With the great trade deadline sell-off behind them (waiver wire deals not included), the Yankees can turn their attention to 2017 and beyond with an eye towards overcoming the mediocrity that has largely defined the team’s play post-2012. However, before completely turning the page, a few nagging questions remain for Hal Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman, and the team’s front office.
The Yankees need to figure out how to send off Mark Teixeira in a way that both honors his contributions to the franchise, while recognizing that he has been a) largely ineffective this year and b) will almost certainly not be on the team next year. With a deep bench of talented outfielders in Triple-A, can Cashman find a spot for Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury elsewhere, given that they possess highly similar skill-sets and room needs to be made for prospects with greater potential? Does Brian McCann have more to offer in providing leadership behind the plate, or is it time to turn the catching reigns over to Gary Sanchez?
Even with the exceptional job that the front office did at this year’s trade deadline, no remaining question will receive greater scrutiny than how to handle Alex Rodriguez and the year and two months remaining on his contract. The Yankees are embarking on their first rebuild of the 21st Century, and while that rebuild may occur relatively quickly, Rodriguez will not be a part of the Yankees’ 28th World Series championship.
Given that reality, there is a strong argument to be made that if the team’s number one priority is a World Series victory, Rodriguez should be cut immediately and the Yankees should simply eat the remaining $25+ million on his contract. But the Yankees have to pay Rodriguez regardless, so ownership and the team’s bean counters will certainly want to explore reasons to keep him around and recoup some value from their investment.
There are four primary rationales at this point that the front office could use to justify keeping Rodriguez on the team through next season.
First, that Rodriguez can turn things around on the field, and help the Yankees win baseball games as a DH and perhaps as an emergency first basemen. This logic seems difficult to support empirically given Rodriguez’s performance since last August.
Second, since returning from his suspension, Rodriguez has been a model citizen, and the Yankees should keep him on the team so as not to embarrass one of the greatest players in the history of Major League Baseball as his career winds down. This rationale is not as altruistic as it sounds. Next offseason the Yankees could be competing for the services of players like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, and Jose Fernandez. If the Yankees end Rodriguez’s tenure with the team in a manner that is perceived as less than respectful, this could hurt their chances of landing a star free agent in a league where the Yankees’ financial might matters less than it used to.
Rodriguez’s reputation for mentoring younger players is also well known. The 2017 squad could be the youngest Yankees team in recent memory. If Rodriguez’s presence can help facilitate the development of the new guard, it might be worth the roster spot during a season when the Yankees are highly unlikely to emerge as serious contenders.
Fourth, the original rationale for the Rodriguez extension is that he can help to sell tickets as he approaches home run milestones. Rodriguez enters the game on Tuesday with 696 lifetime home runs, and given regular at bats, he could reach the 700 mark, and possibly even the Babe Ruth’s 714.
While it’s unlikely A-Rod will improve and the home run milestones don’t matter much, keeping him around to entice free agents and help mentor prospects could be something the Yankees seriously consider. Make no mistake, a key part of the rebuild is for the Yankees to attract marquee free agents in 2018. As a result, it is worth seriously considering whether keeping Rodriguez on the team through 2017 can help the Yankees to a) continue to foster a positive reputation with prospective free agents and b) develop their prospects more quickly to make the Bronx a more attractive destination for players seeking to play for a contender right away.
Ultimately, an ideal scenario would be for the Yankees to reach a buyout with Rodriguez in the offseason, which allows him to retire on good terms with the team, and at least gives the impression that he left on his own accord. Whether that scenario transpires is anyone’s guess, but if Rodriguez staying around can help the team in anyway, keeping him around should absolutely be considered.