Who Cleans Up in 2012?

Most of the debates that take place before a new season regarding the New York Yankees are as predictable as pitchers and catchers arriving in late February.  I’ve come to expect most of these debates and just assume that the rotation, batting order, and relief pitching roles will be scrutinized until the very first lineup card is made on opening day.

Debates are really what this time of the year is all about. They’re a way to pass the time and expel the nervous energy that many baseball fans feel as a new season approaches. As fans or media, that is what we do. We debate and postulate endless theories and possibilities of the season to come. It’s not often I’m caught off guard by a possible topic of debate, so when more than one Yankee fan asked me who I thought should be the cleanup hitter in 2012 I have to admit I was surprised.

It’s my opinion that Yankee fans are as well-educated and informed about their team as any fans in existence. They’ve always had every Yankee game available on cable TV and a treasure trove of solid media covering the Yankees on radio,  in print, and now more than ever on the internet.  You can wander into Twitter at any time of the day on any day of the year and find thousands of Yankee related tweets just waiting to be read.  The upside of this never-ending barrage of Yankee conversation and coverage is the awareness that Yankee fans have about their team.  One of the downsides is that the intensity with which the Yankees are covered can make a sub par season seem far more dramatic than it actually is.

No Yankee in my lifetime has been the lightning rod of controversy that A-Rod has been.  From his admitted PED use to his postseason failures to his high-profile women to his massive contract there has never been a shortage of controversy surrounding him.  Through it all, the one constant associated with A-Rod has been his regular season performance as the Yankee cleanup hitter. I see no reason why removing A-Rod from that role should even be considered and think the naysayers are really jumping the gun on A-Rod’s “demise”.

Yes, I know, when we last saw A-Rod  he we was futilely flailing at pitches with a heavily taped thumb in the ALDS. It was another ugly chapter in the postseason history of A-Rod as a Yankee. His postseason failures dating from the 2004 ALCS all the way through the 2007 ALDS made him the target of very well deserved criticism that defined his Yankee career until 2009. There never has been nor will be a good excuse for A-Rod’s performance in those four consecutive postseason series and to his credit he never offered any.

His redemption in the 2009 postseason seemed  to have given him a clean start with his teammates, management, and Yankee fans. Forgiveness for what he had done in the postseason from 2004-2007 wasn’t ever going to be offered, but he seemed to be back to square one, which was a lot better place than he had been in. A-Rod had solidified himself in Yankee history by coming through when it mattered and it appeared life would be easier for him in New York.

A-Rod’s offseason hip surgery delayed his debut in 2010. Admittedly  rushing his return back to the team before he was fully ready to play, he experienced a drop in BA/OBP (.270/.341) but still hit 30 home runs and drove in 125 runs. Not a bad year for a guy who was getting surgery when everyone else was taking spring training batting practice.  A decent playoff series against the Twins followed the 2010 regular season but an awful ALCS showing against the Rangers incited the cries of “same old A-Rod”.   His 2010 season may have started and ended on low notes, but the stuff in between was pretty good.

A-Rod showed up to camp in 2011 looking better than he had in years. His sculpted physique still looked like that of the tremendous athlete he’d always been. His tape measure shots in spring training games and comments about his state of mind and health raised the bar on his expectations for 2011 even higher. A-Rod began 2011 in fine form. His average and OBP rose back to expected levels. He looked to be on his way to another great regular season before a passed ball was to change his fate. On June 19th in an interleague game against the Cubs, A-Rod broke for home from third base on a passed ball and then changed his mind and went back. It would have been much better for A-Rod and the Yankees if he had just kept going to home and made an out. In the process of pulling up and heading back to third base A-Rod suffered the first of two injuries that would turn his 2011 season into a nightmare.

On the day A-Rod hurt his knee  in Chicago he had gone 3-4, raising his average to .289, and drove in his 43rd run of the year. He had 13 home runs at that point and his OBP was .372.  He continued to play through July 7th, still hitting but totally absent of power, riding an 0-85 streak of homerless at bats. Arod’s stats at the time he elected to undergo surgery were .295/.366,  13 HR, and 52 RBI.  Even with his injured knee compromising him from June 20th-July 7th A-Rod was more than holding up his end of the deal as the Yankee cleanup hitter.

