2009 was supposed to be a “Return to Glory” for the New York Yankees. They were opening a grand new ballpark. They spent wildly in the offseason on the three premier free agents on the open market, putting Pinstripes on Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and AJ Burnett.
Despite the positive news, the Yankees’ offseason was overshadowed by the many tales of Alex Rodriguez. Steroids. Madonna. Hip surgery. The provocative photo spread.
Through it all, the Yankees came out of spring training seemingly prepared, sporting a nifty 24-12-1 exhibition record. Many were saying the Yankees would fare well without Alex Rodriguez. Who needs his bat? Who needs his baggage?
As it turns out, the Yankees do.
On the field, the Yankees need his bat to anchor the lineup.
The Dynamic Duo of Cody Ransom and Angel Berroa hit .189. Then, Ramiro Pena channelled his inner All-Star (9-for-29, .310 average) in replacing both of them. Still, none of these guys compares in any way, shape, or form to Alex Rodriguez.
Remarkably, despite missing A-Rod, the Yankees are second in the AL in runs scored, batting average, OPS and slugging percentage, and third in OBP. They’ve even won four in a row and are now a respectable 13-10 on the season.
But some of this is “smoke and mirrors.” While Mark Teixeira has struggled thus far and will eventually hit, some of the players currently putting up big numbers (Nick Swisher, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera) will slow down.
At this stage, what the Yankees are getting from Jorge Posada, Derek Jeter and Johnny Damon is about what one would expect. Any significant improvement from these three is highly unlikely. They’re faring pretty well to this point.
Having Rodriguez back not only balances out the middle of the lineup, it creates one fewer weak spot in the bottom of the order, and his presence strengthens the bench by sending Pena, or Berroa, or Ransom, or whomever it will be, back to the dugout full-time.
Off the field, apparently, soap operas are of interest to the fanbase. And, while the Yankees will never admit it, they are embarrassed by the number of empty seats in the lower bowl of the new Stadium.
“As The A-Rod Turns” could be the show that brings in the high-roller, front-row clientele that hasn’t shown up to Yankee Stadium, 3.0 thus far. The recent Selena Roberts-inspired revelations about Rodriguez could help fill seats. In fact, having Alex Rodriguez evolve into a media-created pariah could draw a new kind of fan to the Stadium.
Instead of burying all the off-field A-Rod Drama, perhaps the Yankees should help feed this beast. They won two World Series titles in the 1970s despite the back-page bluster of George Steinbrenner, the Bronx Zoo clubhouse, and Reggie, the Straw That Stirs the Drink.
Obviously, this is a different team. However, there is no such thing as negative attention when it means money can be made. And right now, the Yankees are not making the money they projected at the start of the season. Maybe it’s time to embrace Alex Rodriguez’s baggage the way he embraced that mirror in his now-famous photo spread.
Let’s face it, the nine years remaining on A-Rod’s contract are a blessing and a curse. Maybe the Yankees should just make the most of it, both on the field and off of it.