ARod's 'marketable milestones' take away his rights

The Yankees brass has made its intentions known without having to show it off on their high-def scoreboard. When Alex Rodriguez hits home run No. 660 to tie Willie Mays for fourth all-time, their celebration will be tame. No red carpet. No champagne bottles. No commercials or special t-shirts. No, he will not get the “DJ3K” treatment.

Several outlets have reported how the Yankees are going to fight back against Arod’s special contract where he is supposed to receive what can be an extra $30 million for his milestone home runs – $6 million for each. Just don’t call them milestones. Seems the Yankees aren’t interested in that.

However, the New York Post story left me a bit baffled. According to their very special sources with knowledge of the situation, ARod would sign over his image rights and associated branding for $6 million a home run.

Really? Why?

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The expectations of ARod in 2015

Alex Rodriguez crushed one Wednesday, home run number 656 of his career. Rodriguez sits fifth all-time for career home runs and needs four more to tie Willie Mays. Two home runs already from Rodriguez might be more than many were expecting from the slugger. Over the last five years, Rodriguez has had multiple hip surgeries and faced a lengthy suspension as his play followed a downward track.

But through nine games this season, Rodriguez is hitting .286 with a .394 on-base percentage and .571 slugging. Beyond his home runs he has seven RBI and five walks, along with 12 strikeouts.

Adjust some of those numbers for a full 162-game season and we have 36 home runs and 126 RBI – essentially matching his last good, healthy season in 2010.

However, the reality is we don’t know what we are going to get from Rodriguez this year. Signs point in a positive direction if you’re a Yankees fan, but the optimism comes with a warning label.

Rodriguez is going to be 40 in July. The list of players age 39 and older who have been successful is a much shorter one than those before it. But there are a few notables who have been impressive in their age-39 season – including two players Rodriguez is chasing on the all-time home run list.

In 2004, Barry Bonds smashed 40 home runs and slugged .812. He also had an impressive on-base percentage of .609.

In 1974, Hank Aaron smashed 40 home runs.

Rodriguez, however, has been given something that could help him continue a successful career – science (and not the pharmaceutical kind). Even though Rodriguez was suspended for all of last season because of his role in the BioGenesis scandal, Rodriguez had to rehab and regain strength in his hip. That time away may have been a hidden blessing for him.

Rodriguez suffered a hip impingement, which doesn’t allow the ball and socket joint to rotate smoothly. It’s not a problem caused by PEDs, but instead one that occurs in the developmental phase. Imagine swinging a bat thousands of times, and the strain and torque that is placed on the hips – the joint could not develop properly. Often the signs aren’t noticeable until much later, and even then misdiagnosis is common.

Research shows the body begins to adjust to alleviate the discomfort in the hips when there is an impingement, causing pain in other areas while also throwing off mechanics.

Rodriguez’s diminished production from 2011 to 2013, where he seemed lost at the plate, could very well be a symptom of the hip impingement.

Yet, surgery that shaved the head of the ball joint down to give his hip better movement could be exactly what he needed – not steroids.

Is Rodriguez going to hit 36 home runs and drive in 125 runs? Maybe. Maybe not. Only time will tell. Either way, Rodriguez has shown one thing over the first 10 days of the season – he can still hit a ball, and hit it far.

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Do the Yankees have a run in them?

This has been a frustrating Yankee season, to say the least. The combination of injuries and austerity has sucked some of the fun out of following my favorite team. Losing is part of the game. But it isn't exactly engaging to know that your team is losing because of a poor combination of frailty and management stinginess. That's why these past few weeks have been such a breath of fresh air. Suddenly Yankee fans are getting a taste of the team they could have had. Hate him or really hate him, Alex Rodriguez can still hit, certainly better than guys the Yankees had been putting at third before him (Al's wRC+ is 114 this year). Alfonso Soriano is currently making Cubs fans wish they'd put some protection around him in the batting order. Curtis Granderson has come back to give the Bombers a .375 wOBA. And it should come as no surprise that at the same time that the Yankee lineup got so much deeper Robinson Cano has started hitting again, improving his season long numbers to .297/.382/.493 (far worse than what he's done in years before, but still). And that's before Derek Jeter gets back. Suddenly, the Yankees have a lineup.

The Yankee pitching has been middle of the pack this year, but is the combination of decent pitching with renewed hitting enough for the Yankees to make a run at a Wild Card slot? As of this writing there are exactly 40 games left in the Yankee season. The Pinstripes sit six games out of a Wild Card slot, behind the Athletics (and a host of other teams). Based on that, the odds look steep. Stranger things have happened, but the Yankees would have to become one of the hottest teams in baseball and would still need a bit of luck to pull it off.

