Are We Watching the End of Alex Rodriguez's Checkered MLB Career?

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterJuly 14, 2016

New York Yankees designated hitter Alex Rodriguez (13) watches batting practice before a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox in Chicago, Monday, July 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)
Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

There are some skills Alex Rodriguez will never lose. He'll always be able to tell us how good he is, how hard he works, how great he can be.

"I've been working really hard, tweaking, running and training," he told reporters, including Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News. "My time will come."

Sorry, Alex. Your time has come…and gone.

I know, it's dangerous to call time on fading stars. David Ortiz was done in April and May 2009, except that he's made five more All-Star teams since then, was a World Series MVP in 2013 and is now a 40-year-old marvel. Ichiro Suzuki was on the slow road to 3,000 hits until this year's revival at age 42.

A-Rod himself was done three years ago because of injuries and issues, body parts that wouldn't work and a baseball legal system that did. Then came last year, with 33 home runs and even a mention on one MVP ballot.

I try never to forget the words of Sparky Anderson, who liked to say "quality can always return, but mediocracy [his word!] never was."

Rodriguez was quality, even if it was medically enhanced quality. He can always return, and a contract that guarantees him another $21 million next year suggests he will return, at least in body.

But why? To chase home run numbers that will forever be tainted? To prove he can still be a difference-maker for a team that wants to move past him?

"Everybody slows down with age," one scout said. "And he's slowed down."
"Everybody slows down with age," one scout said. "And he's slowed down."Kathy Willens/Associated Press

He'll be 41 later this month, and he looks every day of it.

"Me being productive in the middle of the lineup is going to help us get to the postseason," Rodriguez told Feinsand in one of a few "exclusive" interviews during his midsummer media campaign.

It's nice he still believes that (if he really does). Yankees management obviously isn't buying in, at least not to the part about him being productive.

The Yankees have played 10 games this month, and Rodriguez started just one of them. Three were in San Diego, where the Yankees had no need for a designated hitter, but that leaves seven other games he could have played.

It's true that part of the reason was Carlos Beltran's sore hamstring, which pushed Beltran to the DH spot. But as Yankees general manager Brian Cashman admitted when the month began, the bigger issue was A-Rod's OPS against right-handed pitchers.

"We've got to get this 2016 going," Cashman told reporters, including Anthony Rieber of Newsday. "We're struggling. It's almost July. So we had a meeting the other day, and one of the things we came up with was obviously Alex, I think, is a .580 OPS against right-handed pitching this year."

It was actually .584 at the time, and it's .570 now, and while that's not the worst in the major leagues, it's down there in Erick Aybar country. It's lower than the .598 Omar Infante had when the Kansas City Royals released him on June 21.

Infante is a light-hitting second baseman. A-Rod is a full-time designated hitter (or designated sitter), a guy who doesn't even carry a glove.

But wait! Feinsand reported in the Daily News that A-Rod took a first baseman's glove with him when he left for the All-Star break.

Asked by George A. King III of the New York Post whether Rodriguez will ever actually play first base, Cashman responded, "I don't think anybody knows."

The Yankees don't need an aging, slow first baseman with a .570 OPS against right-handers any more than they need a DH with a .570 OPS against right-handers.

"Everybody slows down with age," said one American League scout who saw the Yankees recently. "And he's slowed down. Is there hope? I think there's a chance. It's a slim chance, but I don't think anybody expected him to do what he did last year."

The $21 million he's due next year probably guarantees Rodriguez won't leave on his own, no matter how bad it gets. He no doubt dreams of a revival that will see him go out next year the way his rival (and onetime friend) Ortiz is going out this season, or at least the way his other rival (and perhaps onetime friend) Derek Jeter did in 2014.

The tougher question is whether it could get bad enough that the Yankees swallow that sunk money and release A-Rod before his contract runs out. He probably would be done then, because even with the Yankees paying the freight, it's hard to see another team taking him.

Even the chase for some kind of home run history—he's stuck on 695 home runs, with none in his last 41 plate appearances—hardly seems to matter.

Rodriguez remains in pinstripes for now, battling for at-bats with Aaron Hicks and Rob Refsnyder, two guys with just a small fraction of the ability A-Rod once displayed.

Even Hicks, a career .220 hitter with a lower OPS (.562) than Rodriguez has this season, has seemed like a better option to the Yankees.

As the scout said, everybody slows down with age. In the case of Alex Rodriguez, his time has come.

   

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

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