Thursday, February 7, 2013

State of the Bronx: What To Do With A-Rod

(Once the story broke regarding yet another story regarding Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez and PEDs, I sent out the MAMBINO-signal to our two resident New York Yankees fans, El Miz and Bockerknocker. To my surprise, Mizzy sent me in the direction of his friend Vin and a thousand word rant on A-Rod, his contract and ensuing worthlessness. Too good to be left off of MAMBINO, this is Vin's maiden post. Let's make him feel welcome.)

KOBEsh: Vin--let's establish some baseline qualifications before you go on a fullblown rant. Having watched most games of A-Rod's Yankees career, especially the last two seasons-worth, how much do you feel he has left in the thank? A large portion of this answer has to predicated on a pretty invasive hip surgery, but regardless, what do you see as the best case scenario?

Vin: Regarding issue #1 i.e. how much does A-Rod have left in the tank, I think the answer is not much.

The number one problem for him, and this has been the case since 2008, the first year of his 10 year extension, is that he is consistently tripped up by injury. Some of these injuries have been of the nagging variety and probably have become more prevalent simply because he is getting older (2008 and 2011 are good examples). Some are much more serious and could very well be related to what now appears to be years of PED use (the hip surgeries before 2009 and 2013). Some are of the freak variety (getting hit in the hand by a King Felix fastball in 2012). But no matter how you slice it, since signing the worst contract in sports history at 10 years and $275 million, A-Rod has averaged 124 games played a season, and only 108 as a third baseman. Seemingly every spring training begins with Rodriguez talking about how he is in the best shape he's been in in years and how this offseason was the first time in years he was able to dedicated himself fully to training for some unique reason. He was even saying that at the end of this grisly October that "this is the first time in years I will be able to train without worrying about rehabbing". Coming into 2011 in particular, the buzz in the media was all about how he looked better than he had in years, how the spark in his bat was there again, and he did start out the season very strong... and ended up playing 99 games.

My point: I accepted several seasons ago that Alex Rodriguez is a 120 game a season player... or by definition not a full time player. It's hard to have a very high ceiling when that is the reality.
As for his actual production while playing, even last year he was an above average starting third baseman (.783 OPS, 18 homers in 122 games). But a quick look at his stats indicates that he is already well on the gradual decline any major leaguer eventually gravitates towards. The last season that his performance was truly elite was 2007, the last time it was great was 2009.

So, best case scenario going forward, even before these new revelations? Well, he's out at least half of this season best case, so you would pencil him in for maybe 65 games after he came back at the All-Star Break. I'd then give him 2 more seasons where you're hoping he can give you 120 games played/100 at third. But to pretend he would somehow begin to improve his performance, rather than continue to decline, after another major injury and more aging would be stupid. Add in the factor that he apparently will be off the "juice," a term I'll use to cover all the different PEDs he's apparently been helped by. I'd say the best case scenario is he is a part time third baseman/DH who provides slightly above average numbers when actually on the field for another 2-3 years before his body completely breaks down and/or he declines into a truly subpar player. But that is truly relying on the descriptor "best case."

So to summarize, we're looking at a 120-game a year player (maximum) whose production is likely to be either slightly above major league-level or merely average major league-level when playing. That's not good enough for any MLB club, let alone a perennial contender like the Yankees, and that's not even factoring in the money. A-Rod has stated that he has zero intention to retire willingly, while the team is making behind the scenes preparations to attempt a premature severing of ties with him.

KOBEsh: That all being said, how do you see this playing out with the Yankees, versus how SHOULD it play out? Are those different outcomes?

Vin: With regard to issue # 1 (how will the future play out and how should it play out), two things should be made clear first.

From ARod's perspective, the most important thing is that he is owed $114 million over the next five years. You would have to think that even ARod, who is by all accounts someone without a high level of self-awareness, understands that at this point his legacy is finished. America, as is often said, loves giving second chances. But you only get one. He will forever be known as a cheater and a liar first, a great baseball player second. And that's before getting into all the other complications that always accompanied his career outside of the PEDs. He has zero chance at making the Hall of Fame, even if voters eventually turned around on guys like Bonds and Clemens under the totally reasonable "we have no idea who was doing what then and there wasn't even testing back then" theory.

SO...ARod's primary motivation, unlike the last time he was outed for PED use, is to get as much of that money as possible. He has no reason to admit to anything and help MLB in any potential effort to suspend him for 50 games and the Yankees in any effort to void his contract. There is no downside to lawyering up and lying through his teeth--his legacy is in shreds forever and he will never be able to rebuild it. With his denials, he isn't even an Emperor with No Clothes like Lance Armstrong was for so long--he's a naked Emperor who understands he's naked and knows that trying to put his clothes back on won't lessen his embarrassment but just risk him a lot of money.

