A-Rod makes Spring Training debut, goes 1-for-2 in first game since 2013

After nearly 18 months since his last game action, Alex Rodriguez returned to the field and made his Spring Training debut this afternoon. He started at DH and batted second, and went 1-for-2 with a single to left, a ground out to short, and a walk in the Yankees’ first home Grapefruit League game. Video of his afternoon is above.

“Yeah, (I was) a little nervous. It’s been a long time since I put on the pinstripes,” said A-Rod to Dan Barbarisi after the game. Joe Girardi was pleased, telling Bryan Hoch that “for this time of spring, they’re pretty good at-bats.” Girardi confirmed Alex will not play in tomorrow’s game. I’m sure he’ll be back in the lineup Friday.

A-Rod’s day got off to an ominous start as he swung through a pair of 91 mph Kevin Slowey sinkers in his first at-bat before hitting that soft line drive single. His third plate appearance was the best even though he didn’t do much besides take some borderline pitches. If nothing else, at least now we know Alex hasn’t gone blind.

From what I could tell, A-Rod’s reception was mostly cheers with some boos mixed in. That has been the case at Yankee Stadium for a few years now and I’m sure it’ll continue. He’ll be booed unmercifully on the road though. Anyway, the first day doesn’t tell us much. A-Rod’s going to need a few weeks to get his timing back, and today was just day one.

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Heyman: Yankees are “confident” they can void A-Rod’s home run milestone bonuses

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

As much as they wish they could, the Yankees are unable to avoid the three years and $64M left on Alex Rodriguez‘s contract following last year’s suspension. They are attempting to void the $30M in historic home run milestone bonuses however, and Jon Heyman reports the team is “confident” they will be able to get out of the five $6M bonuses.

Long story short, the wording of the marketing agreement — it’s a marketing agreement, not a player contract, because MLB contracts do not allow bonuses based on stats like homers and RBI — allows the Yankees to say the homers are not be historic due to Alex’s performance-enhancing drug history. Here’s more from Heyman:

Yankees people are said to be confident A-Rod wouldn’t prevail in the expected skirmish over the $30 million, not only because of their belief that his drug missteps have rendered his marketing value nil, but also because of the phrasing in the agreement that requires that the Yankees “designate” the historic home runs as milestones, and perhaps even more importantly, the potential to call him to the stand under oath should he challenge their decision to refuse to pay, as is his right.

The clause, at one point, reads, “The Yankees are under no obligation to exercise its right to designate a historical accomplishment as a milestone provided that its decision is made in good faith and in accordance with the intent of the parties in the covenant.”

Heyman says A-Rod even contacted Scott Boras because he could be a witness in a potential grievance hearing. Boras was Alex’s agent at the time and negotiated the homer bonuses, but he reportedly declined to help Rodriguez even though he would be able to make a commission on the bonuses. (A-Rod fired Boras a few years ago.)

Boras might not back Rodriguez during a potential legal battle, but the union sure would. They legally have to because Alex is a member. It doesn’t matter that he sued them — the suit was eventually dropped, but still — last year as part of his scorched earth tour. Besides, the MLBPA doesn’t want to set any sort of precedent by allowing a team to void an agreement with a player.

Anyway, I’m no lawyer, but it sounds like the Yankees are going to say they decided in good faith the homers are not historic and more or less dare A-Rod to come after them and potentially testify under oath. The bonuses are pretty obviously historic though. The specific milestones (homers 660, 714, 755, 762, 763) in the agreement correlate to tying the four highest homer totals in history and taking over as the home run king. I mean, duh.

In reality, we’re talking about one $6M bonus. A-Rod is six homers away from tying Willie Mays on the all-time list with 660 dingers, but getting to 714 homers to tie Babe Ruth seems like a long shot. Alex would have to hit 60 homers from ages 39-41 after hitting 41 homers from 35-38. Doable? Sure. But it is unlikely at this point of A-Rod’s career. Is it worth the trouble to save $6M? Probably. But proving the milestone homers are not historic sounds like a tall order.