But, it's an enticing prospect. The collective media freak out alone would be worth it. Were it to happen I can only hope that A-Rod would make a solid contribution down the stretch. Speaking from a purely baseball perspective it would breathe some much needed life to a moribund season. It's a long shot, practically an impossibility, but with pop back in the lineup it's something to think about.

A-Rod's "plea bargain" makes no sense from either side

Yesterday, Bill Madden and Teri Thompson the Daily News published a report that Alex Rodriguez and Major League Baseball were considering a plea bargain of sorts that would see A-Rod accept a 150 game suspension over his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, in exchange for which MLB would not pursue a lifetime ban of the Yankees' fragile third baseman. That's quite the bombshell the be dropping on a Saturday night. Still, though the story is supposedly based on an account of information Anthony Boesch himself gave to MLB investigators, (A-Rod's camp naturally denied it) there are more holes in this account than in the Yankees' current lineup. In no particular order.

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What will A-Rod and Jeter bring to the table?

This hasn't been the most dominant Yankee season, but that's what makes it interesting. This season may not end in October. The potential for the season to end in September is what makes it exciting. Fortunately there's a lot to be happy about in Yankee-land right now. The team hasn't been strong, but it remains within striking distance of a playoff berth. The Yankees also turned the corner on a five game losing streak and ran off six wins in a row before falling Sunday to the Orioles. Now, just in time for the All-Star break the Bombers are on the verge of getting back Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. Five years ago that was a tantalizing prospect. Now that each player is near the end of his career, coming back from difficult injuries, how good can this be?

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Quick Hit: A-Rod Cleared To Start MiL Rehab Assignment

The Alex Rodriguez comeback trail took another important step forward today when the team announced he has been cleared to start his Minor League rehab assignment on July 1st.  The Daily News had the full story and comments from Cash on the situation, including the obligatory Biogenesis references, and it sounds like everything is progressing nicely for A-Rod.  He's been running and fielding down in Tampa for a few weeks and started taking live batting practice last week, all without any reported pain or issues with his surgically-repaired hip. Whether you're an A-Rod supporter or A-Rod hater, there's no denying that this is good news for the Yankees.  They've gotten a .246/.302/.337 batting line from their third baseman this season and are still incredibly weak and vulnerable against left-handed pitching.  A diminished A-Rod is still a significant upgrade over that type of production.  As with Michael Pineda, this rehab assignment will likely use all of the available 30 days.  Rodriguez hasn't had any at-bats since last October and will need the reps, and the team will want to see how the hip and the rest of his body responds to playing regularly.

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Piecing it Together

For most of the offseason, I’ve lamented the losses of two key batters: Nick Swisher and Russell Martin. By no means are those players superstars, but they were perfect fits for the Yankee offense. Both Swisher ad Martin provided power and patience, cornerstones of the team’s offense for the last two decades. In their places, the Yankees will have players not known for their power or patience. Ichiro Suzuki and a combination of Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli (at least to start the year) will man right field and catcher. While Ichiro may have something left at the plate, the catching duo will hardly strike fear into the hearts and minds of opposing pitching staffs. Their inclusion is, overall, representative of a potential loss of offense for the Yankees. This isn’t to say that neither of the three has no redeeming offensive qualities. Ichiro can still make a bit of contact and Cervelli can draw the occasional walk. Both will have places in the Yankee lineup, probably towards the bottom of the lineup. That lineup may be a bit harder to construct this season.

Cerevlli will be easy to place; he’ll always be at the bottom of the lineup, most likely in the eighth or ninth spot, and the same goes for Chris Stewart. Ichiro will be a bit harder to slot in. When he came to the team in July of last year, he started at the bottom of the lineup, but a hot streak propelled him to a higher spot by the season’s end. Will that memory and his “name value” keep him at the top or will his age and skill set keep him at the bottom?

Ichiro and the catchers are not the only players that will provide a placement challenge to manager Joe Girardi. Kevin Youkilis and Travis Hafner, two new acquisitions, can help replicate the patience and power vacated by Swisher and martin. Though their skills are tangible and obvious, age and injury have obfuscated those skills. Ideally, Youkilis would be a two hitter–or a leadoff guy in a pinch–and Hafner would be a three, four, or five hitter. But with both players on the downside of their careers in terms of performance and health, their places in the lineup are unclear. Adding to the possible confusion, of course, are the myriad talented players that the team already employs. Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner, and the aforementioned Ichiro are all players that could hit in the potential spots for Youkilis and Hafner (and that’s not including Alex Rodriguez, who’ll presumably be back midseason). And even those players have questions attached to them.