After knee surgery deemed successful, A-Rod rejoined the lineup on August 21st against the Twins.  The excitement of A-Rod’s return was short-lived, as he suffered a badly jammed left thumb trying to make a backhanded play on a Joe Mauer ground ball in his very first game back from the knee injury.

It was all downhill for A-Rod from there. Trying to play through a great deal of pain was bad. Even worse? Hitting coach Kevin Long improvised a split grip on the bat for A-Rod to use, with his hands separated by a half-inch of adhesive tape on the handle to ease the pressure on his injured thumb.  It just didn’t work and it wasn’t realistic for anyone to think that it would. To expect a 36-year-old veteran to succeed with an unorthodox grip and great pain is unrealistic.  A-Rod is an all-time great but he’s not superhuman. He failed to regain his rhythm and was totally lacking confidence at the plate. He looked like a shell of himself in the 2011 ALDS.   The last image left of his season was a strikeout to end game 5 and send the Yankees home.  As he walked away from home plate with his head down he looked like an injured, dejected player, which was exactly what he was.

So did 2011 mark the end of A-Rod? Of course not. Its one thing to view an aging star with apprehension after a bad season. It’s another thing to take one very unlucky season with legitimate injury excuses and declare  the end for one of the best athletes to ever play the game.

In the offseason A-Rod visited Germany upon the advice of NBA star Kobe Bryant to have Orthokine therapy performed on his knee and shoulder.  Orthokine therapy involves a healing activator used in blood-spinning treatments.  The effect this treatment will have on A-Rod are yet to be seen but it must be viewed as positive that A-Rod took an aggressive step to be as good as he could be physically for the 2012 season.

It’s always been my rule of thumb never to declare any star athlete finished off of one sub par season. This is especially valid when that sub par season had legitimate injury excuses.

It’s way too early to declare A-Rod finished or done. For all of his postseason disappointments, A-Rod has been an anchor as the Yankee cleanup hitter since his arrival in 2004.  There is absolutely no reason to believe that a healthy A-Rod won’t perform up to the level he was performing  before his injuries last year.  He’s one of the best cleanup men in Yankee and MLB history and any talk of moving him out of that role is as premature as it is irresponsible.  You have to ask yourself if people would be in a such a hurry to declare him done if he was a warm and fuzzy kind of guy or if his legacy of postseason failures wasn’t so extreme.   New York is a town that honors its postseason heroes forever.  The names Dent, Tyree, and Matteau are as pleasantly spoken as Ruth, Manning, and Messier. New York is hard on its postseason failures.

It sometimes sounds like people want him to be done, out of anger and disappointment for his off the field behavior and failure to come through in big moments.   People wishing that does not make it so.  His detractors will get their wish one of these years, but it’s not going to be this year. I expect Joe Girardi to write the name Alex Rodriguez in the cleanup spot on opening day against the Rays and that’s exactly where he belongs until he proves otherwise.  There is still enough time in A-Rod’s career to rewrite his legacy, but he needs to start rewriting it this year.

About Michael P.

I am a Saratoga Springs, Ny resident whose been sports obsessed since I was 5 years old.

Posted on February 20, 2012, in Personal Opinion and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 30 Comments.

  1. Great first article Michael! I especially like the last sentence that you said “There’s still enough time in A-Rod’s career to rewrite his legacy, but he needs to start rewriting it this year.”

    I get the feeling A-Rod will bounce back, but again it’s all up to A-Rod to make it happen. Also let’s hope that knee treatment that he got in Germany worked for him.

  2. Nice job on the first article Michael. I really hope the Germany procedure works and A-Rod has a huge year. That will take alot of the pressure off the other guys.

  3. Thanks Matt. I just wish there were a German doctor who had a procedure to help Texeira go to the opposite field. 🙂

  4. I think even if the knee procedure is a great success we have to be realistic in our expectations for Alex who will be 37 this season.. The knee injury only cropped up in June 2011 and Alex has seen a steady decline now for 4 straight seasons.

