Alex Rodriguez-Joe Girardi Drama Making Yankees 'Farewell Tour' a Rocky Affair

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterAugust 11, 2016

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 10: Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees reacts as he flies out during a pinch-hit appearance during the seventh inning of a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 10, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Just when the New York Yankees allowed us to think we might be done forever with controversies centered around Alex Rodriguez, manager Joe Girardi pulled us back in.

In case you've recently crawled out of a cave with no television and/or spotty Wi-Fi, we're in the final days of A-Rod's career. After 12 years of Alex's occasionally great, occasionally not-so-great and presently bad service for the Yankees, the club announced Sunday it will release the 41-year-old slugger from his contract, which runs through 2017, after he plays his last game at Yankee Stadium on Friday.

If you hadn't been in that cave, you could have seen this coming.

Rodriguez returned from his 2014 suspension to have a heck of a season in 2015, but he's hit just .204 with a .609 OPS in 2016. He's also been stuck on 696 career home runs since July 18. All this has forced Girardi to mainly confine Rodriguez to the bench. When the club finally embraced an overdue rebuilding phase at the trade deadline, phasing out A-Rod became an inevitable next step.

And yet there was no fire and brimstone when the word came down Sunday. A-Rod was emotional in a press conference, but not angry. Ditto for the Yankees. Given how just how sour things got between them during the whole Biogenesis thing, this goes to show how far things have come in the last two years.

Since the split did indeed seem so darn amiable, it was no surprise when Girardi tee'd Rodriguez for a proper farewell in the final week of a 22-year career.

"If he wants to play in every game, I'll find a way," the Yankees skipper said, per Bryan Hoch of MLB.com.

That brings us, at last, to A-Rod controversy No. 4,674.

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

So far in the final days of A-Rod's career, the Yankees have played two games against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. A-Rod did not start in a 5-3 loss Tuesday night, nor did he start in a 9-4 win Wednesday night. In all, he's come to the plate once.

And not by choice.

"I came to the stadium hoping to play all three games, maybe two out of three," Rodriguez said Tuesday, per Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com. "[Girardi] just said, 'We're trying to win games.'"

Rodriguez went on to call Girardi's decision "surprising and shocking." Those two words can also be used to describe A-Rod's entire career, in which he's balanced being a 14-time All-Star and three-time MVP being twice connected to chemical enhancement and frequently playing the part of a heel straight out of professional wrestling.

However, A-Rod did his time for performance-enhancing drugs in 2014 and has played the good soldier ever since his return. He can't be faulted for wanting to go out with dignity. For that matter, can you blame him if he wanted to get as many chances as possible to bump his career home run total to 700?

All you can do, really, is wonder what Girardi's deal is. Even the explanation he gave to ESPN.com's Andrew Marchand and others on Wednesday doesn't clear things up:

Ah, right...except for the fact no manager in the game knows farewell tours better than Girardi.

He's overseen two of them, one of which featured him routinely prioritizing respect for the farewell tourer over his team's chances of winning. Mariano Rivera's final year in 2013 was everything anybody could have hoped for. But when Derek Jeter bid his goodbyes in 2014, Girardi frequently batted him second despite his .256 average and a .617 OPS that was second-lowest in the American League.

Granted, you can use the ol' "one of these things is not like the other" when placing the careers of Jeter and Rodriguez side by side. And as bad as Jeter was then, A-Rod's no better now. The optics suggest Girardi knows this. The whispers confirm it.

“Joe believes he’s done," a source told ESPN.com's Wallace Matthews. “And he’s still trying to win these games."

To the first part: sure. To the second part: seriously?

Their efforts didn't amount to a postseason trip in 2014, but the Yankees were at least trying to contend during Jeter's farewell tour. They can only say they're trying to do that now, and they'll fool nobody when they do. Teams that are trying to contend don't trade Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran.

That's not contending. That's tanking. Make no mistake—Girardi would be committing a far smaller sin by wasting a few at-bats on A-Rod this week than the one he committed when he wasted many at-bats on Jeter throughout 2014.

The times being what they are, Girardi is wrong to view Rodriguez's farewell tour as a sideshow the Yankees don't have time for. On the contrary, it's a sideshow they should have made time for.

For one week, anyway, it's one of the only reasons for fans to pay attention to the Yankees. That even goes for Red Sox fans. Their "We want A-Rod!" chant was one of the liveliest moments of Tuesday's game. When A-Rod was called to pinch-hit on Wednesday, it was the liveliest moment of the game:

There's no escaping thoughts of what Rodriguez might have done with more moments like this. In particular, thoughts of him hushing all the boos with a home run or two to get him closer to 700. Unlikely perhaps, but certainly a tantalizing appetizer for his final farewell at Yankee Stadium.

Mercifully, our not-so-long national nightmare will end Thursday. Girardi has confirmed Rodriguez will be in the lineup against left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, giving him a chance to get a few hacks in before his big day at home on Friday.

But rather than the tail end of what should have been a jovial farewell, Rodriguez's final two games will be more like a consolation prize. And a cheap one, at that.

Sure, you can say the Yankees don't owe A-Rod anything. And realistically speaking, they don't. Cliff Corcoran of Sports Illustrated crunched the numbers and found A-Rod hasn't even been worth half of the $275 million contract he signed in 2007. And yes, he's cost the Yankees headaches in addition to dollars.

Rodriguez's good times in pinstripes, however, may be just as plentiful as the bad. Punctuated by MVP campaigns in 2005 and 2007, his first five seasons in New York were terrific. And in 2009, he willed the Yankees to their 27th World Series title almost single-handedly. He hit .438 with five home runs in the run-up to the Fall Classic, and each homer was seemingly more clutch than the last.

If nothing else, that's the A-Rod the Yankees could have honored in his final days. But rather than let Rodriguez live large, Girardi and the Yankees are saying goodbye by letting him know who's in charge.

            

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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