Yesterday, Buster Olney wrote a premature obituary of sorts for A-Rod. Noting that A-Rod’s numbers are way down this year, Olney speculated that the post-steroid-confession, post-surgery A-Rod isn’t anything close to the late-20’s A-Rod of five or six years ago.
With a premise like that, can you guess where this is going? Olney alleges that A-Rod is no longer as marketable as he once was. But first he drops this bombshell with the help of a few anonymous scouts:
The question is this: Is Rodriguez, a month from his 34th birthday, much less of a player because he presumably no longer takes performance-enhancing drugs?
It’s a question that can never be answered, but it’s a question that will continue to be asked, probably more within the Yankees organization than anywhere else. And really, if you want, just consider the question in terms of money.
The Yankees are still on the hook for about $250 million in the next eight-plus seasons. The player who will receive that money can never give them quite what they paid for, in a sense, because A-Rod, as a marketing tool, is damaged forever. They would settle for paying him just to hit well, field effectively and run the bases as well as he did for 15 years — doing all the things on the field they needed him to do when they signed him to the highest salary in the game.
The quotes are even better. “He looks old. He’s a first baseman. How many years does he have left on the contract?” one said. “He looks like a record playing at a slower speed,” said another.
For Olney, this is all about steroids. He writes, “Now he is the best player to admit past steroid use, and that has made him something of a lab rat. His performance will be dissected as talent evaluators continue to ask the question that can’t be fully answered.”
It’s a hackneyed piece that devolves into some steroid talk but it’s based on a solid premise: Can the Yankees get their value out of A-Rod? Now, from an on-field perspective, the answer is probably yes. Since resting for a day and a half over the weekend following six straight weeks of baseball after a major surgery, the A-Rod of old has emerged. He’s 5 for his last 16 with 8 RBIs and 4 walks. He says his legs feel stronger, and the Yankees are stressing health and rest as they approach A-Rod’s hip.
In reality, A-Rod’s slump was just that. He had a bad stretch brought about by fatigue in his hip. Yet, despite that reality, despite the surgery, we’re going to get eight years of badly written columns about A-Rod’s decline, A-Rod’s being a shell of his former self, A-Rod’s no longer steroid-filled physique. Forget the natural decline brought about by age. Forget talent. That’s the baseball world in which we live. Olney, though, should know better.