    If the knee & thumb are healthy, he still has to contend with a surgically repaired hip and old Father Time so his best days are behind him. He can still be a very productive hitter but gone are the days when the Centaur used to hit .315 with 45-55 HRs and a 1.000+ OPS.

    If healthy I’d expect him to be in line with his performance up to the knee injury in June, so I’d be very happy with a .290/.370/.510/.880 with 27 HRs & 95 RBIs. The big key for me is for him to be 100% come Sept/Oct.

  5. His “legacy of postseason failures” is greatly overstated. If any player except A-Rod did what he has done in the postseason, it would not be considered a failure.

    With him people play the game of, “well if you take out a few Twins series and take out games 1-3 in Boston in 2004 and take out 2009” ……If you cherry pick everyones careers like that, you could make a case that any player is a postseason failure.

  6. Great article Michael…
    Michaels article shows the one complaintI have had with a few Yankee fans. We have a player older then A-Rod playing (a below avg) SS with all the signs of regression and a 20+ point drop in BA and almost no power.
    At 3rd base we have one of the best all around baseball players in the last 25 years or more. He plays through his injuries, even with his injuries he had a respectable year for most 3rd basemen…not a normal A-Rod year.
    A-Rod never made excuses, he was a man an took the shots from fans and many reporters…most of whom never played the game at all, just read stats and say he sucks! Maybe they should tape up their thumb and get in the batting cage.
    News Flash; Without your hands (thumb), Hips (hip injury) and legs (knee), you could be “The Babe” and you ain’t gona hit much a’tall!
    Some of you may not like A-Rod, and some of the things he has done over the years. I will not try to excuse him from his drug use, just remember…he quit on his own! He is not the most likable guy around, ask him a question and you may end up with the truth instead of all the PC junk most players say. But he has been and still is, the best of the best, although now…maybe, one of the two best! 🙂

  7. Maybe I’m living under a rock but where are all these Yankee fans that supposedly hate ARod? It was defenitely widespread in his early Yankee years when he was clearly pressing way too hard and struggled in the post-season from 04-07. Then he opted out of his contract costing the team tens of millions from Texas and finally the steroid denials and later admission. Let’s be real, he brought a lot of his problems upon himself.

    But after his awesome ALDS & ALCS in 2009 which he carried the team into the WS against the Phillies, I really don’t encounter much resentment from any Yankee fans towards him anymore. Is there another site filled with A-Rod haters because it seems most commenters here support ARod.

  8. Personally, I am a skeptic by nature although I feel I’m more a realist. I see ARod as a huge key to this season and think he should continue hitting 4th. I think he’ll have a productive season but it’s a fact that he is nowhere near the same player he once was. That’s not a knock on him it’s just a fact. How many 37-yr-olds have had elite seasons especially with the serious injuries he’s endured. I think a realistic goal for him would be .290/.370/.510/.880 with 27 HRs & 95 RBIs. Does anyone realisticly expect much more than that?

    I really don’t hold it against Alex for using roids because it was so interwined with the culture of MLB in the 80s to early 2000s – especially in the D.R. And the sad thing is that Alex probably did not need any of the unnatural strength to be an all-time great. However I really have to beleive that his past steroid abuse is a contributing factor in some/all of the injuries he’s endured since 2009. Human joints weren’t meant to deal with the added stress & pressure from unnatural muscle formation & strength from steroids.

    I’m no Alex hater but I think the time of him and Jeter leading the way for this team is past. They can still be very important players at 37 but guys like Tex, Granderson, Cano, Gardner & Swish are the ones who need to elevate their games and lead this team in 2012 and beyond.

    • Fishjam…
      Good day to you. I think you done done good! I like your reply, it is very well done!
      Let me start off by copying one of your lines (almost), I do so because it applies to me, as if I had to tell anyone. “I am a skeptical pessimist by nature although I feel I’m more a hard line realist.”
      Maybe you have forgotten a few of the posters that had kind words for A-Rod…A-Roid on down the line to junky.
      But that misses my point, my point was more like…why are some fans trying to write off A-Rod but yet say Jeter (who is the older one) is ok for 3 more years as a SS. The Yankees made the same (but more so) mistake with Jeter (and A-Rod) they made with Posada…contract to long! Where is he going to play after this year, if his hitting continues on the down slop…there is no place for him anymore! My hope is, if he has a so so, or a good year, he says; “I’m out of here”! Go out on top Jeter!

