Yesterday, the longest-tenured Yankees player, Alex Rodriguez, announced that he is retiring after Friday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays. He will take on a special advising role with the team come spring training, where he will work with players and prospects in Tampa. Other than the obvious, this marks a huge turning point for the team, and it ushers the organization into a completely new era.
First, the obvious: the Yankees will no longer have Rodriguez on the team. He will go home, and the Yankees will unconditionally release him. He is free to do whatever he wants—play for another team, pursue media opportunities, etc.—and the Yankees get another roster spot. They will pay him the remaining money on his salary, a sum of about $27 million, and he will supposedly sever ties with the team at the end of his advisory role, on December 31, 2017.
So, in terms of payroll implications, there are none. Rodriguez will still be paid the same amount, and it still counts exactly the same against the luxury tax. All they get is the roster spot, and that’s probably worth it at this point. He will be the highest-paid special adviser/instructor ever, if you’re a fan of fun facts.
For the team, this loss is more than just on-the-field. He has been praised numerous times, both by Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman, for his incredible baseball acumen and leadership abilities. In the press conference yesterday, there were references to Rodriguez as a possible coach, scout, agent, and businessman, and it’s because he lives and breathes baseball.
He helps the organization identify talent; he mentors younger players and hones their abilities; he has grown into a respected elder in the clubhouse. When you play with players dating back to the 1970’s, you accumulate a ton of baseball knowledge. We don’t know what type of value that has, but it’s gone from the clubhouse. Luckily, that knowledge will still exist in this new role, so players like Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo will get a mentor that came help them, and it will help the Yankees as they try to rebuild.
In terms of on-the-field implications, this means that the designated hitter is no longer a fixed position. We have seen in past years that Girardi liked to use the role as a half-day off for veterans, and as a way to shuffle players in and out of positions to make sure people stayed fresh but still got consistent plate appearances. There’s no more worry about working around Rodriguez, which means we’ll see Brian McCann, Gary Sanchez, and others in the spot. This also opens the door for a free agent signing—Carlos Beltran or otherwise—who can slot there in 2017. It gives Cashman a lot more flexibility.
Most of all, though, this is really serves as an era demarcation. Rodriguez has been on the Yankees since February 16, 2004. He is the last connection to a completely different era of baseball, and he largely defined modern baseball. He was the modern game’s larger-than-life superstar, a Babe Ruth for the 21st century. He was one of the most significant players in the history of the sport, no matter your opinions on him. Rodriguez was a confluence of fame, wealth, controversy, the steroid era, and immense talent; he embodied the modern game more than any player, other than maybe Barry Bonds.
It is also unequivocally true that the Yankees do not look like the Yankees without him. Even at the time of his extension, it was clear that his marquee value had such a huge impact on the franchise. He boosted YES Network ratings just as they were jockeying to get on all of the cable packages; he boosted ticket and merchandise value; he was a draw when the Yankees opened their new stadium; most importantly, he led them to a World Series win in 2009 that is still paying dividends today. If anyone tells you that his contract wasn’t worth every penny, you can say that it is completely false.
I don’t know what the future of this franchise holds. They are entering new waters that we haven’t seen since the early-1990s, and now Alex Rodriguez won’t be part of that future. Whether you love him or despise him, he was one of the most important players and Yankees of all time.