Assuming that Alex Rodriguez does not get his 162-game suspension reduced or overturned in federal court, the Yankees' third baseman will not see the field again until Opening Day 2015 at the earliest. By that point Rodriguez will be just a few months away from his 40th birthday, having only played in a handful of games since the 2012 postseason. How much can the Yankees reasonably expect out of A-Rod once he's able to play baseball again after such a long absence?
It's without question that Rodriguez's body seems to be breaking down, whether as a result of the natural aging process or because of past (or present) steroid use. He was unable to even finish the 2013 season after rejoining the squad after the All-Star break due to another hip surgery that kept him out of the entire first half. The Yankees could allow A-Rod to play baseball with some other entity while he serves out his suspension, but it seems unlikely that they would do so when he has three years remaining on his contract. Sitting around while only able to do baseball drills and training doesn't seem like a way for an aging player to get into shape for 162 games in 2015.
The Yankees have a very difficult choice to make, and it extends even beyond whether or not they think Rodriguez will be able to play at a high level, or at all, in 2015. With $61 million dollars being owed to Rodriguez after his suspension is over, the Yankees would need to fork over that sum to make him go away forever. If they think he will not be able to play after sitting out for what will virtually amount to the length of two seasons or just don't want to deal with the general headache that seems to surround his presence on the team at this juncture, it's going to cost them up front.
A grand total of $61 million dollars is an incredible amount of money to pay someone to not play for the Yankees, but it seems like the relationship between player and team is just too strained to ever function normally again. The questions about Rodriguez's most recent run in with steroids and Biogenesis are not going to go away because he doesn't play in 2014. If Rodriguez's level of play the past few seasons has been because he was on some magic potion from Anthony Bosch, what level will he be able to reach without it? A-Rod was not rolling along like Barry Bonds, continuing to be a superstar far past his prime. Rodriguez struggled to be Alex Rodriguez as baseball fans know him, and beyond that, he even struggled to be on the field enough to struggle. If the Yankees have to pay him anyway, and barring some crazy events transpiring, they will, it could be in their best interests to pay him to make himself scarce.
The flip side to that coin is that the Yankees have to pay him anyway and could easily see if he can't be slightly useful for the duration of a contract that will only continue to look worse. If the team feels that Rodriguez gives them the best chance to win at third base, and that having him around for over $20 million per year makes more sense than to pay him to hang out in Miami on their dime, maybe the two sides find a way to grin and bear it for the remaining years on Rodriguez's deal. Are they mature enough to do that? Judging by everything that has transpired as of late, probably not.
Any decision will likely come down to whether or not the Yankees are a better team with or without Alex Rodriguez and the baggage he brings on a daily basis. It's difficult to imagine him playing for the Yankees again as of January 2014, but maybe that landscape ends up looking different by this time next year. Alternatively, maybe it only ends up looking worse. Rodriguez has filed a lawsuit against the Yankees' team doctor, accusing Dr. Ahmad of many serious medical infractions. It doesn't seem like having that play out will do anything to endear Rodriguez to his teammates or the team itself. Can the Yankees stomach the loss of $61 million and keep a contender on the field? Probably, they are certainly rich enough to do so. However, would the media fallout of releasing Alex Rodriguez be more than they want to deal with? If answering questions is uncomfortable now, they certainly wouldn't magically come to a stop after that.
It's easy to be on the side of release when it isn't your $61 million to part with, but it's difficult to imagine a scenario in which Rodriguez suits up for the Yankees and everyone carries on as if none of this happened in 2015. It's unlikely that Rodriguez will be able to be a productive player that stays on the field after missing so much time when he wasn't even able to finish half a season last year. The Yankees could see a release as the easy way out of the ongoing Rodriguez drama, and they probably wouldn't be wrong. Media members would descend for incessant questioning at first, but when the dust all settled, they'd be free of a contract that has done nothing but weigh them down for years. There has to be some feeling of relief in that.
The good news is that no decision needs to be made for now. Rodriguez is as far in the background as he can be at the moment and it doesn't seem like any judge will be willing to overturn that for 2014. All this means is that the Yankees have a year to come up with the best plan for them, and deciding whether or not that plan involves Rodriguez. If their plan does involve Rodriguez, there's going to need to be a lot of fence mending on A-Rod's part after throwing the Yankees under the bus when it came to his injury and the entire sordid mess with MLB and Biogenesis that has been played out publicly ever since then. As hard as he may have had it from the fans and media before, that is only going to be intensified if he plays professional baseball again.
It's possible that the Yankees want to avoid the risk of releasing A-Rod only to have him join another team. Determining just how big of a risk that is will be for them to decide, but it wouldn't be too far out of reach to imagine Rodriguez getting the Barry Bonds treatment and kind of fading away. Fear of another team taking on a constant headache shouldn't prevent the Yankees from doing what is right for themselves, though. Can 40-year-old A-Rod who hasn't played in nearly two years really be that much of a threat to them?
Do you think the Yankees should release Rodriguez before he suits up to play again as a Yankee? What would you do in their position?