Following the 2014 World Series, Alex Rodriguez's season-long suspension came to an end. Now, the controversial star has to convince the New York Yankees that he is healthy enough to be a productive piece for the franchise in 2015 and beyond.
That journey began Monday as he participated in an intrasquad game and will continue Wednesday when he plays in his first exhibition game.
"[Joe] Girardi said A-Rod will play in Wednesday's game and will DH. Might see some work in the field next week," Brendan Kuty of NJ.com noted Monday.
"Rodriguez went 0-for-2 as the designated hitter in an intrasquad game Monday. Hitting off a pitching machine, he grounded to third on the second pitch and flied out to short right on the first pitch," reported The Associated Press' Mark Didtler.
A-Rod began his path to redemption in the court of public opinion Feb. 17 when he issued a public apology for his past actions, courtesy of Andrew Marchand of ESPN.com:
I take full responsibility for the mistakes that led to my suspension for the 2014 season. I regret that my actions made the situation worse than it needed to be. To Major League Baseball, the Yankees, the Steinbrenner family, the Players Association and you, the fans, I can only say I'm sorry.
I accept the fact that many of you will not believe my apology or anything that I say at this point. I understand why and that's on me. It was gracious of the Yankees to offer me the use of Yankee Stadium for this apology but I decided the next time I am in Yankee Stadium, I should be in pinstripes doing my job.
An arbitrator reduced Rodriguez's original 211-game suspension to 162 games for his role in the Biogenesis scandal in January 2014. He initially appealed the decision before accepting it prior to the start of spring training in February 2014.
Upon making his return, Rodriguez has to overcome the stigma associated with him. Redemption will only come if he plays well. However, it's tough to expect much out of a 39-year-old with a history of hip problems who hasn't played in an actual game since Sept. 25, 2013.
There's also the question of where A-Rod will play this coming season. During a press conference in October, general manager Brian Cashman said the team had discussed moving A-Rod to a different position, per Marchand:
I don't think it's safe to assume that he can play third base. With his age and missing a full year, you have to have some perspective. This is a very difficult game. Alex is up for that challenge, but I think it's safer to assume that might not be something that he can handle the whole year.
Upon signing third baseman Chase Headley to a four-year, $52 million contract in December, Cashman confirmed to the AP that Rodriguez would be switching positions (via ESPN.com). The GM hoped A-Rod could serve as the team's full-time designated hitter, and "if he shows he has retained athleticism, then he can play third as a choice when Joe [Girardi] decides to give Headley a rest."
This winter, Rodriguez has taken reps at first base and was the designated hitter for Monday's intrasquad game.
In October, Cashman also addressed the topic of what he expects to get from a healthy Rodriguez, per Marchand.
"I know one thing, he's a great presence in the lineup when he's healthy," Cashman said. "And we look forward to good health and obviously production. But to assume anything right now on the front end, I can't do that."
No one should expect Rodriguez to come back hitting .300 with 40-plus home runs like he did in his prime. The Yankees don't even need that. If he posts a .244/.348/.423 slash line like he did in 44 games during the 2013 season, that would be a vast improvement over what Yankees DHs hit last year (.230/.290/.372), per Baseball-Reference.
While that won't satisfy those concerned with the enormous size of Rodriguez's contract, the Yankees are on the hook for that money regardless of whether he plays or they release him. Accordingly, they should give him the chance to show what's left in the tank.
Rodriguez should be more motivated than ever to perform at a high level after having his livelihood taken away for an entire year. If that means he can hit 15-20 homers again with a respectable average and on-base percentage, New York should be satisfied with that.
We will find out what's in store for A-Rod when he officially takes the field in spring training.
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