Yankees resigned themselves to the fact that Rodriguez was their man for better or worse for years to come and at a very high cost (he is owed $114 million in salary over the next five years, not counting bonuses and incentives for breaking home run totals within his reach).
So, the Yankees went about their business and signed Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman headed to Nashville, Tenn. for the Winter Meetings set to the find a catcher (Russell Martin had already signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates for two years and $17.5 million). The Yankees needed to replace Nick Swisher in right field as well. Then news surfaced that Rodriguez was in need of left hip surgery similar to work he had done on his right hip prior to the 2009 season. Rodriguez is set to miss four to six months from the time of the surgery which is going to be scheduled for some time in mid-January. This obviously put the Yankees in a bind, requiring them to enter a market they wanted no business with in the first place. To make matters worse, they would still be on the hook for A-Rod’s salary while having to pay a replacement for the season.
Rodriguez finally spoke out about his surgery and recuperation as well as the Yankees chances to reach the postseason in 2013. He said he was “relieved” where it concerned finding out the problem with his hip. He was happy in a sense knowing that after the surgery and recovery time he could be stronger at the plate.
Rodriguez touched upon his 2009 surgery as evidence that if he comes back healthy he can be productive again.
“We’ve seen this movie before and hopefully it has the same ending as ’09,” Rodriguez said. “When I went down, a lot of people counted us out. We had a pretty tough April, but sometime around May the magic started and it just got better and better.”
Rodriguez hit 30 home runs and drove in 100 runs while helping the Yankees win the World Series. Rodriguez even put to rest his troubles in the postseason that year.
But, Rodriguez is going to be four years older if and when he returns this season, and is already in decline just from normal aging effects each ballplayer endures. Rodriguez remains confident he can help the team win in 2013 and suggests he was playing at a level he was happy with prior to his broken hand and tear in the left labrum.
“I think I am definitely going to play,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve been down this road before. We have a good plan and a good team in place. I’m looking forward to the challenge. I think the latest sample and the most legitimate is how I played the first four months before tearing my hip and breaking my hand,” Rodriguez said of how he expects to play going forward. “I think my pace was solid and definitely a winning player. After that, especially after my hand, I thought my numbers went south very quickly.”
It’s good to see that Rodriguez feels the same way about his performance in September and October as many of us do. But, he holds a much higher view of his abilities to produce when he returns, this season or beyond. Without the injury, many felt that Rodriguez would remain a viable third baseman for the Yankees but would never be able to attain the lofty statistics he put up as recently as 2010 (30 HR, 125 RBI). Rodriguez talks as if he feels he can regain some of that fire power.
But, A-Rod has always been a confident player and probably has an ax to grind where it concerns proving himself as a top player again. He can utilize this time to get himself into the best physical shape possible with hopes that by the All-Star break he would be back in a rhythm to produce at the plate. This assumes giving Rodriguez time to re-acclimate himself at the plate should he be ready for baseball action toward the latter part of the anticipated recuperation time. Rodriguez, like many players takes some time to get to full speed at the plate after significant time off.
Whenever Rodriguez does return, it will be interesting to see how he is handled. Depending on who the Yankees sign to take on the first-half of the season and that player’s performance to the time Rodriguez steps back onto the field, will Rodriguez completely reclaim his spot at third base? Will he split time there and as the designated hitter? Or will he be strictly limited to DH duties? These are all questions well ahead of the current dilemma of finding a suitable fill-in who can come close to matching what the Yankees expected out of Rodriguez in the first place.
More importantly, the wonder of what he’ll provide through the end of his contract has accelerated and become more of a concern than it already was. Rodriguez thinks he can put that all to rest if he is healthy. One thing is for certain, all eyes will be on him when he does return and the questions will never let up where it concerns Rodriguez.