      I am going to end with the same four lines you did…almost!
      I’m no Jeter hater but I think the time of him and A-Rod leading the way for this team is past. A-Rod can still be a very important player at 37 but guys like Tex, Granderson, Cano, Gardner & Swish are the ones who need to elevate their games and lead this team in 2012 and beyond.

  9. Guys take a look at all the great hitters in baseball history and you will find out that at age 36 its over.Yeah some guys stick around for sellfish reasons but once regression sets in 99% of the time the player is finished.
    Now lets look at AROD.
    His hip surgery has no guarentee and is so new that predictions on its lasting effect don’t exist.
    Fans just don’t realise how important the hips are to hitting.Arod’s knee trouble and shoulder issues stem from his hip problems.
    Arod was also a steroid abuser,causing all kinds of skelital issues as he ages.
    He turns 37 this summer and that is the age all hitters decline,add the fact that this guy has serious health issues and predicting him to be anything other than a player in regessive decline is foolish.
    Question to all the experts why can’t arod hit LHP’S ANYMORE????

    • I think the problem is that lefties are pitching him inside. you hit the nail on the head about the hips and I would also add the his trail knee or leg as well being absolutely essential to hitting for power. With his injuries last year, he could not rotate on his back leg to generate any power and create bat speed. Loss of bat speed leads to not being able to hit the inside pitch because you cannot clear your hips and get the barrel of the bat out in front. I watched A Rod pop harmless pop up pitches that he used to destroy….

      • You are absolutely right Rob.

        ARod doesn’t have the flexibility in his hips that he used to use to turn on the inside pitch so Lefties can get into his kitchen. Righties with good arm-side tail/sink also give him problems.

        The bottom line with ARod is he can still be productive because 70% of a superstar is still a very good player. But anyone predicting a renaissance of Alex to the player he once was will be left disappointed.

        ARod was very good before the knee injury but his power was no where near what it was. he was on pace for about 26-28 HRs which is what he could do this yr with optimum health. But the days of a 600 SLG% and 45-55 HRs are gone.

    • Ballpark…
      I say with all respect and the knowledge you understand and can express hitting much better then I can.
      I had pointed out some of the problems of hitting with; hand, hip and knee injures the other day. As for his hip, he was going strong until he hurt his knee then his thumb. As we saw his play was very good at 3rd base, so I would say his hip was ok last year. If so, then his hip will be even better this year.
      According to my Doctor, steroids if only used for a short time (less than 3+ years) and not the stronger dose…has no known physical problems in later years.
      Now as to age, when I was saying age is catching up to Jeter and his contract is two years too long. Fans were calling me a Jeter Hater when Jeter is a year older than A-Rod and is playing a more demanding position at SS. Jeter will decline faster than A-Rod by far. Most HR hitters can be very productive into their late 30s and as a DH into their 40s. Batting avg hitters are not able to do as well because they need to keep a high BA to be worth their position on the team.
      As for his not hitting lefty, Rob has written what we have talked about before (last year) bat speed and the reasons for the loss it.!
      Now you know more about hitting then I do…granted. I can see a hitter and tweak him a bit but, not change him.
      A-Rod will have a comeback year in 2012, my prediction. 🙂

  10. Fishjam and old Yankee, I’m an optimist by nature, or the glass half full. Jeter and A-Rod are immortal players not just Hall of Famers. They should be able to chose when to retire like Mo. It is up to Girardi to play them at the right positions in the line-up and on the field. Both seem to be more than capable if healthy at this point. The next 4 years will be transitional for the Yanks and Jeter and A-Rod. Like Mo, the harder thing to do will be to replae them. Cashman is doing everything he can to make this transition smooth. After all the Yanks did win the most games in the AL last year, and the playoffs are a crap shoot, with the team that gets hot and lucky coming out on top. As for the steriods, HGH, and amphetamines 90% of the players where taking something, it’s a non issue in my book. The players that have been outed are just the tip of the ice berg. There are many cheaters in the HOF.

