In one corner, a hard-as-nails manager. In the other corner, a superstar ballplayer making millions upon millions of dollars a year.
It's a contest we've seen before, and the next rematch could be held in The Bronx this offseason between key members of the New York Yankees. Alex Rodriguez will be in one corner, and Joe Girardi will be in the other.
A-Rod and Girardi find themselves at the center of a kerfuffle that should be minor, but has now become bigger than what's left of the American League Championship Series between Girardi's Yankees and Jim Leyland's Detroit Tigers—who are just dandy, thank you very much.
And it makes sense, with the Yankees down 3-0 and scuffling mightily at the plate, that "Will A-Rod Leave?" headlines are much more interesting than "Will the Yankees Lose?" headlines at this juncture.
The latter question has a clear answer. The first one is a little more open-ended.
Girardi has planted a seed for Rodriguez's departure by leaving him out of his starting lineup on more than one occasion in these playoffs, including his lineup for the eventually rained-out Game 4 at Comerica Park on Wednesday. Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com has reported that Girardi didn't make any changes to his starting lineup on Thursday, meaning A-Rod is still set to ride the pine in Game 4.
On a surface level, Girardi's willingness to keep A-Rod stashed on the pine has everything to do with his numbers. A-Rod has only three hits in 23 at-bats, and none against right-handers. The story that the New York Post uncovered about A-Rod flirting with a couple of lovely ladies in the middle of Game 1 may have nothing to do with anything.
If you ask Girardi, it really is as simple as taking a look at the numbers. Via The Star-Ledger:
It's been a struggle against righthanders. This is not easy to do and it's not necessarily want I want to do. You'd like to have a steadfast lineup, but we have a lot of guys who are struggling and sometimes you've got to make changes. You're going to be questioned about them. But I'm trying to do what's the best thing to win a game.
Hey, if Alex Rodriguez's name wasn't Alex Rodriguez, who would be arguing with Girardi? You can continue to roll with slumping players during the regular season, but not in the postseason. The games are too precious.
Eventually, someone got around to asking A-Rod what his relationship with Girardi is like these days after the repeated benchings. You can find his answer in this video over at MLB.com about midway through.
There's nothing overly sinister about the response A-Rod gave. He said that Girardi has been good to him over the years and that he "likes" Girardi even though he would like nothing more than to play. He is, after all, a competitor.
But note A-Rod's reaction to the question itself. He was almost annoyed with it, perhaps even angry to a certain extent. Then he paused, and paused a little longer. When he was finally ready to speak, the first words out of his mouth were that Girardi has been good to him over the years.
Not exactly a glowing appraisal of his relationship with Girardi now. Maybe there's not bad blood, but there's clearly some degree of alienation.
Assuming there is, the question becomes whether the seed Girardi has planted in the last few days will grow into this offseason and beyond. A soured relationship could become even worse over time.
...If the Yankees let it. They could do nothing and hope that Girardi and A-Rod can find a way to coexist again in the future, but they could also move to get rid of one of them this offseason.
In situations such as these, it's typically for the manager to get the boot if a given club feels that things are truly irreparable. Managers are a dime a dozen, and they are much easily fired than star players with guaranteed contracts.
However, the word around the campfire is that the Yankees are already trying to find a taker for A-Rod. It seems that getting rid of him is their preference if they do indeed have to pick between him and Girardi.
Keith Olbermann, of all people, reported via his MLB.com blog that the Yankees have held trade discussions with the Miami Marlins. The primary trade scenario involves them taking on A-Rod while the Yankees pick up most of the $114 million remaining on his contract. Another involves the Marlins paying a little more of what A-Rod is owed while sending Heath Bell to New York.
As soon as this report hit, the denials swiftly followed. Yankees GM Brian Cashman told the media that no discussions had taken place. A-Rod himself shrugged off the rumors when he met with the media on Wednesday, telling a throng of reporters that he doesn't "give a [bleep]" about gossip and that his focus is on winning baseball games.
But then, as they inevitably do, even more rumors popped up. An ESPNNewYork.com report claims that serious trade talks between the Yankees and Marlins could take place this offseason after Yankees president Randy Levine and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria joked about the possibility of A-Rod ending up on the Marlins.
