There are a lot of aspects that contribute to and define a baseball team. Sub-pro farm teams, player chemistry, and steadfast managerial work play key roles in enabling MLB greatness. It’s not that often that ownership finds that delicate balance between off-field relations and on-field performances, but when it does, it usually results with a shot at a World Series title.
Some teams coast easily through the summer months, eagerly awaiting a real test in the playoffs. Others know that they must leave it all out on the field to make the post-season, but these teams often crash in the weeks leading up. Red Sox and Mets fans: it’s okay to shake your head.
All of that developmental and behavior hog wash is all well and good, but there is one shortcut that few teams can navigate better than the New York Yankees. We all know what I’m talking about here; money.
It’s not worth focusing on the plethora of free agent acquisitions that the Bronx Bombers have made, be it C.C. Sabathia, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher, Ichiro Suzuki, you name it. Hell, it feels like they have signed Roger Clemens to the team about a dozen times now. The grand prize though, the player that has been and will be talked about for years to come, is Alex Rodriguez.
Way back when girl’s shorts were longer than guy’s shorts, A-Rod came into the big leagues. It was 1994, and the 18-year old was a number one overall pick vying to solidify an everyday starting job with the Seattle Mariners.
He progressively developed over the next couple seasons into one of the league’s most feared hitters. By 2000, he was clubbing the ball all over the park, displaying his seemingly unnatural combination of power and speed on a nightly basis. The kicker; he was a middle-infielder.
Power numbers like his were usually posted by oversized 1st basemen or lazy outfielders, not the scrawny types that were turning over rapid-release double plays. His potential did not go unrecognized, as the Texas Rangers signed him to one of the largest contracts in sports history in 2001.
The $250 million over the next eight years, mixed with inflated bonuses and performance benchmarks, guaranteed that A-Rod would retire as one of the highest paid players in the game.
Since then, Rodriguez has performed quite admirably, managing to maintain his home run swing while winning the Gold Glove for exceptional fielding ability at the shortstop position twice. He has been elected to the American League All-Star team a total of eleven times.
He has captured a total of three Most Valuable Player Awards as well, consistently punishing pitchers willing to leave the ball in the strike zone. It’s not often that players are put under so much pressure to perform, both by fans and the men signing his contract, and live up to the hype. For the most part A-Rod had remained injury free, collecting more than $325 million over the course of his career.
Now that we have a proper synopsis of his illustrious career, it’s appropriate to begin discussing its demise. Up until this point, Rodriquez had flourished in the clutch. He was putting together masterful at-bats against some of the league’s best closers, conjuring rallies when the game seemed out-of-reach.
There is no denying now, however, that he has progressively lost his ability to come through in pivotal postseason moments. Fast forward all the way to the dreary winter months after the 2012 season. The money remains, but where is that exuberant, dedicated player that once put us in awe game after game?
A-Rod has posted dismal numbers in the past two postseasons. He has had more strikeouts than hits in every playoff series in the last two years. His failure to contribute to the good of the team led to him being benched in critical do-or-die games in the ALCS against Detroit in October.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi didn’t feel that A-Rod could make a positive impact when it counted most. Ironically, pinch hitter Raul Ibanez hit a game-tying and subsequently the game-winning home run in A-Rod’s place.
Too bad that $325 million in lifetime earnings couldn’t buy A-Rod an at-bat. Rodriquez played so poorly, in fact, that he was on the verge of setting MLB records for strikeouts per-at-bats and sub-par postseason batting averages.
What can we expect in the future? He will no doubt be in pinstripes penciled in the starting lineup for Opening Day in the spring, that we can be sure of. But taking into account the Yankees unparalleled spending budget, how long of a leash will he be on if they make it back to the postseason? One strikeout and done?
There has been little backlash from Rodriquez since the benching, as the Yankees were swept by Detroit and further turmoil was avoided. He understood how pathetic he was playing as any athlete would, but future conflict is imminent. We will have to see if he amasses another hundred million dollars before that contract of his expires in 2018, that is, unless he isn’t watching from the dugout.
Rob Dick | Elite.