The 2015 Major League Baseball season may still be five months away, and while speculation around this time of year usually revolves around free-agent and trade acquisitions, there's one name that might make a greater impact than any player who moves teams this summer by his return to the field.
Alex Rodriguez spent the entire 2014 season presumably relaxing, for once staying out of the bright New York spotlight and taking some time to decompress after a vicious, highly-publicized battle with Bud Selig and MLB over his right to play last season after a 162-game suspension was handed to him for his use of performance enhancing drugs.
With his suspension now over, it remains to be seen what the Yankees will do with Rodriguez. He's still owed a total of $64 million over the next three seasons, with $22 million due this season. He's currently listed as the team's starting third baseman, so, for the time being, it looks like the Yankees are planning on sending him out to the hot corner on Opening Day.
While the general manager Brian Cashman and the Yankees might be praying for a miracle return to form from A-Rod, their best bet might be to hope that A-Rod is just marginally contributory to anything the Yankees do this season.
4 The Decline
Even before the Biogenesis scandal hit, the legend of the great Alex Rodriguez was slowly beginning to wind down. After a solid season in 2010, when he put up 30 home-runs, 125 RBIs, a .270 batting average and an .847 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS), his numbers in several important categories began to decline in several of these important categories. We'll look at the dips in production between the 2010 and 2012 seasons, as those were the last two relatively full seasons for Rodriguez before the suspension:
- Hits dropped from 141 to 126.
- Doubles dropped from 29 to 17.
- Home-runs dropped from 30 to 18.
- RBI dropped from 125 to 57.
- Strikeouts increased from 98 to 116 (despite having 66 less plate appearances in 2012).
- OPS dropped from .847 to .783
A-Rod has made a ton of money playing baseball because he's been able to knock the baseball out of the park, drive runs in, and get on base. If he's not doing any of those things consistently - and at an elite level - then the Yankees might as well be taking the $25 millions dollars they are paying Rodriguez and flushing it down the toilet.
It might be a bit harsh to say A-Rod has slowly become a complete waste of money, but the headache he's caused the Bronx Bombers, combined with the consistent drop in production, will definitely keep Hal Steinbrenner up at night.
3 Father Time
When the Steinbrenner's and Brian Cashman made the massive investment in Rodriguez all those wonderful years ago, they were essentially banking on Rodriguez and the Yankees delivering several championships during the prime of his career and biting the bullet once he got old and was no longer the same player - which is what is happening now. Rodriguez is going to be 40 years old in July, coming off a year off and presumably no longer playing with the help of PEDs. Not exactly the profile you want your highest paid player to have.
Yankees fans might start wishfully thinking for a 1987 Darrell Evans-type season, who, at 40 years of age, hit 34 HR and batted in 99 runs. Evans played that season at first-base, though, an option that has been discussed within the Yankees clubhouse, and confirmed by Cashman. While playing first might help Rodriguez hold up longer, his moving to first creates a new dilemma: what does manager Joe Girardi do with Mark Teixeira?
If Rodriguez does end up playing third for a good chunk of the year, a good - and more recent - comparable would be Chipper Jones. While Jones will never be considered among the greatest of all-time (the way A-Rod is, and should be), he was still a top-tier third baseman for the majority of his career. In his final season (which was in 2012), Jones was 40 years old and put up 14 HR, 62 RBI, a .287 batting average and a an .832 OPS. Not bad for an old man - and he was decent in the field, too, with .953 fielding percentage in 103 games at the hot corner.
If the Yankees want another comparable, they need look no further than the recently retired Derek Jeter, who was nowhere near as productive as he once was in his last few seasons with New York. Granted, 2014 was more of a farewell tour than a baseball season for Jeter, but his numbers we're still quite unimpressive.
Those numbers are not worth $22 million dollars, though, so the Yankees better hope that A-Rod has something closer to an Evans season than a Jeter season.
Even if Rodriguez can defeat Father Time in the statistics category, it's a completely different issue when it comes to his durability.
2 A-Rod's Banged-up Bod
Even if A-Rod comes into this season completely rested and 100% healthy, there's still the matter of his extensive injury history and the safe assumption that 40-year old A-Rod will have a much tougher time bouncing back from an injury than he would have at 25.
While the New York Daily News reported in early November that A-Rod was "working out like a fiend" to prepare for the 2015 season, there's still plenty of concern about how long he'll be able to hold up. Over the years, A-Rod has racked up some pretty significant injuries. His most recent, and definitely most concerning, injuries are the two surgically repaired hips, perhaps two of the most important "body parts" for a hitter. That's without mentioning the multitude of knee injuries A-Rod has dealt with dating back to his time with Seattle.
While an injury-riddled past does not mean A-Rod will without a doubt go down at some point this season, it certainly doesn't foster confidence in the 40-year old's ability to stay healthy and productive over an entire season - especially after sitting out all of last season.
1 What to Expect
According to SteamerProjections.com, Rodriguez is projected to put up the following numbers in 2015, should the Yankees use him as an everyday player:
561 at-bats.236 batting average.318 on-base percentage18 home runs81 RBI132 hits151 strikeouts61 walks1.4 WAR (Wins Above Replacement)
The Yankees might actually be somewhat satisfied if A-Rod can put up this type of stat-line. While it still comes nowhere close to justifying the massive salary, a season of a mildly productive A-Rod is better than a horribly unproductive one.
Personally, I see this going two ways (straddling the fence is for pansies, I know - let me finish!):
Scenario A: A-Rod has the greatest season of any 40 year-old ballplayer, cuts into Barry Bonds all-time HR lead and somewhat atones for the (expletive)-storm from last season.
Scenario B: A-Rod is putrid, can't hit a home-run to save his life, gets hurt again and mercifully misses most or all the 2015 season.
I tend to think it'll be something closer to Scenario B, but I would not be overly surprised if Scenario A plays out. There's no denying that the talent has always been there and maybe the year off has allowed Rodriguez to regroup and come back with a vengeance.
We'll find out soon enough - and if one thing is for certain, it's that it'll be another interesting summer in the Bronx.