DETROIT – The simple part of the Alex Rodriguez dilemma is the conclusion the New York Yankees have had with the player now that he's 37, can't hit, has $117 million coming and won't behave himself on the end of the bench.
In that way, in fact, there's no dilemma at all.
Of course the Yankees would prefer he be younger, healthier and more productive. They would feel the same way about Bernie Williams, probably. The more grounded among them shivered when brother Hank came out of the shadows five years ago to, in a single pen stroke, save the day and ruin the rest of their lives. Now here they are, up to their interlocking NY's in regret.
The hard part is what now. What now over a winter in which the mood should be grim, the demand for change high, and the opportunities to improve limited. What now as A-Rod reaches an age when his numbers should decline, when his mobility should force him to DH and when he should not be the same guy anymore, but when he's being compensated as if he's 29. What now when everybody else notices, too.
As Rodriguez himself said when stopped before batting practice Wednesday evening, hours before Game 4 would be called because of looming weather, "Look, there's blood in the water."
As usual, it's his type.
The slump. The boos. The disaster of the ALCS. The Australian bikini model in the stands. Donald Trump. And sometime between Games 3 and 4 here, rumors that the Miami Marlins might have some love for A-Rod, because, you know, that's a franchise in need of a sideshow.
According to ESPN New York, Yankees president Randy Levine and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria held the following conversation:
Loria: "Alex is Mr. Miami. It would be great if he played here for us."
Levine: "You can have him."
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Rodriguez was benched again for Game 4 of the ALCS, because the Detroit Tigers were to start right-hander Max Scherzer, and Rodriguez has become an October platoon player. The Tigers have no left-handed starters, making Joe Girardi's job even easier.
So A-Rod sits, unhappily, but without disrupting the ballclub. (The Tigers are doing fine without him on that score.) He deflects questions about the blunder from Down Under. He exists somewhere between Girardi's daily lineup decisions and guesses about whether he'd wave his no-trade clause to play in Miami. And then whatever else is whirling around out there.
"When you don't play well, and I haven't played well, some of the criticism I've received … I can take that," he told reporters pregame. "Well deserved. That other stuff – gossip or Page Six – I don't give a [hoot] about that. We're here to cover baseball.
"I do think some of the criticism out there is very fair and I can live with that. But some of the other stuff is not fair."
He does it all in a hoodie and with almost no chance to see the field.
"I really feel that in my heart, any time I'm in that lineup the team is a better team, without any question," he told reporters. "We'll disagree there to the end, but I like Joe. I support Joe. Our job right now is to come together like a family. There's tons of distractions, there's a lot of wedges trying to be driven between us, and it's not going to happen."
The general manager, Brian Cashman, said Wednesday he'd had no recent conversation with the Marlins, calling reports to the contrary, "One-hundred percent false." That doesn't mean Levine couldn't already have started the process. History suggests A-Rod transactions have a top-down dynamic.
Instead, Cashman attempted to stay in the near-moment. There's still a series to play, or what's left of it. Game 4 will be Thursday afternoon, a 4:07 p.m. start locally. And A-Rod isn't his only problem. Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher aren't hitting either. A-Rod is the only one among them who can't bat left-handed, so he pays with his spot in the lineup.
"We will go forward," Cashman said. "Alex will go forward. You know, the one thing about this game, as we've all appreciated over time, is that you're going to have good times and you're going to have some tough times. … Opportunities will exist to continue to get back off that mat and get back in the ring and battle. And Alex is going to wait for that opportunity."
It is too soon to know whether that comes in New York, Miami or elsewhere. It's too soon to know if A-Rod can be A-Rod again, or some percentage of A-Rod. Through various injuries and plain poor at-bats, his OPS has fallen every season since 2007, when he was AL MVP. He's trending in a bad direction, aging in the usual direction, earning in a northerly direction. General managers often notice such inclinations.
In spite of the salary and performance complications, A-Rod could be seeing his final hours as a Yankee. I don't believe that. His value, for one, has never been lower. Some will say, "Wait a day." I'll wait six months, see then. I'll let him get strong. I'll give him at-bats. I'll give him third, or give him DH and Derek Jeter third. I'll try to make it work. Actually, I'll allow him to work, see what it looks like come April and May, and only then consider paying him to finish his career elsewhere.
"No, no, I don't think he's a shot player," Girardi said. "I think he's a guy that's going through some struggles, similar to what [Granderson] has gone through the last month-and-a-half or whatever. And there's some things that you have to try to fix and get him going."
I don't believe he's done. The opinion stands with the minority. Therein lies the dilemma.
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