  11. This is a fantastic article Michael!! I appreciate fans and writers like you, who can see perfectly clear all of A-Rod’s failings, and not allow that to cloud your judgment on how truly valuable and capable he still is. Thank you for telling the TRUTH.

  12. Excellent article! I am one of those guys who believes A Rod still has a lot of good years left in him. As you so succinctly pointed out, A Rod was doing just fine before he injured his knee. Does anyone rememember him being on pace for an MVP caliber season for April and most of May? I think he will bounce back this year just like he did in 09 and will help us win another title. He is a key ingredient in the success of this team, no matter how many people want to criticize him!

  13. Rob…
    You, Rasheeda and Michael have the ability to see things as they are…not as one may think it is. Some fans will not let-up on A-Rod even though they themselves, may have used drugs as younger kids. When it is brought to their attention…they say; “oh, I was just a kid back then and gave it up”! Well, back then, A-Rod was 26 years old and on a team where most every one was a drug user. He found he didn’t like the stuff and gave it up on his own.
    Andy got a pass, but not A-Rod!!!!
    Anyhow, you fans have it nailed, good for you. 🙂

  14. A- Rod in some ways reminds me of Roberto Clemente, they both were seem to have been misunderstood. Clemente really only became a positive after his death. A-Rod just seems like a lightning rod for controversy. I see him as an Immortal and Hall of Famer.

  15. By the way, did you see where Braun got off. This was a joke. Selig used to own the Brewers and Braun gets off scott free. MLB holds the test for 2 days to long, and Braun’s test is leaked by his lawyers, what a scam. This is corruption at it’s best.

  16. A-Rod is in no way a role model and I will never like him as a person, but yes, A-Rod is still and always has been essential to the Yankees’ success and I’m hoping, but not guaranteeing, a bounce-back year from him. The way Kobe exploded out of the gate for the Lakers should be a sign the Orthokine treatment does work, so we’ll see how A-Rod does. And don’t look at what he does in the spring. Remember how great he looked in Tampa, and a lot of people were jumping on the “A-Rod 2011 MVP” bandwagon? We see how that all worked out. A-Rod could have a horrible spring and end up putting up huge numbers.

    All in all, A-Rod is not even close to being my favorite Yankee, but we will definitely need him to make the playoffs and go deeper into them then we have the past couple years.

  17. Brian, many things you said are right, but A-Rod is the type of player that can carry a team which was shown when we won in 2009. He also carried the team when he won the MVPs twice at times during the season. There aren’t too many players that can carry a team. A- Rod never seems to get enough credit in NY for his accomplishments. A player like Josh Hamilton seems to get more credit from some people and he’s never won anything. A- Rod is an immortal like him or not along with Jeter.

    • I’m not an A-Rod lover nor do I hate him. I’m in the middle with him. I know not many people can say that. The majority of people either hate or love him. He never really grew on me but i do appreciate what he has done.

  18. I will say I am not a lover nor hater of any player on the Yankees. I will always point out a weakness or strength of a player. I, as well as almost every “human” fan have our favorite players but, Rose colored (or any other color) glasses don’t come with the player.
    When a player is getting to the point of being a drag on the team…If one can’t do the job he is being paid to do, it is…”sorry see you later!”,
    If a player is being treated unfairly, guys such as; Brett, Phil, A-Rod and Swisher, I will speak up. You people have no idea what it is like to be able to speak your mind without repercussions! I couldn’t do that in my real job, unless I wanted to be Court Marshalled!
    Granted Mickey, Lopat, Billy Martin and A-Rod are my type of guys, they all are tough hard-nosed players.
    Immortal players are nowhere to be found but, there are those I call; Outlanders (others call them something else), the guys such as Mo, Satchel Paige, A-Rod, Mickey and Lou. They are head and shoulders above their contemporaries during the time in baseball they played.
    It is unfair to try to compare players from one time in history to another! Just enjoy what you have to-day, tomorrow they may be gone, untill the next greatest player of all time shows up! 🙂

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