Other than an impromptu stint with a mariachi band and an Ice Bucket Challenge video, we haven't heard merely a peep from Alex Rodriguez these past few months. Since Major League Baseball settled on a 162-game suspension back in January, A-Rod has dropped his lawsuits against MLB, MLBPA, and Bud Selig, and also dropped his malpractice suit against Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the Yankees doctor who allegedly failed to disclose MRI results on A-Rod's hip back in 2012.
The beleaguered slugger spent the entirety of the 2014 season on the restricted list, and aside from his name being listed on the team's 40-man roster, there was little indication that he was even a member of the Yankees organization. But with his suspension set to expire at season's end, we have every reason to believe that he'll be a piece of the Yankees' lineup in 2015, whether as a third baseman, a designated hitter, or some combination of the two.
It's hard to know what to expect from A-Rod next year. It's not very often that we see any 39-year-old baseball players at all, let alone ones that sat out an entire year of play. He'd be only the seventh hitter since 1990 to record at least 100 PA's at age 38 or older after abstaining from organized baseball for an entire season. Here's a look at how these players fared compared to their season from two years prior.
|Season||Age||Player||wRC+ Before Hiatus||wRC+ After Hiatus|
Overall, this group performed about as well as they did the last time we saw them. This sample is way too small to draw any definitive conclusions, but shows that a year removed from game action is by no means a death knell, even for a 40-year-old.
Despite his old and diminished state, there's still plenty of reason to believe A-Rod has something left in the tank. Although his monster 2007 campaign is nearly a decade behind him, he was one of the better hitters in baseball as recently as last fall. Upon returning from the DL on August 5th, he hit an impressive .283/.385/.480 in his first 36 games before his calf started acting up in mid-September. Small sample? Sure, but it was also one of the few stretches in the past three or four years where we know for sure that he was fully healthy. His 2012 campaign was marred with a broken hand and recurring hip issues, while he battled through a torn meniscus in his knee for much of 2011. If he's able to stay relatively healthy next year, I think a .250/.330/.400 batting line would be very realistic.
Defensively, though, it's hard to see A-Rod being much an asset. At best, he'll be able to play an adequate third base four or five games a week, while the more likely scenario has him logging most of his games at DH. However, the Yankees would be wise to give him some reps at first base next spring. It's pretty clear that Mark Teixeira is not someone who can stay healthy, and not having a viable backup really came back to bite the Yankees in 2014. Way too many 1B plate appearances (155) fell to Kelly Johnson, Brian McCann, Francisco Cervelli, and Brendan Ryan this year. That group hit .196/.278/.297 at the position and made some shoddy defensive plays to boot. Even with his defensive shortcomings, A-Rod would have certainly been able to do a little something with the bat.
No matter how A-Rod fares next season, it certainly won't be without drama. He's one of the most polarizing figures in all of sports, and millions of fans will be rooting for him to fail. They very well may get their wish, as few players play into their late 30's without outliving their usefulness. But I'm hoping A-Rod finds a way to tap into his former greatness, and turns in a healthy and productive 2015 season.