A-Rod reports to camp early, circus ensues, nothing really happens

hi h8rs (Presswire)
hi h8rs (Presswire)

Position players are not scheduled to report to Spring Training until Wednesday, but Alex Rodriguez reported to camp today, making it his first day around the Yankees since the end of the 2013 season. A-Rod arrived at the complex this morning, took his physical, and worked out on a minor league field. Players can’t work out on the main field until reporting day.

As part of his workout, A-Rod ran sprints, threw a medicine ball around, fielded ground balls at third base and shortstop, and took batting practice. Pretty much a typical early spring workout. Multiple reporters say he took 71 swings during batting practice and hit six balls over the fence, which means less than nothing but will surely be made into something.

After the workout, Alex signed autographs for a horde of fans and spoke to the media for a few minutes. It was his first time taking questions since being suspended last year. Alex didn’t say a whole lot, but here’s a summary of the main points, courtesy of Jon Heyman, Dan Barbarisi, Jeff Passan, Bob Nightengale, Brendan Kuty, and Adam Berry:

  • On the suspension: “No mistake that I’ve made has any good answer, no justification. It’s unexplainable, and that’s on me. I’ve paid a price personally and professionally … I’m moving on and focused on 2015.”
  • Does Alex feel welcome? “Surprisingly so.” Are other Yankees comfortable around him? “I don’t know. You’ve got to ask them. But I’ve created a big headache for a lot of people,” he added.
  • A-Rod said he will work out at first base or any other position this spring if the team asks. “I’m willing to try anything (Joe Girardi) wants me to try,” he said.
  • Is he secretly plotting to kill or maim new starting third baseman Chase Headley? “Chase is an excellent addition to our team.”
  • And finally, Rodriguez gave a flat “no” when asked if he was on any performance-enhancing drugs at the moment.

All things considered, A-Rod’s first day of camp was not as hectic as I expected. I thought he would say something controversial, for example. The media was watching him like a hawk — following all of this in real time on Twitter was a hoot, we were getting play-by-play of his medicine ball throws — but that was to be expected.

No word on whether A-Rod will return to the complex tomorrow but I wouldn’t be surprised if he took the day off. It’ll be his last day off for a while with position players set to report on Wednesday. Either way, Alex is back with the Yankees. He took his physical, got his first workout in, and that was that. Day One is complete.

Girardi’s Press Conference Notes: A-Rod, Rotation, Spring Competitions

Spring Training is officially underway. Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa today and the first actual workout is scheduled for tomorrow. Plenty of players have already been down at the complex working out for days if not weeks.

Joe Girardi held his annual start of Spring Training press conference this morning, and, as you can imagine, there were a ton of Alex Rodriguez question. But thankfully, there were some actual baseball questions too. It was a nice change of pace. “Name tags are an option,” joked Girardi because of all the new players in camp.

Video of the press conference is above. Here’s an abridged version and some thoughts.

On A-Rod

  • On the apology letter: “A person’s approach is the way they feel most comfortable doing it, whether that’s how you or me or anyone else would have done it … I think he apologized to the game. Steroids have hurt this game. It has changed the way we look at a lot of things … (The apology) was Alex’s choice and it was the way he was comfortable doing it and we’ll deal with it.”
  • On balancing workload and preparation: “I think you’re talking about him possibly DHing on a lot of days in Spring Training. That’s not quite as taxing as playing everyday in the field. He’s going to need to get his a-bats.”
  • On possibly playing first base: “That will be a conversation I have when he gets here. I want to see his face (and his reaction). He said he’s willing to do whatever he can to help us.”
  • On expectations: “I haven’t really put any numbers on it. I said this earlier: I think it’s fair to give him a fair number of at-bats before you start to judge where he might be at just because he’s played 44 games in two years and did not play last year, and I think it’s going to take him a good part of Spring Training just to get his timing down.”
  • On being a distraction: “One of the things I learned in 1996 when I came here is this is a different place. It’s different when you put on a New York Yankees uniform. You are with one of the most recognizable companies in the world. That’s part of the gig here … For the new players that are here, they’re going to get it right away … If you’re with the New York Yankees you need to learn how to deal with situations like that.”

Girardi also said the Yankees could opt to send A-Rod to minor league camp some days so he could get more work in. Minor league camp is pretty informal, he could leadoff every inning and get way more at-bats then he could in regular Grapefruit League games. Long story short, Girardi has no idea what to expect from Alex on the field and they need to see him in camp before finalizing any plans.

