So the announcement that Rodriguez is not in the starting lineup for Friday's do-or-die game against the Baltimore Orioles shouldn't be a surprise. Yet Girardi's decision to sit his third baseman down for Game 5 has still raised plenty of eyebrows.
For one thing, Rodriguez has hit well against Orioles starting pitcher Jason Hammel. He's batted 8-for-24 (.333) versus Hammel with four home runs and nine RBI. But as the New York Daily News' Mark Feinsand pointed out in a tweet, six of those eight hits and each of those homers came between 2006 and 2008. A-Rod just doesn't appear to be the same player anymore.
However, we're still talking about Alex Rodriguez here. He's a three-time AL MVP with 14 All-Star appearances. He's going to reach 700 homers and 3,000 hits, career milestones that carry Hall of Fame weight. His $30 million salary is the highest in MLB this season.
Fans will say the money shouldn't matter, that it shouldn't decide who plays. But of course it does. Unless the player is just hitting so badly that it absolutely has to be a secondary concern.
Obviously, that's where Girardi and the Yankees are with this decision. This wasn't solely the skipper's decision either. As Feinsand tweeted in response to a reader's question, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman also weighed in on the move. This was a team initiative—at least from a management standpoint.
The Yankees can justify this decision from a baseball standpoint. In speaking with reporters (MLB.com's Bryan Hoch among them), Girardi cited Rodriguez's poor performance against right-handed pitching this season. A-Rod is batting .256/.326/.391 versus righties in 2012.
But to bench Rodriguez for the most important game of the Yankees' season is a pretty significant slap to the face of a cornerstone-type of player.
No, A-Rod isn't the face of the franchise. He's not the captain. Yet he's hardly just some guy that doesn't hit right-handed pitching either. Obviously, he isn't or this article wouldn't be written and you wouldn't be reading it right now.
Taking all of this into consideration, the natural question to ask is whether Rodriguez's career with the Yankees is coming to an end. Can he really come back from such an embarrassment? Have Girardi and Cashman lost him with this decision?
In the short term, the answer is that Rodriguez will have to be ready when called upon. Girardi is putting out the lineup he feels gives the Yankees the best chance to win an elimination game.
But if the Yankees beat the Orioles in Game 5 and advance to the ALCS versus the Detroit Tigers, Rodriguez will likely be in the lineup again (though maybe not against Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer). If he's not, that should say plenty about how the Yankees view A-Rod at this point.
Can the Yankees really get rid of Rodriguez if that's what they prefer? He has five years remaining on his contract worth $114 million and will turn 38 years old next year. But if there's one team that would be willing to take on a big chunk of that deal and absorb it into their payroll, it's the Yankees. So that could make a potential trade easier.
The obvious first call Cashman should make is to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers' new ownership has shown a willingness to take on any contract for any player it feels could make the team better.
The Dodgers have Luis Cruz at third base, playing him there while Hanley Ramirez mans his preferred position of shortstop. Cruz had a decent season, batting .297 with a .753 OPS, 20 doubles, six home runs and 40 RBI. But even a diminished A-Rod can give the Dodgers more production than that.
Nearby in Orange County, the Los Angeles Angels could show interest in Rodriguez as well. The Halos played Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo at third base this year. Both are versatile players but are .250 batters with perhaps a little bit of pop. Combined, they don't measure up to the 2012 version of A-Rod.
The Chicago White Sox are another team with a potential opening for Rodriguez. This looks like just the sort of move White Sox GM Kenny Williams likes to make, bringing in a guy with some name value without the skills he once had. Williams and manager Robin Ventura already rehabilitated one struggling hitter this year with Adam Dunn. Could they do the same with Rodriguez?
Other options include the Atlanta Braves, who need a third baseman to replace the retiring Chipper Jones. (That would allow them to keep Martin Prado in left field as well.) Another NL East team, the Miami Marlins, could use a third baseman too.
Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria probably isn't interested in taking on a big chunk of Rodriguez's salary. But as we mentioned, the Yankees would probably cover that. Maybe they'd take Heath Bell off the Marlins' hands as part of the deal.
A-Rod in Miami could be a big selling point for the Marlins. He grew up in the Miami area and played his high school ball at Westminster Christian. Rodriguez signed a letter of intent to play baseball at the University of Miami and reportedly could have played football there as well.
Maybe A-Rod would keep the house he's trying to sell for $38 million if he ended up playing in Miami too.
So the Yankees could have quite a few options if they did decide to shop Rodriguez around the majors. A-Rod might go for the ol' change of scenery after the way this season has developed too. At this point, he might want to get out of New York as much, if not more, than the Yankees want to trade him.
The possibility doesn't seem nearly as far-fetched as it might at first glance.
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