From the Yankees' perspective, they really have no reason to not to try and void his contract, even though the chances of them successfully doing so are infinitesimal. Last time A-Rod was outed, they were on the hook for another 9 years and he still presumably had a lot left in the tank. They couldn't burn the bridge.

Now? By all accounts the organization is fed up with him after he chose extra innings of an ALCS game in which he was benched during a postseason when he was completely failing to throw a ball to cute girls in the stands to get their number. There are five years left on the deal and he's already out for at least half of one of them. He does not have much left in the tank at all if his declining numbers, recent injury history, and postseason performance are indicators. They owe the guy $114 million- even a 1% chance of voiding the deal is worth publicly attempting to, considering the potential benefit (save $114 million) and the potential damage (burn a bridge with a player whose bridge is holding on by a string anyway and who has no other options than to return to your team if he does ever return).

With all that in mind- what will happen? Hard to say because there are so many variables:

1) Does A-Rod heal fully from this latest surgery?

2) If so, when does he come back?

3) Do these revelations eventually lead to a suspension and if so, when (by all accounts MLB is going to need a smokier smoking gun to suspend these guys, and that could take quite a while to procure).

In my perfect world, A-Rod has played his last game as a Yankee. The "best case" scenario for him is the possibility of a suspension is off the table due to lack of evidence and he is healthy and ready to play by after the All-Star break. In my mind, even in that scenario the Yankees should go to him and try to negotiate a buy out for some high percentage of his remaining money and, if he refuses, just pay him his $114 million to leave. I know that clubhouse chemistry is often overemphasized by fans that have never even been in a clubhouse and I have no idea how distracting a force he would actually be if he returned. BUT I just find it hard to believe the production that A-Rod would bring over the next however many years before he is bad enough and the money owed is low enough that they buy him out is worth the drama his return brings. At the very least, I know that as a fan I would be willing to take the hit to payroll and flexibility in team construction that paying him his money to go away would cause. That is how tired I am of all the A-Rod drama. I would rather be worse without him than better with him (and, as I've said, I don't think we would be that much better with him considering the netting out of what he has left and the BS that comes with his return).

Important things to keep in mind:

1) Say he returns to the team but the Yankees know he is likely to be suspended soon? They have an incentive to let him return, as they will save 50 games worth of his salary upon a suspension (not a small amount of $$) and can then cut him after his suspension is up

2) He is 14 home runs away from passing Willie Mays on the all time list and achieving his first $6 million home run milestone bonus. Would Yanks really bring him back for whatever BS production he's going to give, just to have to pay him another $6 million on top of everything?

KOBEsh: You brought it up a bit, but let's delve into it full bore. What do you think it is about A-Rod that would make him want to come back to Yankee Stadium? Is it competitiveness, or merely ego? Do you think the NY faithful will lustily boo him, or stick by their guy knowing that he's not going anywhere?

Vin: The only thing people universally admire about Alex Rodriguez is that he is obsessed with baseball and has a work ethic to go along with that obsession. One of the many things that people universally loathe about A-Rod is his apparent need to be the focus of attention at all times. So, I think it's pretty easy to analyze ARod on this one without personally knowing him. I guess the only downside to coming back is that he will have to do a big press conference/media gauntlet where he has to discuss the Biogenesis records and will have to deal with the fans', hometown and national, negative reactions to him. But for a guy who lives on baseball and notoriety, I think those possibilities are far less scary than his career and place in the spotlight ending 5 years earlier than he was expecting.

As to how will the Yankees fans react to him? I really, really hope negatively in the short term and long term. I have no doubt fans will react negatively to him initially; why wouldn't they? The last time he was seen on a baseball field he was a prominent component of the worst offensive showing in recent Yankees postseason history and reconfirming the perception, fair or not, that he sucks when it matters most. He was playing ass games with girls in the stands during a tense, extra inning playoff game after being benched for sheer incompetence despite being the highest paid player in baseball. And now he's been implicated once again as a cheater and has been proven to be an inveterate liar. I think a player being outed as a cheater and a liar for the SECOND time would test fans' loyalty to any player, even a fan favorite, and fans would feel responsible for letting said player know it, even if it meant booing him initially just to express that sense of betrayal and disapproval. And A-Rod, clearly, has never been a fan favorite in New York.