The newly candid Teixeira is not what he once was (by his own admission). Jeter is coming off injury, as is Brett Gardner, whose injury was more severe and costly. Granderson had a rocky second half and playoff stretch. Only Cano seems like a good bet to maintain his offensive status (elite!). Departures, new arrivals, and remaining questions will combine into a lineup that will probably be pretty solid, regardless of our anxieties. The big picture will probably look pretty good at season’s end. On the macro level, lineup construction may not be wholly impactful. On the micro level, the game-to-game level, it does matter. Over the course of the season, the minute run changes that occur in-game won’t matter much, if at all. They will matter, though, in those game situations. What will those lineups look like? What should those lineups look like? We all have different interpretations of that second question and its answer could make up dozens of articles. In light of that, let’s go on our (assumed) knowledge of two things and make a lineup:

1. Derek Jeter will be at the top (one or two) of the lineup 2. Joe Girardi (generally) dislikes stacking lefties.

Given those conditions, let’s try to construct two lineups, one vs. RHP and one vs. LHP.

Vs. RHP Vs. LHP 1. Gardner, LF Jeter, SS 2. Jeter, SS Youkilis, 3B 3. Teixeira, 1B Teixeira, 1B 4. Cano, 2B Cano, 2B 5. Granderson, CF DH (Matt Diaz? Juan Rivera?) 6. Youkilis, 3B Granderson, CF 7. Hafner, DH Cervelli, C 8. Cervelli, C Ichiro, RF 9. Ichiro, RF Gadner, LF

Both lineups highlight something we may have overlooked regarding Nick Swisher’s departure. While his hitting skills would allow him to hit anywhere from one-six in the lineup, it’s conceivable that his switch hitting status is what made him such a great fit. With just one switch hitter in the lineup, the Yankees will likely need to stack lefty batters together more often than they’d like, including in my proposed lineups: 4-5 and 9-1 vs. RHP and 8-9 vs. LHP. Despite that, those lineups seem likely and are definitely justifiable.

Gardner in front of Jeter against RHP allows the former to get on base and (hopefully) use his legs to get into scoring position for Jeter and his opposite field approach. We could swap Tex and Cano in this lineup, which would eliminate one stack of lefties. This move could also give Cano, the team’s best hitter, a handful more plate appearances over the course of the season. That’s tempting, and I probably wouldn't argue against it. However, it might be more beneficial to have Cano bat behind someone like Tex who has great on-base skills.

Against lefties, the top three hitters all do their best work and most damage when facing said southpaws. The Tex/Cano swap could also work here. For our purposes, that decision may be a matter of preference: Do we (theoretically) more men on base in front of Cano or do we subscribe to the “newer” theory of lineup construction that says put your low OBP sluggers (sounds a lot like Robbie, no?) in the third spot? The Yankees have long been MLB’s top offensive club. That may not be true in 2013, but perhaps our apprehension is a bit overstated. The Yankee lineup, though different, should still be plenty productive.

Alex Rodriguez: The Great Witch Hunt

If you couldn't tell, we've held off mentioning Alex Rodriguez' name over the last couple of days. Why you ask? There isn't enough information to analyze it. This blog prides itself on analyzing hard data and credible news stories, and neither fall into the category of the recent PED news. With that said, this Rodriguez bubble has grown, and real MLB investigations are beginning, so perhaps it's time that we step away from our usual statistical analysis. Over the last couple of days, an article came out naming a few athletes involved in a PED investigation, Rodriguez being the biggest name. The third baseman, and just about everyone else named, denied the rumors. Now we have speculation about how the Yankees could get out of the $114 million left on his contract.

As far as we know, the actual evidence that exists are a few baseball players names in this doctor's journal. This is largely the reason why this story isn't a big deal. In journalism, you typically need two sources to confirm a story before actually reporting it, but in this case, we have one non-credible source that has a lot to gain from this sort of publicity.

In the past, I've been fairly outspoken on how I feel about journalistic ethics in baseball. If you've ever witnessed a trade, signing, or other baseball news break on Twitter, you'll know that it's madness, with reporters sometimes fighting over who broke the story first, and absolutely no accountability for misinformation. There are plenty of reporters that will break rumors or stories, only to have them denied with no repercussions. People continue to follow, and reporters continue to disrespect journalism standards.