Both that report and a report from Bob Nightengale of USA Today say that A-Rod would accept a trade to a place like Miami, which makes sense seeing as how it would be a homecoming for him.
So what was once deemed impossible given the length and sheer size of A-Rod's contract now looks like a plausible eventuality. If the Yankees are willing to pay a ton of money just to get rid of him, then the 2012 season could be A-Rod's last in New York.
But are the Yankees really that desperate to get rid of Rodriguez? Is there any chance that all this nonsense is just the media having a field day with a wounded animal?
It sure appears that the Yankees really are that desperate to get rid of him. Indeed, if they wanted to protect their star third baseman from his big, bad manager, somebody would have stepped into Girardi's office and ordered him to keep A-Rod in the starting lineup on a daily basis. Nobody did that.
It's possible that nobody did that because benching A-Rod wasn't Girardi's call. John Harper of the New York Daily News is convinced that Cashman is the one who's really pulling the strings. Harper pointed out that benching a star player of A-Rod's caliber is a decision that could have gotten Girardi in a ton of trouble had he made the call on his own and that it was Cashman who explained A-Rod's latest benching to the media ahead of Tuesday's Game 3.
Harper also noted that it's kind of an open secret at this point that the Yankees "would love to unload A-Rod’s contract," a 10-year monster of a deal signed in 2007 that still has five years remaining on it after this season.
Still, there's a major difference between wanting to do something and actually having the capacity to do it. Even if A-Rod is offered up for free, there are only going to be so many takers for him out there.
And let's face it, the Yankees may not be entirely willing to give A-Rod up for nothing while also picking up the rest of his tab. If they wanted to do that, they could just release him. If they're going to trade him, they're going to want to get something in return for him. And who would give up anything significant just to land A-Rod at this point?
So as likely as it now seems that A-Rod will be gone in 2013, there's still very much a possibility that he will be back in pinstripes when the dust settles. A-Rod and the Yankees could be stuck with each other whether they like it or not.
If A-Rod does come back, the Yankees will have to make the best of a bad situation. They won't like paying A-Rod, but they'll do whatever they can to get as much bang for their buck as possible. That could involve making significant changes.
Like, for example, jettisoning a manager who clearly doesn't have as strong a relationship with A-Rod as he did before.
Hey, it could happen. A-Rod's the one making over $100 million, and a happy A-Rod could, conceivably, give the Yankees 25-30 homers and 80-100 RBI. He was on pace for such numbers before a Felix Hernandez fastball broke his hand in July. Before that, he was actually having a halfway decent season.
That's why it isn't so silly to fathom that the A-Rod situation could cost Girardi his job in the end. The Yankees may have nothing but love for Girardi, but one thing they love even more is getting good value for their money. If they think getting rid of Girardi will help them get better value for their money, they may do it.
Now, to present the other side of the argument, here's why this idea is so silly.
Girardi may be the guy writing A-Rod out of the lineup, but he's not the guy who's causing A-Rod to go 3-for-23 in the playoffs while also generating tabloid headline fodder. A-Rod and everyone else can blame Girardi for not giving him a chance to snap out of it, but it's questionable whether benching A-Rod was really Girardi's decision in the first place, and it's just as questionable whether extra chances would have made any difference. He could be 3-for-33 right now rather than 3-for-23.
So if A-Rod is kept around this offseason, he'll have to just get over it. Rodriguez will also have to accept that Girardi is only going to bench him in 2013 if he gives him a damn good excuse.
Even then, A-Rod will probably stay in the starting lineup, with the only differences being his spot in it or his position. Desperate measures like the benching of a star player are much more easily avoided in the regular season than they are in October.
It seems likely that A-Rod will be gone this offseason, but Girardi shouldn't be punished in any sort of way if A-Rod is retained. He can't be blamed for the way he's treated A-Rod during the postseason, and the Yankees must avoid the temptation to get rid of Girardi even if A-Rod is still disillusioned from the way he was treated. The best course of action will be to tell him to suck it up and go play ball.
It's not like the Yankees owe A-Rod any favors. All they owe him at this point is more money, and they apparently couldn't care less whether A-Rod is still under their employ when it's time to sign the checks.
The Yankees don't owe Girardi anything either. However, it's safe to say they like him more than they like A-Rod at this point.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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