These press conferences are usually a little light and upbeat, especially early in Spring Training, but Girardi seemed pretty serious when asked about A-Rod being a distraction. His answer about players needing to be able to deal with it while playing for the Yankees was firm. He didn’t beat around the bush. Girardi knows it’s going to be a distraction and he expects his players to deal with it like professionals.

On Priorities In Camp

  • The rotation: “I think getting the rotation ironed out, seeing how all these guys fit and how it affects the bullpen guys who will begin Spring Training as a starting pitcher, who can possibly push their way into the rotation.”
  • The lineup: “Figuring out our batting order I think is something important. There’s some people we don’t know exactly where they’re at.” (Meaning A-Rod, physically.)
  • Picking a closer and possibly using co-closers: “I think you could do that. Would you like to iron it out? Sure. I think you have to see how people react in those situations. A number of guys I think are capable of closing, but I think (both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller) are more than capable.”
  • Competition in general: “I think there’s probably a little more open competition (than most years). I’ll try to reiterate to our players on a constant basis you’re not going to impress me the first day of camp, not going to impress me first week of camp.”

Girardi mentioned most of the competition in camp will be for specific roles and not necessarily roster spots. Aside from the last bullpen spot, the roster is mostly set right now. They have just to figure out who goes where in terms of the batting order and bullpen, specifically.

These are the sort of things that can’t be ironed out until the very end of camp too. Early on, players need to get their timing back and get back into the swing of playing. They’re not — or shouldn’t be, anyway — trying to put up big numbers the first few weeks of camp. After a few weeks of games the coaching staff will be better able to slot people into roles. Right now, they have to focus on getting ready. Late-March is when Girardi has to put together the roster puzzle.

On The Rotation

  • On CC Sabathia: “Until you really get him into the rigors of pitching every fifth day, and possibly going three or four turns on regular rest, you’re not really sure how that knee is going to fare. We feel good about it and we feel good about where he’s at.”
  • On Masahiro Tanaka: “I think you can say the same thing about Tanaka. What he’s went through is not really uncommon. There have been a lot of pitchers who have pitched a substantial amount of time (with the same injury) before something had to happen.”
  • On keeping tabs on Tanaka in the offseason: “They would communicate through (head trainer) Stevie Donohue. I would keep in contact with Stevie and see how Masahiro was doing. Its difficult because he’s not pitching in games in the offseason. A lot of us feel great in the offseason. It’s the second week in camp we start to feel sore.”
  • On Nathan Eovaldi: “We expect him to be one of our starters and be extremely productive and mature as a pitcher and develop as a pitcher. (He’s a guy) who can be a workhorse for you and give you valuable innings. We expect him to be a big part of our rotation.”
  • On a potential six-man rotation: “It’s something that we will talk about. As far as having a six-man rotation all the time, no. But if you get into long situations where you play 18 games in a row, could we inject a (sixth starter) to give the guys extra rest. Absolutely.”

Girardi also mentioned they are pleased with Ivan Nova‘s progress during his rehab from Tommy John surgery and there are no restrictions for Tanaka’s spring work. He’ll prepare like any other season. He didn’t say if the same is true for Sabathia because no one asked.

It was pretty clear from his tone that Girardi knows there is a lot of injury risk in the rotation and guys might not make it through camp in one piece. He also seems to know it’s pretty much out of his hands. The team followed doctor’s orders with Tanaka and Sabathia and if they say they’re healthy, they have to proceed accordingly. I like the idea of mixing in the occasional sixth starter earlier in the season much better than a straight up six-man rotation too.

Miscellany

  • On leadership without Derek Jeter: “I think within a clubhouse you can have one person who is considered the leader, but I think there are fractions of that as well (meaning a bullpen leader, a rotation leader, etc.) … I think you’ll have guys step up in different areas. I think there’s enough veteran presence and leadership qualities that guys will just handle it.”
  • On expectations: “I think you come into Spring Training every year with the goal to win and be the best you can be as a club. There are a lot of things we need to iron out. Probably more than I can remember. Some of it because of injury and some of it because of new faces. I think this team has a chance to be really good.”
  • On other teams in the AL East: “Oh I think you obviously pay attention to what other teams are doing. What you realize over a 162-game schedule is there’s a lot of things that have to go right for you to be the winner at the end … Sometimes just everything pretty much goes according to plan.”

