What Should the Yankees Expect From Alex Rodriguez in 2015?
About the only thing the New York Yankees haven't done to rid themselves of Alex Rodriguez is put yellow police tape around his locker.
But, try as they might, A-Rod is going to be donning Yankee pinstripes once again in 2015. Needless to say, it's going to be interesting.
Rodriguez, now 39 years old, is due to make $22 million this season, and is still on the books for $21 million both in 2016 and '17. His battles with ownership are well documented and not worth going into here.
On the field, the big question is, how much is A-Rod going to play? Will he be a starter? Will he play some third base? Will he be the full-time designated hitter? Or will he be a platoon player?
Back in November, general manager Brian Cashman said Rodriguez is going to have to compete for a job in spring training, whether it's at third base, designated hitter or even first base. And judging by his numbers the last four seasons, that's completely understandable.
Rodriguez has also seen his nERD fall from 1.27 in 2011, to 1.08 in '12 to 0.33 in '13. That means a lineup full of Rodriguezes would have generated 0.33 runs a game more than a league average player in 2013.
So, let's start at the position at which he's logged the most time in his career.
In the offseason, New York re-signed Chase Headley to a four-year, $52 million deal to play third base. Headley had a solid half-season with the Yanks, hitting .262/.371/.398 with 6 home runs in 224 plate appearances after escaping Petco Park. Overall, he hit .243/.328/.372 last year with 13 home runs and 20 doubles.
Headley is a switch-hitter with decent stats as a right-handed hitter against left-handed pitching, hitting .248/.341/.380 last season. For his career, it's .258/.324/.403. So a straight platoon situation doesn't seem to be in the cards for Rodriguez at third.
Also, Headley was a better-than-average defender last year, with 13 defensive runs saved, tied for third-best among all third basemen in '14. Rodriguez is considered a below-average defender. Common sense tells you New York wouldn't have re-signed Headley to a four-year deal if they had any intention of Rodriguez being their starting third baseman in 2015.
There may be more of an opportunity at first, with oft-injured Mark Teixeira penciled in as the Opening Day starter. Tex has had a hard time staying healthy in recent seasons, limited to just 15 games in 2013 and 125 last year and in 2012. Teixeira was worth 0.8 Fangraphs wins above replacement (fWAR) last year, while hitting .216/.313/.398 with 22 home runs and just 14 doubles.
However, the Yanks are on the hook for a tidy sum to Tex the next couple seasons, $23.125 million each of the next two years. And there is one other issue concerning A-Rod playing first base this season. He's never done it before.
A-Rod is probably the leading candidate to get most of the plate appearances here. However, there is some competition. Garrett Jones was acquired by New York in the offseason to provide some insurance for Teixeira at first but is also a candidate to see some playing time as the designated hitter. As a left-handed pull-hitter, the short porch in right should be an inviting area for him.
However, Jones is pretty much only useful against right-handed pitching. He had a .250/.314/.435 slash line and all 15 homers against righties last year. For his career, his slash against righties is .267/.333/.479. Against lefties it's .197/.239/.335. It wouldn't be surprising to see Jones get a large number of plate appearances against right-handers this season at A-Rod's expense. But Rodriguez should expect to see every start against a left-handed pitcher.
What makes predicting Rodriguez' 2015 season so difficult is that he didn't play last season. It's not often you have a 39-year-old who was once one of the greatest in the history of the game trying to make a comeback after missing the entire previous season due to suspension. It's impossible to know how healthy he will be, how much bat speed he's lost, and whether he can even hit Major League pitching anymore.
Our projections will be out soon, but my guess is Rodriguez has enough left in the tank to run into 20-to-25 fastballs and put them out of the park next year. He plays in a hitter's park and should be able to do a little bit of damage against left-handed pitching.
As for the lineup, here's how I see it shaking out.
My guess is A-Rod will be relegated to the designated hitter slot for 80-90% of his plate appearances, and he'll probably get about two-thirds of those plate appearances against both righties and lefties, while ceding some at-bats to the left-handed-hitting Jones. They are, after all, still paying Rodriguez the equivalent of a small nation's GDP.
But one thing seems clear. Rodriguez is going to have to earn his playing time, no matter his salary.