Alex Rodriguez just had his worst year in pinstripes and probably the worst year of his career. It ended with back to back strikeouts in huge spots, a fitting way to end a spotty, injury prone season for him. He only played in 99 games, seemed like half the time he was playing he was banged up and contributed very little from July 1st on. He finished with a WAR of 4.2, which is actually quite impressive considering the amount of games he played in. Though much of this comes from his defense, which was probably better this season than any other year as a Yankee.
A-Rod has never had a season with a WAR under 4.0 with the Yankees (including this year). He's topped 9 twice, 6 two other times and was on his way to a WAR of 5-6 in 2009 had he not played in limited games. Since he's become a Yankee he's been more productive than anybody else who has worn the pinstripes by far, and even in his off years remains one of the top players in baseball.
But A-Rod isn't the player he used to be anymore. Every year when he comes into camp, some people expect him to just get healthy and hit as if it were 2007 again. Many people (myself included) seem to select him as my prediction for AL MVP every single season, but he really hasn't come close for a while. He's 36 years old, and his best days are behind him. But the Yankees have him signed for many more years and a lot more money, so we'll still be hearing about him for a long time.
My question is, what can we realistically expect from our four legged cleanup hitter next season? He's always been around a 4 WAR player at worst and I expect at least that will continue but can we expect higher? Is he capable of producing more and staying healthy enough? Here's what I think he needs to do and what needs to happen for him to try and be as productive as possible in 2012.
1. Get Healthy
This is pretty much a given. If he wants to be productive, he can't have all these nagging injuries affecting his every swing and he needs to play everyday in order to get his timing and keep it. Sometimes I wonder if that tape the Yankees put on his bat that separated his hands may have affected his swing a little, because he just missed quite a lot of hittable pitches during the ALDS. If that tape wasn't there, is it easier for him to square up the ball? We'll never know will we? So first and foremost he needs to rest, get that knee 100% healthy and get that thumb 100% healthy. Make sure his hip is fine, make sure there's nothing wrong with his hooves and just get the nagging injuries out of the way before spring training.
2. Get in Shape
Another given, especially for him. I'm not sure he's ever had a year where he hasn't come to camp in great shape. He works harder than any other player in baseball and I'm sure as usual he will be ready to go. But as he ages this becomes even more important. It's easier for a younger player to come into camp out of shape and be able to get by, but if an older player does it then you might as well put him on the DL right away. It's happened to Damon, it's happened to Giambi. I don't think it'll be an issue for A-Rod but if he wants to stay off the DL and remain as healthy as possible for 162 games, then this is very important.
3. Playing Time During the Season
Joe Girardi needs to keep his aging superstar fresh. There's no other way around it. This is the biggest reason signing Prince Fielder would be a terrible idea. It would force A-Rod to third base every single game, and at his age I'm simply not sure he can handle playing there everyday anymore. Obviously he still can be the primary third baseman, but I'd give him a LOT of DH days during the course of the season. It'll help keep him fresh while still getting him ABs to keep timing down. Also, in blowout games take him out to give him extra rest. Maybe 100 games at 3B and 35-45 games as a DH? Especially make sure he's fresh and healthy down the stretch. Obviously he'd play third base every single postseason inning.
This was pretty much a lost regular season for him, but it happens. Do I think he'll ever become the player he was in 2007 again? No, I don't. Those days are well behind him. But I do feel that if they handle him correctly and he can stay off the DL, he's still good enough to do some real damage. A-Rod still is remarkably talented and still has the ability to carry an offense when he gets hot. There's no player in the league better than Alex Rodriguez when he gets on a roll. But due to injuries, it's been difficult for him to maintain those streaks for too long over the past couple years.
I don't expect him to be an MVP candidate, but he's still a top hitter who can sometimes be an elite hitter when he's healthy. I think a line of around .280/.360/.520 with 30-35 HR and 100+ RBIs would be realistic for him. And hopefully he has a huge postseason next year as well.