Commentary

Expect A-Rod back in the Bronx

Despite club's desire to be rid of declining slugger, the two are unlikely to part

Updated: October 19, 2012, 6:05 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

DETROIT -- The New York Yankees and Alex Rodriguez probably are stuck with one another from now until the end of the 2017 season, when A-Rod will be 42 years old and the Yankees will be out a minimum of $114 million for his services.

They are unlikely to part, despite the club's strong desire to rid itself of his albatross of a contract and fly swatter of a bat, and A-Rod's likely disenchantment with his diminishing stature in the eyes of the manager and GM.

In a way, they deserve one another, because the union was forged in greed and deception to begin with, a combination of Rodriguez's desire to be part of a championship team and the Yankees' lust for the money his now-tainted pursuit of the all-time home run record could bring them.

So neither side is really worthy of an amicable resolution to what has become the elephant in the Yankees' clubhouse, and both sides seem to accept this as their fate, like an unhappy couple sticking out a marriage for the sake of the children.

In that, they are being realistic and practical.

There simply is no market for a decent-hitting, good-fielding third baseman who will be 38 on his next birthday and must be paid nearly $30 million a year.

But if either side thinks the relationship between A-Rod and the Yankees can ever be mended or that he can even begin to resemble the player he was only three years ago (let alone a decade ago, when he arrived here from the Texas Rangers), they are kidding themselves. And each other.

Alex Rodriguez is not the player he appeared to be in this postseason, because frankly, no one could be that bad and remain in the major leagues very long.

But the player Alex Rodriguez is, is the player he was for the 2012 regular season. And the season before that.

And that player -- a .270 hitter who gets on base at a decent rate, and averages between 15 and 20 home runs and about 60 RBIs per season -- is the definition of what GM Brian Cashman called "an above-average player."

He is nothing more and nothing less.

This is not Alex Rodriguez's fault; it is simply the natural downward progression of a professional athlete in his late 30s. For those of you too young to remember pre-PED baseball, what is happening to A-Rod now is what used to happen to just about everyone in the league at his age.

And the odds are, not only is he not going to get much better, he likely will get gradually and steadily worse.

So all boasts aside -- A-Rod said he would "come back with a vengeance, like I did in 2007" -- the realistic way to look at this is the A-Rod the Yankees got this year is just about all the A-Rod they're ever going to get.

And if Joe Girardi or Cashman really thought differently, A-Rod would not have been the only Yankees regular to be benched in three playoff games this October, including two elimination games.

He would not have been the guy who always seemed to be getting the bat yanked out of his hands at crucial moments in the game. He would not have been the one right-handed hitter Girardi would not even consider starting against a right-handed pitcher.

After the Yankees lost Game 4 of the American League Championship Series 8-1 on Thursday night to complete a humiliating sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers, A-Rod was full of bravado and promises for what the 2013 season would bring.

Alex Rodriguez
Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty ImagesAt 37, Alex Rodriguez's best days are clearly behind him.

"I think for the first time in a long time I'm going to have a full offseason of training and preparing for the long season. I think that's always been a big part of my success," he said. "If I'm going out and doing 30 home runs and driving in over 100 runs and hitting north of .280 or .300, what choice is he [Girardi] going to have? He's going to have to play me."

Admirable words that sound very much like self-delusion.

Alex Rodriguez hasn't been that kind of player since 2010, when he was coming off a winter abbreviated by hip surgery and a season that did not begin for him until mid-May.

In the two years that followed, despite having much more complete offseasons and despite proclaiming himself to be as healthy as he had been in years, he was injury-plagued throughout both seasons and saw his production drop in each to less than half what it had been in 2010.

Most alarmingly, until he went down with a broken hand in late July, Rodriguez had suffered an injury-free 2012 -- and still had just 15 home runs and 44 RBIs through 352 at-bats, well more than half an average season, and just 21 fewer at-bats than he had in all of 2011, when the final numbers were 16 and 62.

Clearly, this is the level he has settled in at now, and unless something rather unprecedented occurs over the next couple of seasons, those numbers are bound to only decline.

If there is anything his miserable at-bats in this postseason confirmed, it is that this "above-average player" can no longer get around on the average major league fastball. And that is a problem that is not likely to improve with age.

So when A-Rod insists his benching this October by Girardi and Cashman -- trust me when I tell you a decision of that magnitude is never made by the manager alone -- was merely in response to his late-season difficulties, still unexplained, against right-handed pitching, he is fooling himself.

The truth is that even in the eyes of his manager, Alex Rodriguez is a greatly diminished presence. All season, we had seen opposing managers walk the hitter in front of him, often Robinson Cano, to load the bases and pitch to A-Rod despite his career total of 23 grand slams, tied atop baseball's all-time list with Lou Gehrig.

It got so bad that in the ninth inning of the second-to-last game of the season, Bobby Valentine walked Nick Swisher, of all people, to pitch to A-Rod with the winning run at second base.

It is one thing when opposing managers think you're no longer a threat; by benching A-Rod for two of the most important games of the Yankees' season, Girardi showed he agreed with them.

So when the manager says he expects Alex Rodriguez to be a productive hitter for him again next year, he means within the context of A-Rod's current ability to produce.

And when Cashman talks of his desire to reload his lineup with what he calls "big hairy monsters," i.e., home run hitters, he is no longer talking about his third baseman.

And when Alex Rodriguez says, "I will be back. I have a lot to prove and I will come back on a mission," you can only believe half of what he says.

The odds are that Alex Rodriguez will be a Yankee next year, and for the next five years.

But the odds are strongly against him ever being close to the player the Yankees traded for in 2003 or re-signed to the contract that threatens to drag them down from now to 2017.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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