What I hope is that this negativity continues even if he succeeds on the field (spoiler alert: I don't think that success is going to be much of a problem). To me, it's pretty clear that sports fans' number one loyalty is to winning and they are willing to rationalize a lot if a player is helping the team win. And that's fine, you watch sports because you want to have fun rooting for your team, not to make moral stands. I've rooted for tons of players I didn't like because they were wearing my team's jersey--A-Rod and Clemens being the prime examples. But Rodriguez has really dragged down the Yankees franchise since joining it and has made being a Yankee fan much less fun with all his drama, both that of his own creation and that which isn't really his fault. Finding a way to root against him but for the team is going to be hard, but I'm going to try to find that balance and hope others do as well. I've rationalized the guy and his BS too many times.

KOBEsh: Keeping all your hatred of this clown in mind, how do you rationalize this with the title in 2009 he had a really strong hand in winning?

This is the only reason I was disappointed when I heard this news. I couldn't care less about A-Rod's legacy. I couldn't care less if this ends his career and if anything I will be happy about it even if it hurts the team's chances. But how do I reconcile the fact that this ruins A-Rod's legacy with the fact that the key part of his on the field legacy is the 2009 postseason, the postseason when he finally solved his "clutch" woes and carried us to a championship (and any Yankee fan that claims he wasn't the 1 or 1A reason we won those series with Sabathia being the other is either lying to himself or doesn't know baseball)? How do I watch highlights of that postseason, which brought me so much joy and satisfaction at the time, and fully enjoy them knowing what I know now when ARod is the center of every other highlight?

It sucks looking back on the 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000 championships and knowing there were key guys on those teams that were cheating, but it's pretty easy to not let it ruin your perceptions of the results because that truly was a Wild West time in baseball when we have no idea who was doing what and there wasn't even testing or a formal rule against PEDs. But 2009 was a different story. There was testing, there was a rule. And while we will never know who was doing what when fully, it can't not bother me that our postseason MVP was definitely cheating.

Can I rationalize this and be 100% OK with those memories? No. Can I try my damndest and find a way to be OK enough with them that I'll enjoy the 2009 championship? Absolutely. As these Biogenesis records show, guys are still using and we'll never know exactly who, exactly when, and exactly how it has affected the competitions. I'm a sports fan. At the end of the day, I'd much rather have a victory to rationalize than no victory at all.

One additional thought:

In addition to A-Rod having played his last game as a Yankee, this fan's best case scenario also includes him becoming a pariah after retirement, whenever that does happen.  The history speaks for itself- guys that fess up to steroid use are forgiven, accepted back into the game and society, and even celebrated, guys that continue to lie in spite of all evidence are shunned and not welcome.  Andy Pettitte, who completely regained and even expanded his Yankee legacy after being outed for HGH use, is the best example here. But even Jason Giambi, who didn't even admit doing steroids but rather offered a lame apology for unspecified crimes, has long ago been forgiven and forgotten. In 2008, his last year in NY, Giambi was embraced by the fans more strongly than ever before, racking up 32 homers and growing a goofy mustache. The guy almost just became the manager of the Rockies for Christ's sake.

Bonds and Clemens, however, are generally regarded as cheaters and liars, national disgraces or national punchlines depending how seriously you view PED use.  Many mainstream media people have said "Well, A-Rod can just lie and lie--it worked for Clemens and it will work for him."  But it didn't work for Clemens!  Clemens' goal was to convince the general public that he didn't use PEDs and he has convinced no one.  Along the way, he was charged with serious crimes and, yes, he got off on the charges but his goal in denying it all certainly wasn't to be charged with a crime, rack up zillions in lawyer fees, and then get off free.  It was to clear his name.  If anything, his name is only more sullied than when he started.

Clemens and Bonds have probably put themselves in a position where they can't even backtrack and tell the truth because of legal issues, at least until some statute of limitations expires, and even if they did it would likely be received how Lance's admission and apology was: too little, too late.  A-Rod is setting himself up for the same treatment; but with so much money at stake, with even a 50 game suspension potentially costing him millions, he needs to lie.  And that behavior will finish his name off forever.  If he ever does come clean in the future, it will be too little, too late.  To be fair, I don't even think an admission and an apology now will help him much (as I said previously, you only get one second chance).  He will be lucky to get a Yankees press conference whenever he does retire. He can forget about any retired numbers, any Alex Rodriguez Day, any Old Timers' Games.  Looking at Bonds, at least he still has sanctuary in San Francisco.  A-Rod will be more comparable to Clemens' situation, but perhaps even worse.  He will be one of the greatest players of all time, without a home team to call his own in retirement, loathed by every fan base he played in front of.


  1. Like - We want more Vin!!!!!!!!!!

  2. This Vin guy sounds like a rather shifty character. Not sure I would trust him as far as I could throw him.