Then there's the type of seriousness that writers dedicate to the game. The latest Hall of Fame vote, showed us how steroid accusations could keep the best players of all time outside of the museum they were destined for. It also showed that players like Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza were guilty until proven innocent, in that their success during the steroid era was enough evidence to earmark them as  steroid users. The morality of baseball in the media has become that of the writer's, rather than the player's.

Without hesitation, the media ran with the Alex Rodriguez story, despite the lack of evidence. He was a liar, a cheater, a loser, an idiot, immoral, and reckless. This was all after Rodriguez and others denied the charges. But sanity and patience don't sell newspapers, and they don't draw readers to your blog. The media's witch hunt for Rodriguez has to be one of the most embarrassing moves they've made in recent years. Of the dozens of pieces I read on Rodriguez, only Ken Davidoff's remained intelligent.

We won't know if Rodriguez is guilty until after MLB's investigation, but even so, Rodriguez' name has been thoroughly tainted by writers taking this game too seriously. One of the greatest players of all time, a player who single-handedly carried the team to their latest championship, is now one of the most hated men in New York. He might not have even done anything wrong!

From my perspective, I don't know if he's guilty or not. I won't comment too much on the morality of the situation, but Rodriguez has already earned his money, if he was taking PED's, it was to help the Yankees win. I don't know the type of pressure he's been under, but I guarantee that staying clean in that type of competition is a lot easier said than done. As Davidoff pointed out, baseball is far from this purist illusion that fans and writers are holding on to.

PED's continue to be a clear problem in baseball. No matter how much testing is done, how often it's done, and how advanced the tests are, someone will always try to cheat. I'm not an expert on the situation, but I've heard some famous sports doctors talk about refusing to give professional athletes legal and routine steroids and other PED's for surgeries or injuries, because they are banned by the MLB. In my opinion, these athletes should be allowed the best possible health care that they can receive, and if HGH or steroids or deer antler spray can make them healthier, there is no excuse to ban them. Baseball is a tough game to play every single day, so allow the legal PED's under strict doctor's supervision and impose stricter penalties on illegal drugs. In theory, we'd see healthier players and less illegal drug use.

Finally, if Rodriguez is found guilty, it hardly affects the Yankees in a negative way. The third baseman would be allowed to serve his 50 day suspension on the disabled list. Marketing-wise, his name has already been tainted by his use of PED's with the Rangers. There's also a slight chance that the team could escape his contract, under the assumption that he saw treatment outside of the organization's health policies.

The story isn't that big of a deal yet, but the media has blown it out of the water.

The end of Alex Rodriguez?

On Friday Brian Cashman revealed that it is possible that Alex Rodriguez will miss the entire 2013 season. Cashman pointed out that he does think the Yankee slugger will be back on the field sometime in the second half of the season, but he gave a nod to reality when he indicated that there is also a chance A-Rod doesn't lace 'em up at all next year. Whether A-Rod plays three, two or zero months this season, is it time to ask: Is Alex Rodriguez done? Alex turns 38 in July. If he comes back at all in 2013 he will be coming back from his second hip surgery, this time on his left leg, the leg that faces the pitcher when he's in the box. He will be attempting to come back after having not played in more than 140 games since 2007. He will be attempting to come back after suffering yet another leg injury, a recurring theme for A-Rod dating all the way back to 2008, when he first missed time with lower half trouble. How much can he possibly have left?

The answer may be more than we think. Alex may not be the player he was from 2004-2009, his best years with the Yankees, a time when Fangraphs says Rodriguez was the best player in the American League, but he has always been an above average hitter. Whether your preferred metric is wRC+ or OPS+, Alex still rates as a solid hitter. In 2012 he posted a 114 wRC+ and a 112 OPS+. If he can come back to about 110 in either, he'll still give the Yankees production, albeit at an onerously elevated cost.

But what if Alex doesn't make it back in 2013? What if he misses the entire year? Then what? The Yankees still owe Rodriguez over $100 million on his last contract (one of the worst in the game's history). That's not the kind of money you walk away from. It is possible that a well rested, healthy Alex comes back and gives the Yankees something worth paying for in 2014, similar to what Derek Jeter managed after his DL stint in 2011, but is that something worth betting $100 million on?

The Yankees seem destined to eat every cent of Alex's awful deal. No matter how frustrating it may be for Alex to continue to play as his abilities diminish, playing baseball is all he's ever known. He won't just walk away from the game, especially not when enormous money is still on the line. Unfortunately, it seems more and more likely that whatever is left won't be worth paying for.