Most of us would love to be Alex Rodriguez. He’s got more more money than any of us could imagine, movie star looks, and is the third baseman on the most illustrious franchise in all of sports. Not to mention, he is widely thought to be one of the greatest baseball players of his era and possibly one of the best baseball players to ever play the game, period. He’s a lifetime .340 hitter with over 650 career home runs and nearly 2,000 RBI.
One would think its good to be Alex Rodriguez. Well, not so much lately – especially after the Yankees’ dramatic come from behind victory in Game 4 of the ALDS – in which Rodriguez was pinch-hit for by 40 year old platoon player Raul Ibanez.
With the Yankees trailing Orioles by a run in the ninth inning and staring a 2-1 series hole dead in the face two outs away from being on the brink of elimination from the ALDS, manager Joe Girardi called Alex Rodriguez back to the bench and inserted pinch hitter Raul Ibanez in his place. The result produced one of the most memorable games in the Yankees’ long, illustrious postseason history: Ibanez homered into the right field seats to tie the game, and then did it again in the 12th inning to win it.
Ian O’Connor of ESPN New York has already dubbed the move as the “pinch hit heard ‘round the world”.
Strangely enough, both veterans were originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners two decades ago. Not that there’s much comparison beyond that: Ibanez was taken with the 1,006th pick in 1992, A-Rod with the first pick in 1993.
And yet Girardi’s move made plenty of sense. With the bases clear and the Yankees two outs away from a loss, the situation called for a long ball. Rodriguez’s power swing has been MIA for weeks. With a right handed pitcher on the mound and Yankee Stadium’s short right field wall beckoning, the lefty swinging Ibanez was simply a better bet to go deep.
But the move underscores a developing problem for the Yankees going forward. Rodriguez – he of 647 lifetime homers and three MVP awards, one of the greatest players of all time – was pinch-hit for with a playoff game on the line. A short time ago, that would have been unthinkable. At 37, A-Rod’s skills appear to be in sharp decline. Yet thanks to a move by partner Hank Steinbrenner five years ago, the Yankees are committed to Rodriquez for $114 million plus potential bonuses for another five years, through 2017 (we haven’t heard much from Hank in the past few years – brother Hal is clearly running things now).
Yankee brass has stated its desire to drop the club’s $200 million payroll to under $190 million by 2014 in order to drastically reduce the luxury tax bill it would owe under the new collective bargaining agreement that was negotiated in 2011. The problem: in 2014, A-Rod, who will turn 39 that season, will still be making $25 million. CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, who will be 33 and 34, respectively, will take up another $46 million. And the team’s best player, Robinson Cano, still needs to be re-signed once his current deal runs out after next season. There is zero chance the Yankees will let Cano walk, or that he will be making anything less than $20 million in 2014. That adds up to at least $91 million tied up in four players.
And what if Derek Jeter, who put up a strong season this year, wants to keep going? If Jeter’s 2013 season is anything close to his 2012 season, then public relations alone would probably force the Yankees to cough up a decent contract to the captain, even as he turns 40 (Mariano Rivera? He’s vowed to do one more year, but two seems unlikely).
The Steinbrenner family naturally wants to keep selling the big money Legends Suites at their four-year-old baseball palace, and keep the value of their YES Network propped up as much as possible. But that is tough to do when a large portion of payroll is devoted to a few core players on the downside of the slope while trying to fillout the balance of the roster with younger, cheaper talent.
Remember, just a short while ago General Manager Brian Cashman was ready to let A-Rod leave when he opted out of his prior contract back in 2007, only to be overruled by the caving Hank Steinbrenner. Now Cashman has Steinbrenner to thank for making his job tougher.
Regardless, pinch-hitting for Rodriguez worked out well last night because Raul Ibanez came up big and the Yankees won the game. However, this story is going to continue to evolve and it’s going to be fascinating to see how A-Rod reacts both on and off the field moving forward in the 2012 playoffs and beyond.