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Yankees' grudge against A-Rod shouldn't be more important than winning

1/26/2015

NEW YORK -- On top of the public humiliation, denigration and marginalization the Yankees have already heaped on Alex Rodriguez this offseason, now they want to welsh on his home-run bonus deal, too.

Well, the Yankees should only hope A-Rod hits enough home runs to merit those bonuses, and they should be more than happy to pay them.

But in their seemingly all-consuming desire to “get even" with A-Rod for his foolish and desperate attempts to overturn Major League Baseball's 162-game suspension last winter, the team that is supposed to be all about winning looks like it is about to compromise its own mission statement for the sake of someone’s revenge.

If the Yankees are really concerned with winning, and improving off the dismal 84-win, 12-games-off-the-pace, Octoberless death march that their 2014 season was, they need Alex Rodriguez to play well.

And yet, this offseason the Yankees have seemed to do everything in their power to insure he will fail.

There can be only one reason for that: The Yankees are holding a grudge, and it could wind up costing them more than mere money.

There are two schools of thought on A-Rod, and both have validity. One is that he is insecure and soft, and will not be able to stand up to the relentless daily scrutiny he will be under this season.

That opinion is borne out by Rodriguez's admission that he turned to steroids in 2001 because of doubts he could live up to his 10-year, $252 million contract with the Texas Rangers, at the time the most lucrative in sports history.

The other school of thought is that A-Rod relishes playing the villain, courting the image and reveling in the attention, however negative, he gets in the media, in opposing stadiums, and often, even in his home ballpark.

That is borne out by events such as the home run he crushed off Ryan Dempster at Fenway Park in 2013 after being hit by a pitch that precipitated a bench-clearing brawl just 10 days after MLB had announced his suspension in the Biogenesis affair. And also by off-field exploits like working out with Barry Bonds, and hanging out with Cousin Yuri.

The Yankees seem to be playing to A-Rod’s insecurities by their public statements about him this offseason, and for a player they know to be prone to distractions, they seem more than willing to distract him. (Ironically, people in the organization were privately critical of Derek Jeter for not publicly supporting A-Rod a few years back when he was getting booed at Yankee Stadium; now, those same people are doing the thing they accused the Captain of doing.)

Certainly, it is understandable to an extent.

You don’t sue the team doctor for malpractice, imply through your emissaries that your own team is sabotaging you and attempting to force you out, or hire protesters carrying placards accusing the team president of being a cohort of Satan and Lucifer without expecting to tick someone off.

But the Yankees have always been pretty good at remembering what their business is, the business of winning ballgames, and they generally didn’t hold bad manners or bad behavior against a player if they still believed he could help them.

Clearly, they no longer believe that of A-Rod. But the hard reality is, they are stuck with him for three more seasons and will have to pay him $61 million in salary, whether he plays well, badly, or not at all.

Baseball’s Joint Drug Agreement insures that the Yankees can't wriggle out of the contract -- it stipulates that all punishment for drug offenses must be meted out by the league, which MLB already has -- and numerous sources within and without the organization insist self-proclaimed “finance geek" Hal Steinbrenner would pay off A-Rod and cut him loose.

The only thing left for the Yankees to do, it seems, is to go after the measly $6 million they would have to pay him for catching Willie Mays, who is six home runs ahead of A-Rod, and for catching Babe Ruth, who has a 1927-season lead (60 home runs).

Forget about the other targets on the list -- Hank Aaron is 101 home runs ahead, Bonds 108 ahead and the all-time record 109 ahead, a total Alex Rodriguez probably couldn’t hope to reach in five seasons, let alone three.

But if he can give them 60 home runs over the final three years of the contract, the Yankees would be thrilled to have them. That averages out to 20 a season, which is two more than they got out of their DHs last season, five more than they got out of their third basemen, and more than Chase Headley, who has been handed A-Rod’s old job, has hit in any but one of his eight big league seasons.

And besides, what is $6 million to the New York Yankees? Ashtray money. Half of what they paid to Kevin Youkilis in 2013, who gave them next to nothing, and just slightly less than they will be paying Chris Capuano, who was signed as rotation insurance for 2015.

So rather than trying to squash A-Rod’s bonuses, the Yankees should be doing everything in their power to encourage him to earn them, and hope that he does.

Unless, of course, vengeance has now taking priority over victories.

Admittedly, the whole home run bonus idea was a bad one, conceived in greed by both parties.

The Yankees agreed to the separate marketing contract with Rodriguez -- calling for $6 million bonuses for reaching each of the five home run milestones -- because they expected to reap a box-office and merchandising windfall off suckers buying baseballs, hats and jerseys commemorating the chase of an already tainted home run record.

And A-Rod, who had already earned himself a raise from the most lucrative contract in pro sports history, still wanted to be paid extra for doing what he was being paid for in the first place, namely hitting home runs.

And all this was done despite the fact that GM Brian Cashman had publicly declared he would never negotiate with A-Rod if he exercised the opt-out clause in his original 10-year, $252 million contract, which of course he did.

Cashman was overruled by a higher authority, who at the time certainly thought the Yankees were getting a bargain at an average salary of $27.5 million, with the possibility of another $30 million tacked on.

Now, suddenly, it’s a bad deal for the Yankees because A-Rod’s “accomplishments" have been tarnished by his unprecedented year-long suspension, and his reported admission of steroid use to MLB last year.

Well, if that’s the case, why didn’t they try to void the bonus clause after the 2009 Sports Illustrated revelations of his steroid use, and his subsequent admissions? Wasn’t his marketability just as tainted then?

The reasons are obvious: For one thing, A-Rod was still a productive player at the time and would in fact help lead the Yankees to the 2009 World Series championship.

For another, aside from the steroid admission, he hadn’t done anything to anger the Yankees the way he did this time.

Now, approaching his 40th birthday and with few, if any friends left in the organization, Alex Rodriguez is seemingly no longer deserving of organizational support.

That may be a valid emotional decision, but it’s clearly a foolish baseball decision.

The Yankees need Alex Rodriguez to hit home runs for them this season, and if he does, they should be more than happy to pay for them.