If Alex Rodriguez became a free agent tomorrow and signed a six-year, $143 million contract this winter, it would be rightly flogged as one of the worst deals in baseball. Well, the Yankees are on the hook with A-Rod for precisely those terms.
The Yankees’ problem with Rodriguez does not boil down to those two un-clutch at-bats last night. Sure, Rodriguez made the two biggest outs of the biggest game of the Yankees season, their 3-2, Game 5 loss to the Tigers. He struck out with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh and with the bases empty and two outs in the ninth.
You would like the highest-paid professional athlete in the history of North American team sports to deliver in those spots. The at-bats polished off a 2-for-18, six-strikeout ALDS for Rodriguez, a nightmare for all involved aside from the Tigers and the New York tabloid headline writers.
But let’s not forget, just for last night, he was facing Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde, a pair of nasty, right-handed relievers. The easy narrative is that A-Fraud choked again, and it’s not altogether wrong. But that would also overlook the excellence of Benoit and Valverde. They were just better than Rodriguez last night, and there is no shame for Rodriguez in that.
No, the Yankees’ problem with Rodriguez does not boil down to last night, ugly as it was. The problem lies in the years ahead.
Rodriguez will turn 37 in late July next year and will be 42 when the contract he signed after the 2007 season runs out. Age, with those six years left on his contract, has already caught up to him. Rodriguez has not played 140 games in a season since 2007, and he played 99 this year. His OPS+ has gone down four straight years, from 176 in 2007 to 150 to 138 to 123 to 116 this year. A-Rod is one of the best ever. He will not become the first player in baseball history to beat Father Time.
Rodriguez’s injury history and aging process have reduced his mobility to the point that, most likely, he will soon have to become a full-time designated hitter. The Yankees will have to find – and pay – another third baseman. And for the next six years they will be hard-pressed to give any of their regular players a day of relative rest at DH because Rodriguez will be clogging that spot.
Rodriguez had an awful final night of the 2011 season. The future for the Yankees is the worst part.