As Alex Rodriguez's return to the Yankees continues to be delayed the question of whether the aging superstar will ever play again has begun to loom. There are other questions surrounding Rodriguez as well. His links to Biogenesis and to PEDs in general are becoming, particularly given the suspension MLB has just given to Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun, a bigger issue almost every day. The veracity of Rodriguez's latest injury and his deteriorating relationship with Yankee management also make his current status with the team unclear and difficult. The Yankees would probably like to find a way to break their ties with the controversial and unpopular Rodriguez, but this will not be easy, particularly given that Rodriguez is almost certainly not going to walk away from his current contract which will allow him to earn $86 million over the next four seasons following this one.
The toughest question facing the Yankees may be what they will do if Rodriguez comes back and plays well. While Rodriguez is a shadow of the player he was from 1996-2007, and is older, injury prone and overpaid, he is still a valuable player when he is on the field. Last year he managed to post an OPS+ of 113 while having a WAR of 2.3, batting .272 with 18 home runs in only 122 games. These are not great numbers, but they are useful, particularly for a team this is desperate both for a third baseman and a right-handed power hitter.
The Yankees have been sputtering after their hot start, and are on the very fringes of the playoff race, but they thought enough of their chances to pick up another aging right-handed slugger, Alfonso Soriano. While they are very unlikely to secure a playoff spot, Rodriguez could contribute to any run they make. It is not hard to imagine Rodriguez coming back in early to mid August and hitting well enough over the last third or so of the season to help anchor the middle of the Yankee order and provide a big upgrade at third base. This will probably not be enough to get the team into the playoffs, but it will make it tougher for the Yankees to continue to vilify Rodriguez.
The Yankees, due to a combination of bad luck and an over reliance on older players have been badly effected by injuries this year. Rodriguez is not the only Yankee star who has missed most or all of 2013 due to injury. Other Yankee stars like Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira have either barely played or not played at all this year because of injuries. Jeter and Teixeira, in particular, complicate the Yankees relationship with Rodriguez. They are both better liked among Yankee fans and management than Rodriguez. Jeter is not just better liked, but it is one of the best and most beloved players in the team's long and extraordinary history.
Teixeira is not under suspicion for PED use and has a much better reputation among the fans and media, but he is also an aging player with declining skills who is owed a great deal of money, $67.5 million between 2014-2016. Teixeira is also less useful defensively than Rodriguez and was never as good a hitter. It is likely that even if he recovers fully from his injury, Teixeira will never again be an impact hitter and could provide less value than Rodriguez over the next few years.
Jeter is probably a year or two away from retirement. Nonetheless, his return to the Yankees will be a welcome upgrade at shortstop and an exciting story for Yankee fans. Primarily because of Jeter's age, he is unlikely to have big impact on this or any future pennant race. All three of these injured veterans are not as good as the once were and may not be able to produce again. However, there is a clear possibility that this year the Yankees will get more production out of Rodriguez than the other two, particularly as Teixeira was not good for the 15 games he played and will not play again in 2013.
For a team that implausibly claims to try to win the World Series every year, this creates a problem both on and off the field. How do the Yankees continue to attack and seek to push out Rodriguez, as they have been doing, if he plays better than Jeter over the last 50 or so games of 2013? Similarly, how can they seek to get out from under Rodriguez's contract while continuing to employ Teixeira for almost as much money, while the latter player is not healthy and showing signs of decline that are almost as strong as those displayed by Rodriguez. Rodriguez was at one time a generational talent and the best player in the game. The chances of him putting together a few more productive years, if indeed he is allowed to play, cannot be ignored, despite the problems this might create for the Yankees and the stories they want to tell their fans and the media.
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