Published October 17, 2012
Alex Rodriguez is as good as gone.
He was the most feared hitter of his generation once. Now he's an afterthought.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said as much in the aftermath of Tuesday night's AL championship series Game 3 loss to the Tigers. What may turn out to have been New York's last chance to change the course of the series came in the ninth inning with two on and two out and left-handed reliever Phil Coke on the mound. Instead of bringing the right-handed Rodriguez in to pinch-hit, or even as a decoy to force his Detroit counterpart, Jim Leyland, to turn to right-handed reliever Joaquin Benoit, Girardi elected to roll the dice once more with the Raul Ibanez.
Unlike when Girardi played a similar hunch last week against Baltimore, letting Ibanez pinch-hit for Rodriguez, the left-handed veteran struck out to end the game.
"Joe, did you consider hitting Alex or a right(-handed) hitter?" a reporter asked. "What went through your mind there when Ibanez came up?"
"Well," Girardi replied, "they were going to bring in Benoit."
"So you liked that first matchup better than the other one?"
"Ibanez has been one of our best hitters down the stretch here," Girardi said matter-of-factly.
Thanks to that thicket of statistics Girardi has within arm's reach in the dugout, he knew the percentages the Yankees were up against. On the one hand, Benoit has yielded seven home runs against right-handed batters this season; on the other, Rodriguez was .158 in his career off Benoit, with one home run, slightly better than the 0-for-17 — with 12 strikeouts — he's posted against right-handers this postseason. Anyone who doubts Girardi has effectively given up on A-Rod simply had to look at who was in the on-deck circle when Ibanez struck out — the similarly struggling, but left-handed hitting Nick Swisher.
And though Girardi hasn't said as much, he hasn't lost sleep over whether his decision to bench Rodriguez has damaged their relationship.
"Of course that's something that you have to worry about," Girardi said recently. "But I don't think you can worry about it today. Relationships go through their ups and downs, no matter who they are, and you have a chance to rebuild them."
Or end them.
Rodriguez has never been a comfortable fit with the Yankees. He's a target for the tabloids, even when he's not in the game, a reminder of which came with a report in the New York Post that he spent some of his time on the bench Saturday night flirting with two fans two rows behind the New York dugout. And at 37, with his skills in decline, he still has five years and $114 million guaranteed to run on his contract, plus the power to veto a trade. But that doesn't mean it can't happen.
In the National League, Atlanta could use a name to replace Chipper Jones at third. Rodriguez also would be a fit at third for Miami, where he grew up and owns a home that he's trying to unload for $38 million. The Dodgers' new ownership hasn't been shy about accumulating high-priced talent and current third baseman Luis Cruz isn't going to help sell tickets.
But A-Rod to the American League seems like a better deal all around. His current contract contains a number of bonuses for career milestones — all home runs — and his best chance to eventually reach those is as a designated hitter.
Based on his performance this season, Rodriguez would be an immediate upgrade at third over the platoon of Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo the Los Angeles Angels deployed this season and he'd be popular with the team's Latino fan base as long as he remained productive.
Even the Chicago White Sox might be an option, since the club has made a habit of taking on fading stars in recent years, so long as the price is right. Best of all, though, might be the Houston Astros, who have money to throw around as a result of an agreement with Major League Baseball to move to the AL next season, and desperately could use the buzz.
That said, not one of those clubs is likely to consider Rodriguez at the full retail price. But the Yankees have a history of unloading high-priced talent by continuing to pay part of the bill and estimates the team would have to fork over somewhere between 50 and 75 percent of his salary for the next five years aren't necessarily a deal-breaker. Not after this postseason.
Recently, Yankees President Randy Levine was asked whether he thought A-Rod would still be wearing pinstripes when his current deal ended in 2017. He told ESPN Radio in New York, "That's like one of those questions: Where's the stock market going to be in 2017, who's going to be president on Nov. 15?
"If I had crystal ball to predict all of that stuff, I'd be a lot smarter than I am," he added. "I'm not going to go there."
Not yet, anyway, and not before this season comes to a merciful conclusion. But Rodriguez lost the fans long ago, and from the sound of things Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman might not be too far behind.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.