Yeah, the Yankees are due for one of those years where everything goes pretty much according to plan.

Time to discuss the potential on-field impact of A-Rod’s return

Oh yeah, he plays baseball too. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)
Oh yeah, he plays baseball too. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The circus has arrived. Alex Rodriguez is set to rejoin the Yankees this season after serving his 162-game suspension last year, and he’s already made the rounds. He apologized to new commish Rob Manfred. He apologized to the Yankees. He apologized to everyone — including the fans! — in a handwritten statement. That was all necessary in my opinion and it’s done now. Good. Let’s move on.

For the purposes of this post, moving on means talking about actual baseball, not discussing how the Yankees can get out of A-Rod‘s contract or anything like that. Like it or not, Alex is back and the Yankees seem committed to seeing if he has anything left. Considering there are three years and over $60M left on his contract, they have to at least see what he can do, right? He was a pretty good player once upon a time, remember. Maybe the year away did his body good.

Let’s start by laying out some facts:

  • A-Rod is 39 and will turn 40 in late-July.
  • A-Rod has played zero MLB games in the last 16 months and only 44 games in the last 28 months.
  • A-Rod has had surgery on both hips as well as his right knee within the last six years.

That’s all pretty bad as far as on-field production goes. Old players usually don’t perform well. Old players with a recent history of serious injuries perform even worse. Old players with a recent history of serious injuries who haven’t played at all in a year and not that much in two years perform even worse than that. A-Rod hits the trifecta.

Since the turn of the century, there have been 104 instances of a position player age 39 or older appearing in at least 54 games (one-third of a season), and 78 of the 104 finished the year with 1.0 WAR or less. Barry Bonds, Chipper Jones, and Edgar Martinez account for seven of the 26 1.0+ WAR seasons. Sixty-two of the 104 were at 0.5 WAR or less. Forty-two of the 104, or 40.4%, were replacement level or worse. That’s really bad.

Normally, this is where I’d point out A-Rod is much more like Bonds or Chipper or Edgar than he is, say, Omar Vizquel or Todd Pratt or Jeff Conine. Rodriguez was a friggin’ star, man. He put up huge numbers and is simply one of the best right-handed hitters ever. Great players age differently than everyone else, but Bonds, Chipper, and Edger were not coming back from any major lower body injuries nor had they missed close to two full seasons before their age 39 season.

Forget about WAR for guys in their age 39 season. This is more important: over the last 25 years, 50 players had fewer than 200 plate appearances during their age 37-38 seasons combined, including A-Rod. Of the 49 non-Alex players, only four managed to play even one game in their age 39 season: outfielder Trent Hubbard (ten games) and backup catchers Lance Parrish (70 games), Pat Borders (93 games through age 42), and Mike Difelice (seven games). That’s it. Players who are damn near out of the league at 37-38 usually don’t come back to play at age 39, nevermind 39-41, the ages covered by the remainder of Rodriguez’s contract. He’s trying to do something no has done in the last quarter-century.

Want to look at some projections? Fine. PECOTA pegs A-Rod as a .247/.324/.409 true talent hitter going into 2015 and holy crap that would be amazing. ZiPS has him at .229/.312/.399, which is basically 2014 Mark Teixeira (.216/.313/.398). Steamer has him at .233/.310/.372 and is the least optimistic. But the computers don’t know about A-Rod’s injury history and they don’t know how to account for all his time away from the game the last two years, so they basically ignore them. Projections are mostly useless in general and they’re even more useless for A-Rod.

This is all a roundabout way of saying we have no idea what to expect from Alex this coming season. His injures and time away complicate things way too much. Old players are tough to figure out because they could fall off a cliff at any moment. A-Rod’s an old guy with an injury history who hasn’t played a whole lot. The smart money is on him contributing very little — like, very very like — in 2015 and that’s why the Yankees flat out replaced him at third base (Chase Headley) and brought in protection for the DH spot (Garrett Jones). They’re expecting nothing and prepared for it.

