While the Yankees were busy celebrating Derek Jeter’s ascension into the 3,000-hit club last weekend, a more sobering reality now confronts them in the second half. The question isn’t will the Bombers still score runs with Alex Rodriguez on the disabled list for four to six weeks — they will — but what kind of production will they get from him in August and beyond?
Cardinals’ Lance Berkman among those likely to have a second-half swoon.
A-Rod’s latest setback, a torn meniscus in his right knee, is relatively minor as knee injuries go. He’ll recover fully. But it’s one more reminder that the soon-to-be-36-year-old Rodriguez is already in his early decline phase. His slugging percentage has dipped in each of the past four seasons, prompting one talent evaluator to say, “At his age, we’ve probably seen the last of (A-Rod) hitting 50 (homers a season).”
But it’s more than just numbers with Rodriguez — the Yankees are worried about his ability to stay on the field as he gets closer to 40. Ten years ago, A-Rod was practically indestructible, playing in 1,114 games from age 25 through 31, an average of 159 per season.
Since 2008, however, hobbled by hip, knee, shoulder and calf problems, A-Rod’s durability is no longer a given; his average has dipped to 133 games a year. This year Rodriguez is at 80 games, which means he’ll have to play nearly every day down the stretch to make it to 130.
All this does is strengthen the case to convert A-Rod to a full-time DH in 2012, as the Yankees anticipated they someday would have to. But the price of brittle bones and creaking joints is steep, as the Bombers are playing $32 million for a singles hitter.
Rodriguez ended the first half with a streak of 85 at-bats without a home run, the longest of his career. It’s worth noting A-Rod is still a threat with a .295 average, but his new profile is almost unrecognizable: Rodriguez was only fourth among the Yankees in home runs and OPS at the time of his disablement, but he was leading the team in singles.
Not to worry, says hitting instructor Kevin Long, who believes Rodriguez will be poised for a strong finish after a month of rehab. Still, it’s a stretch to think A-Rod can re-create the HR/AB ratio of his past.
Take a look at the players Jeter will join in the 3,000 hit club.
In fact, he’s in jeopardy of ending his streak of 13 straight seasons of at least 30 homers and 100 RBI. Currently at 13 homers and 52 RBI, Rodriguez still might reach the century mark in RBI, but 25 homers might become the new normal for A-Rod. If so, he’ll have to stay off the DL and be productive at age 41 and 42 if he’s going to catch Barry Bonds’ all-time homer record — A-Rod is 136 shy.
Whether that is possible is anyone’s guess. One major league executive said, “You have to remember you’re talking about an admitted steroid user, so who knows if his body is going to start to break down faster now that he’s getting older. We don’t have data on that. It’s unquantifiable.”
The other intangible is the intensity of Rodriguez’s offseason workouts, which are as taxing as anyone’s in the game. A-Rod doesn’t simply lift weights and run, he destroys himself in sand-pit drills, high-speed plyometric movements, uphill sprints, stairs and spinning classes, not to mention rolling off as many as 18 110-yard runs in a row. And that’s before A-Rod hits the weight room.
Whether those workouts are building A-Rod up or ultimately breaking him down is open to debate. One person who is familiar with the particulars of the workouts said, “Alex is a specimen, but it’s up to him to figure out” whether he’s punished himself to an excess.
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The Yankees certainly expect more from A-Rod than a .485 slugging percentage — at least for what they’re paying. The best-case scenario is that Rodriguez experiences a burst of energy and power down the stretch, and the homer-less drought becomes nothing more than a blip.
But there’s a flip side, too — a steady procession of minor, nagging injuries that strip A-Rod of his elite status once and for all. As Joel Sherman of the New York Post aptly put it, the danger the Yankees face is that Rodriguez ends up becoming a financial albatross.
Have the Mets only begun to deal?
The news that Francisco Rodriguez was traded to the Brewers was surprising only in its timing, as Mets general manager Sandy Alderson completed the swap an hour after the All-Star Game. The reason, he said, was the desire (and need) to move K-Rod before the market became flooded with relievers.
Obviously, the Mets were going to shed K-Rod regardless of cost; even the financially distressed Wilpons figured it was worth the $5 million sent to the Brewers as protection against Rodriguez’s $17.5 million option for 2012. With a 1.406 WHIP and declining velocity, K-Rod was high-profile baggage.
But what about Carlos Beltran, who appears to be next on the Mets’ to-trade list? Alderson says he’ll move more cautiously.
In his opinion, the Mets have the most talented commodity on the market, which means the GM can afford to be patient. What Alderson didn’t say is that his strategy could depend largely on how the Mets perform in the next two weeks. While they still can compete for the wild-card without K-Rod —Jason Isringhausen and Bobby Parnellwill share the closer’s role — dealing Beltran would signal the beginning of the rebuilding phase.
The Giants are the early (and logical) favorites to land Beltran, although Alderson, smart poker player that he is, said on Wednesday the Mets would “love to keep Carlos.”