There are few days in the course of the storied history of the New York Yankees with more notoriety--good and bad--than February 17th, 2004. That was the day that Bud Selig (Remember him? He used to be Commissioner.) approved the trade of Alex Rodriguez from the Rangers to the Yankees in exchange for Alfonso Soriano. Nearly eleven years after that transaction, the Yankees and Rodriguez remain, incredulously, attached at the surgically-repaired hip. A-Rod's time in pinstripes can effectively be divided into three distinct phases: 2004-2008, 2009-2013, and 2014-TBD. With Rodriguez under contract through 2017, let's take a look back on what has been a Greek tragedy, both on and off the diamond.
The "ignorance is bliss" period of the A-Rod tenure. During this era, the biggest criticisms of Rodriguez were his inability to hit in the clutch and a reported disconnect between him and the rest of the Yankee clubhouse, specifically Derek Jeter. After a solid 2004 regular season, A-Rod became the face of the ALCS collapse versus Boston thanks to Slap-gate. His outstanding year in 2005 earned him his second AL MVP nod, but that damn postseason snuck up on Alex again, as he went just 2-for-15 in a tough Division Series loss against the Angels. The low point of this phase for A-Rod came the following year in 2006. Between his inexplicable lapse in defensive ability (24 errors at third), a widening gap in the clubhouse (A-Fraud had become a popular nickname), and another horrific postseason in which he wound up hitting eighth in team's ALDS finale against Detroit, A-Rod's legacy in pinstripes was, perhaps, at a crossroads.
And then 2007 happened. 54 home runs. 156 RBI. Clutch hit after clutch hit. Becoming the youngest player in history to hit the 500 home run mark. It was one of the best regular season performances in franchise history; some might even argue the best by a right-handed hitter. However, it wasn't without controversy. There was Ha!-gate and alleged extramarital rumors (I know that really shouldn't matter, but half the obsession and outrage with Rodriguez over the last 11 years has dealt with off-the-field nonsense). Riding the wave of a near-unanimous MVP season, his third, this was sure to be the year Rodriguez broke out in October, right? A one-RBI ALDS loss later, many were fed up with the superstar...and that was before he opted out of his contract in the middle of the World Series! Despite repeated statements by Brian Cashman that the team would not seek to re-sign A-Rod should he opt out; well, they did, to, at that time, the biggest contract in sports history.
2008 was perhaps the most forgettable year of the Rodriguez-Yankee era, as the team failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1993 under new manager Joe Girardi. It was also the last year that we thought we knew everything we needed to know about number 13.
BEST MOMENT: April 2007 as a whole. It's the best single month any Yankee has had perhaps ever.
WORST MOMENT: Being dropped to eighth in the ALDS Game 4. Was it totally necessary for Joe Torre to do that? I doubt that he would've ever given Jeter that treatment. Regardless, it said a lot about A-Rod's status as a "real Yankee."
We'll refer to this phase as the "Entourage" phase of the Rodriguez era, because it was great at the start but ended with disappointment. Well, it could've technically started better, since it was in spring training 2009 that A-Rod really became A-Roid. All things considered, he did a pretty good job of damage control, thanks to a team that came out to support him at the press conference in which he, err, "came clean." After missing the first five weeks of the year recovering from hip surgery, he hit just about the best home run one could possibly hit in the first inning of a regular season game in May. In just 124 games, Rodriguez hit the 30 HR/100 RBI mark for the 12th consecutive season. All of that was the prelude for the postseason that appeared to save his baseball legacy. Six home runs, 18 RBI and one title later, the narrative on Rodriguez had been flipped, and his pinstripes finally "earned", thanks to a World Series title.
Riding the biggest high of his professional career, A-Rod had another strong 2010, which included his 600th home run on the third anniversary of his 500th. He disappeared in an ALCS loss to the Rangers, but the deflector shield that was the previous fall worked wonders. In 2011, he appeared in just 99 games, and put up career-low numbers since he became an everyday player. Another tough postseason followed, and suddenly, 2009 seemed like a long time ago.
This is where it starts to get ugly again. Age appeared to finally be catching up to A-Rod in 2012, as he slugged just 18 homers in 463 at-bats. In that year's ALDS series win against Baltimore, Rodriguez was a strikeout machine, and was pinch-hit for, memorably, by Raul Ibanez in Game 3 of the series. It was during that game that Flirt-gate, a personal favorite of mine, occurred, and public perception had officially turned on Rodriguez again. He was effectively a bench player in the team's ALCS loss against Detroit.
[Insert Biogenesis here]. This was the point of no return for A-Rod, for as the old saying goes: "Lie to me once, shame on me. Lie to me twice, shame on
Anthony Bosch you." Major League Baseball came down hard on Rodriguez, handing him the biggest suspension in history and, in true A-Rod fashion, played that day. However, one of A-Rod's finer Yankee moments came during his brief stint on the field in 2013, when he took Ryan Dempster deep after Dempster repeatedly threw behind the embattled slugger before finally drilling him. Other than that, Yankee fans had pretty much abandoned Rodriguez, as had much of the sport. As had the team's front office.
BEST MOMENT: This home run.
WORST MOMENT: Some stiff competition in this category. The suspension is the obvious pick, but we'll go with the ugly war of words between Rodriguez and the front office. I mean, he accused them of intentionally botching his nagging hip issue and later sued the team doctor. Cashman said that he "didn't feel comfortable" talking to Rodriguez. Yeesh. This is in the running too.
This part of the saga, which is, of course, on-going, is the "Costanza" phase for Mr. Rod. For those unfamiliar with Seinfeld, there is an episode where George's employees turn against him once they find out he's been using a made-up disability to his advantage, and they look to make his time in the office as hard as possible. This is how I envision the next few years for Alex.
After missing all of last year A-Rod will arrive at spring training in just under a month (!!!!) looking to contribute in 2015. His time as the Yankees' everyday third baseman is most likely over, as are his days as a major threat in the lineup. Steamer projects A-Rod to play in just under 100 games, while putting up a .235/.317/.382 slash-line, by far the lowest of his career in all categories. Anything more from Rodriguez and even Randy Levine would crack a smile.
It's really a shame, this latest installment of the Rodriguez saga. Entering his age-39 season, this was supposed to be around the time A-Rod would approach the all-time home run record. That clearly won't be taking place, and even his upcoming 3000th hit figures to receive much less fan-fare than did Jeter's.
Is there any reason to be optimistic? Yes. Rodriguez meeting with Barry Bonds with off-season, as silly as it seems, could help him adjust to life as a battered and bruised, but still productive, older player. Rodriguez also reportedly met with Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred earlier this week to try to mend a relationship that didn't get off to the best start. It's a start.
If given the chance to go back in time, I hope most Yankee fans realize trading for Rodriguez was still the right move. Re-signing him after the '07 season was a mistake only in the sense that there was zero reason for a ten-year deal. Like many deals the Yankees made in that stretch, the short-term benefits were stressed as opposed to long-term headaches.
Who knows what the next few years will have in store for Rodriguez and the team? It doesn't figure to be a clean separation, that is certain. Let's just hope there are no more centaur portraits.