No matter what, A-Rod is going to be a distraction in Spring Training and early in the regular season. (Actually, probably all season.) Cameras are going to be all over him, the media’s going to write all about him, and the broadcasters won’t shut up about him. That’s inevitable and it’ll all be much more tolerable if he contributes in some way on the field. Even league average production would be welcome. There’s no way to realistically expect that though. We know the off-the-field stuff will be ridiculous. The on-field stuff is a total mystery.

A-Rod issues apology to MLB, MLBPA, Yankees, and fans

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

After meeting with new commissioner Rob Manfred and the Yankees in recent weeks to clear the air following last year’s suspension, Alex Rodriguez issued a statement today apologizing to MLB, the MLBPA, the Yankees, and, of course, the fans. Here’s the full statement, courtesy of MLB.com:

To the Fans,

I take full responsibility for the mistakes that led to my suspension for the 2014 season. I regret that my actions made the situation worse than it needed to be. To Major League Baseball, the Yankees, the Steinbrenner family, the Players Association and you, the fans, I can only say I’m sorry.

I accept the fact that many of you will not believe my apology or anything that I say at this point. I understand why and that’s on me. It was gracious of the Yankees to offer me the use of Yankee Stadium for this apology, but I decided that next time I am in Yankee Stadium, I should be in pinstripes doing my job.

I served the longest suspension in the history of the league for PED use. The Commissioner has said the matter is over. The Players Association has said the same. The Yankees have said the next step is to play baseball.

I’m ready to put this chapter behind me and play some ball.

This game has been my single biggest passion since I was a teenager. When I go to Spring Training, I will do everything I can to be the best player and teammate possible, earn a spot on the Yankees and help us win.

Sincerely,
Alex

The statement was actually handwritten note sent to various media outlets (PDF link).

Alex issued the statement in lieu of a formal press conference sometime before the start of Spring Training later this week and I think this was the way to go. He gets the apology out there and now when he’s asked the inevitable questions about the suspension, he can refer everyone to the statement and say he wants to focus on baseball. It somewhat defuses a situation that can’t ever really be defused.

The Plan B’s: Sorting through the Yankees’ backup options at each position

A wild backup first baseman has appeared. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)
A wild backup first baseman has appeared. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty)

We’ve spent, well, just about the entire offseason discussing rotation options should Masahiro Tanaka (elbow), CC Sabathia (knee), Michael Pineda (shoulder), or whoever else get hurt during the 2015 season, but the pitching staff is only one piece of the team. The Yankees suffered several position player injuries last summer and didn’t always have an appropriate backup. Remember Brian McCann and Kelly Johnson at first? Zelous Wheeler at third? Martin Prado in right? It wasn’t pretty.

Thanks to their offseason machinations and improved farm system, the Yankees appear to be better prepared to handle the inevitable position player injury(ies) this coming season. And they are inevitable. Someone’s going to pull a hamstring, take a pitch to the hand, something like that. It takes way more than 25 players to win, remember. Teams put the entire 40-man roster to work each season and the Yankees have more position appropriate backup plans in place for 2015. Let’s run them down.

Catcher
Starter: Brian McCann
Backup Plan: John Ryan Murphy, Austin Romine?, Eddy Rodriguez?

You’re not going to find a bigger SKJRM (Serial Killer John Ryan Murphy because his name sounds like a serial killer, for you newbies) fan than me, but even I am a little nervous about the idea of Murphy taking over as the everyday catcher if McCann gets hurt at some point this year. McCann’s a pretty damn important player to the Yankees* and losing him to injury would be a big blow. Romine is out of options and will probably be in a different organization come Opening Day, either via waivers or a minor trade, leaving Rodriguez as the likely third string catcher. He has two MLB games to his credit. In the worst case scenario, I think the Yankees would make a trade for a veteran stopgap backstop rather than call up Gary Sanchez for an extended period of time.

* The starting catcher is an important player for every team, this isn’t unique to New York.

