Alex Rodriguez made his debut as a platoon player Tuesday night, batting third as the designated hitter for the New York Yankees against the Texas Rangers. Left-hander Cole Hamels pitched for Texas, which is why A-Rod was in the starting lineup for the first time in three games.
The Yankees haven’t made any sort of formal announcement about Rodriguez’s new status, but is there any other conclusion to draw? Overall, his batting average for the season is .223 with a .662 OPS, eight homers and 26 RBI. Against right-handed pitching, A-Rod is batting .200 with a .584 OPS, five home runs and 17 RBI.
On Sunday, the Minnesota Twins pitched Tyler Duffey, who has a 3-6 record and 5.59 ERA, and Rodriguez wasn’t in the lineup. Monday night, Chi Chi Gonzalez made his first major league start of the season, after compiling a 3-6 record and 5.04 ERA in 10 starts with Triple-A Round Rock. Rodriguez was on the bench.
Apparently, this wasn’t entirely manager Joe Girardi’s decision, though he benched Rodriguez earlier in the season when he was batting under .200. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told reporters prior to Monday’s game that he met with Girardi and the coaching staff last week and decided that the better short-term move was to play Carlos Beltran at DH and improve the outfield defense by putting Aaron Hicks in right field.
Joe Girardi explains his thinking behind keeping Alex Rodriguez out of the starting lineup Monday vs Texas.https://t.co/TOwCNzfoyG
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) June 27, 2016
Beltran has easily been the best hitter in a largely ineffective Yankees lineup this season, batting .294 with a .902 OPS, 15 doubles, 19 homers and 53 RBI. Playing solely as a DH, he’s hit .320 with a 1.049 OPS. But Beltran hasn’t been very good defensively, costing the Yankees nearly four runs more than an average right fielder, according to FanGraphs’ Ultimate Zone Rating, and compiling -10 Defensive Runs Saved.
Hicks, a natural center fielder, provides a far better glove, even if his triple-slash average is .212/.265/.325 this season. As a switch-hitter, he’s batting .239 with a .656 OPS. No, that’s not much better than Rodriguez, but Hicks can at least provide better defense and some speed on the basepaths to make up for that.
Of course, when the subject is Alex Rodriguez, his contract always has to be part of the discussion. A-Rod is being paid $21 million this season and is set to make another $21 million next year. If not for that, would Rodriguez even be on the Yankees’ roster right now?
But the fragile nature of that roster and its lack of depth may be keeping Rodriguez around, at least for now. Beltran left Tuesday’s game in the first inning after hitting a single, hurting his hamstring while running to first base. He likely would have made it to second base, but felt a pull in his right hamstring and was then taken out of the game. Beltran could play on Wednesday, but it seems more likely that Rodriguez will start at DH for him, even though the Rangers are scheduled to start right-hander Nick Martinez.
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) June 27, 2016
However, if Beltran is healthy, it’s difficult to imagine A-Rod playing regularly anymore. The numbers simply don’t justify it, especially when the Yankees are in a precarious position in the AL playoff race.
Nearly half of the 2016 season has been played and the Yankees are nine games out of first place, holding fourth place in the division. The Baltimore Orioles appear to be separating from the pack with an 18-8 record thus far through June. Yet the Boston Red Sox are sliding, while the Toronto Blue Jays have been treading water all season. So when Cashman talks about contending this season, he looks rather delusional. But a look at the AL wild-card standings might justify that belief.
The Yankees are 3.5 games away from the league’s second wild-card bid. Five teams are ahead of them, which appears problematic. But two of those teams are the Red Sox and Blue Jays, who have placed themselves in striking distance with their recent play. Three others are the Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox, neither of whom looks capable of contending. The Seattle Mariners have struggled terribly in June. Among the AL’s eight-team wild-card cluster, only the Houston Astros are on an upward trend.
Under those circumstances, the Yankees’ increasing sense of urgency makes more sense. The chances of making a surge up the wild-card standings aren’t going to be helped with a .200 hitter in the DH spot. If the Yankees didn’t have options, Cashman and Girardi might just clench their teeth and hope for the best. Playing Beltran at DH and putting Hicks in the field could certainly improve matters. But the Yankees have another possibility, one they will almost certainly have to acknowledge in the next few weeks.
Aaron Judge is batting .266 with an .845 OPS, 14 doubles, 16 home runs and 46 RBI at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In June, the 24-year-old is hitting .337 with a 1.156 OPS, five doubles, nine homers and 21 RBI. And overall, Judge is performing well against right-handed pitching, compiling a .269/.367/.425 slash average with eight home runs. How is this 6-foot-7, 275-pound beast not with the Yankees already?
Cashman sounds as if he thinks Judge isn’t quite ready yet. Strikeouts are a concern, with him whiffing 77 times in 329 plate appearances. Perhaps there’s some concern about where Judge would fit as well.
If Beltran fills the DH spot, while Hicks and Rob Refsnyder play right field, there’s not an obvious spot for Judge. Even if Cashman and Girardi eventually decide that Mark Teixeira shouldn’t be in the lineup either, Refsnyder is the only option there. Judge has never played first base. Neither has Beltran, for that matter. (Greg Bird’s shoulder injury always loomed badly for the Yankees, but his absence is acutely notable now.)
Whatever the Yankees decide to do leading up to the All-Star break and July 31 trade deadline, it’s becoming glaringly apparent that Alex Rodriguez isn’t a part of those plans. And really, this is only a story because of Rodriguez’s name, achievements, infamy, and massive contract. He’s played himself into insignificance. Being benched prompts nothing much more than a shrug. Despite hitting 33 homers last season, A-Rod hit .216 with a .772 OPS in the second half and hasn’t been a factor since. The Yankees have wanted Rodriguez to go away for the past three years, and now it may be actually happening quietly.