HOUSTON — If you watch Alex Rodriguez daily, it is apparent that his slow fade into oblivion as an important member of the New York Yankees is killing him. How could it not?
He is one of the great players of all-time, who, as recently as 12 months ago, was feared at the plate. Last year, after hitting a home run on his 40th birthday, his 24th of the season, he had a .916 OPS. He would go on to finish with 33 home runs and ended the year by being an analyst on Fox’s broadcast of the World Series. His post-PED suspension comeback was classic A-Rod.
Currently, Rodriguez is beginning semi-retirement, while still collecting a hefty check. Yankees manager Joe Girardi has not started him in the past five games, including Wednesday night’s 4-1 loss to the Houston Astros.
There is a chance he may sneak into the lineup against at least one of the Tampa Bay Rays’ lefties this weekend before the Yankees play at the New York Mets for two games, where, without the designated hitter, he is without a position.
This means Rodriguez will play one or two games at most out of the next five. He may not even get that many.
Rodriguez doesn’t play the field and, with a .206 average, nine homers and a .609 OPS, hasn’t hit enough this season. His confidence has waned so much that he asked the Yankees advanced stats guy for some reassurance that he has something left.
But here is the thing, Rodriguez is doing a solid job of handling this slide publicly. He continues to say the right things and support his team, even as it becomes obvious the situation is embarrassing for someone so full of pride.
“I’m getting old,” Rodriguez said before Wednesday’s game when asked about his 41st birthday. “It makes you feel grateful, not a lot of 41-year-olds get to wear a baseball uniform every day. … I definitely feel grateful for health, family, friends and just the opportunity to wear pinstripes.”
Rodriguez is also doing the right things, which, of course, is cushioned by the $20 million this year and the $20 million next year he is owed. He is working hard, trying to improve, waiting for his chance, while at an entirely unfamiliar position for him: the bench.
“It is humbling,” Rodriguez said. “When I first started to play this game, as a a young lad, I never thought I’d be playing in the major leagues for so long; especially at 41. I’m representing all the senior citizens.”
The open secret about Rodriguez’s comeback last year was that his return was predicated on his at-bats. He hit and so he was largely forgiven.
If Carlos Beltran is still on the team after Monday’s trade deadline, it doesn’t seem like Rodriguez will be given much of an opportunity to play. Beltran will DH a lot, while Rodriguez has no other position, as his first base idea hasn’t been well received by the Yankees and seems pretty much abandoned.
Rodriguez reminisced about his baseball life a year ago when he celebrated his 40th birthday. He hit that home run in a win over Texas and, afterward, threw a party for the entire team. “Every year has different challenges,” Rodriguez said. “I started the season last year on fire. Hopefully, I can finish this season on fire. Just reverse it.”
It is hard to figure out how he does that, if he doesn’t play. Before Wednesday’s loss, I asked Girardi about how he could imagine using Rodriguez in the game.
“There are a lot of different ways that things happen in a game,” Girardi said. “I had him up to pinch-hit the other day [but didn’t use him]. There are a lot of different things that can happen. I don’t have an exact scenario. We’ll see what happens.”
Rodriguez did not play.