First Base
Starter: Mark Teixeira
Backup Plan: Garrett Jones

Finally, a real live backup first baseman. Nine players played at least one game at first base for the Yankees last summer, including McCann, Johnson, Carlos Beltran, Brendan Ryan, Scott Sizemore, and Francisco Cervelli. The team’s approach to backing up Teixeira last year was basically “we’ll put anyone there,” but now they have Jones, a true first baseman with over 400 games of experience at the position in MLB and another 800 or so in the minors. He played 129 games at first for the Marlins just last year. Phew. When Teixeira needs a day off or gets hurt this coming season, the Yankees can stick Jones there and we all won’t have to hope for the best on ground balls to first or slightly off-line throws from other infielders. If both Teixeira and Jones get hurt at some point, I guess McCann would see time at first, or Kyle Roller could get the call from Triple-A if he mashes again.

Second Base
Starter: Stephen Drew
Backup Plan: Rob Refsnyder, Brendan Ryan

Shortstop
Starter: Didi Gregorius
Backup Plan: Stephen Drew, Brendan Ryan

Refsnyder. (Scranton Times-Tribune)
Refsnyder. (Scranton Times-Tribune)

I’m going to lump the two middle infield spots together because I think if either Drew or Gregorius misses time this year, Refsnyder is going to step into the lineup as the replacement. He’ll take over second if Drew gets hurt, and if Gregorius gets hurt, Drew will slide over to short and Refsnyder will take over at second. Ryan is there for the day-to-day stuff. Gregorius sitting against a tough lefty or Drew needing a day off after starting 15 straight, something like that. If there’s an extended absence though, I believe Refsnyder’s the guy. Ahead of Ryan and ahead of Jose Pirela.

Third Base
Starter: Chase Headley
Backup Plan: Alex Rodriguez?, Brendan Ryan?

Third base is a potential problem area should injury strike. There is no obvious fill-in candidate until A-Rod shows he can handle the position at least somewhat regularly, say two or three times a week, and that might not ever happen. Ryan’s played a handful of games at the hot corner in his career, Gregorius has ten career innings at third, and Drew has never played there as a pro. Even Pirela just has a handful of games at third in his career.

The Yankees did add some minor league infield depth in Jonathan Galvez, Nick Noonan, and Cole Figueroa, none of whom we want to see in the Bronx playing regularly next year. They’re emergency options, and if A-Rod can’t play third, it might be an emergency the instant Headley gets hurt. Hopefully that doesn’t happen.

This all depends on Alex. If he can play third base some, they’ll have an okay backup plan. If he can’t, the Yankees will probably have to go outside the organization should Headley go down for an extended period of time.

Left Field
Starter: Brett Gardner
Backup Plan: Chris Young, Jones?

Center Field
Starter: Jacoby Ellsbury
Backup Plan: Gardner, Young

Right Field
Starter: Carlos Beltran
Backup Plan: Young and Jones

The outfield is pretty straight forward so I’m going to lump the three positions together. The backup plan should any of the starters go down is a Young/Jones platoon. (Jones has some left field experience but not much, though I don’t think the Yankees would hesitate to throw him out there if necessary.) If either Gardner or Beltran gets hurt, the Young/Jones platoon takes over in either left or right. If Ellsbury gets hurt, Gardner takes over in center and the Young/Jones platoon steps into left. Simple, right?

Young has been a center fielder his entire career and is still a quality defender, so he’s the third option there. Pirela logged a decent amount of time in left in the minors and is probably the sixth outfielder — behind the starting three, Young, and Jones — by default. Ramon Flores had a nice run in Triple-A last summer (116 wRC+) before hurting his ankle and is next in line behind Pirela. As of this very moment, I think Flores would get the call over Tyler Austin, who is also on the 40-man roster and slated to open the year with the RailRiders. That could change if Austin straight up mashes.

* * *

Aside from third base and the always vulnerable catcher position, the Yankee have clearly defined backup plans all over the field. Young and Jones have the outfield covered, Refsnyder is backing up the middle infield in case of a long-term absence, and Jones is a true backup first baseman behind Teixeira. The Yankees had to scramble for help whenever a position player got hurt the last few years, particularly on the infield, but they have more protection now. Hopefully they won’t need to use these backup plans, but you know as well as I do that it’s inevitable. The 162-game schedule is cruel like that.