Let’s throw out what, until Friday night, was clearly a bout of pettiness and double talk from Joe Girardi. It took a ton of twists and turns but the Yankees finally figured out how to say farewell – and maybe, don’t let the door hit you on the way out of town – to Alex Rodriguez.
The release of A-Rod was made official by a simple tweet from the team’s PR department on Saturday morning, Combined with the upcoming retirement of Mark Teixeira and the prospect-laden trades of Aroldis Chapman, Carlos Beltran and Andrew Miller, the Yankees are really set up for the future.
And in an odd confluence of events, look at what happened Saturday in the Bronx.
It was the official reunion day for the 20th anniversary of the 1996 World Series team – the first featuring the Core Four. It was also the major-league debuts of Aaron Judge in right field and Tyler Austin at first base, and the 11th game in the career of 23-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez. Then Austin and Judge went deep in their first at-bats. Crazy. Greg Bird missed this year due to injury but will be ready to go in 2017. These are the Yankees of the future. So is Mike Trout comparable Clint Frazier, acquired from Cleveland in the Miller trade.
Have you looked at the International League standings lately? Scranton/Wilkes-Barre entered Saturday 75-44 and on a 91-win pace that would match the Bisons’ incredible 2001 season as one of the league’s best in the last 50 years.
The Yankees’ current edition had gone as far as it could go. Wild-card contention is about all they can muster at this point, although it’s interesting to note the Bombers entered Saturday just 3½ games off the pace and with a better record than the Mets, who are a mess less than a year after making the World Series. Girardi was doing what any manager would in trying to win every game, but he was also talking out of both sides of his mouth.
First off, Girardi said Rodriguez would be playing when the Yankees got to Boston. Then he reneged on that even as the Fenway Park fans chanted they wanted A-Rod. Then came Girardi’s infamous “my job description does not entail farewell tours” quote.
Now, Mariano Rivera was still at the top of his game when he went out in 2013 but Derek Jeter’s play had fallen off so sharply that it was nothing but a farewell tour for him the next summer. But Girardi kept putting Jeter in the lineup, and at shortstop, when his skills had clearly eroded. Girardi wasn’t wrong with his clear view that A-Rod was done, but going back on his word wasn’t a very good look.
At the very least, whatever fracture there was between manager and over-the-hill slugger, Girardi made some amends the last two days. He used Rodriguez as his DH in Boston on Thursday and did an about face and agreed to let him take the field at third base for the ninth inning Friday. It created one of those only-in-the-Bronx scenes when A-Rod got lifted with one out.
Girardi was emotional afterward, the pain of the preceding week clearly evident.
“I think some people think that I wanted to make negative decisions, but that’s not the case,” Girardi said. “I have a huge heart, and if this is the last time he plays, I wanted it to be something he would never forget.”
So now the Yankees move forward without A-Rod. They’re set up with dollars to spend and prospects to deal if they want to trade for a big arm this winter, maybe Chris Sale. Everyone wonders what will happen in free agency in coming years, be it Manny Machado, Bryce Harper or Mike Trout.
But let’s not forget what set the franchise up in the 90s. It wasn’t overspending for the likes of A-Rod, or Teixeira or CC Sabathia. Yes, that got them a World Series title in 2009 but not a lot more. It was about building a core from within and the Yankees got a quick head start on 2017 in the last couple of weeks.
And judging on how things started Saturday, who knows where they go even in 2016?
Last words on A-Rod
Rodriguez’ pregame farewell ceremony Friday got cut short after a resounding clap of thunder filled Yankee Stadium and a downpour sent everyone scurrying for cover. Sure seemed like some sort of message from above. The headline on the cover of Saturday’s New York Post was “God Hates A-Rod.”
“It was biblical,” Rodriguez said of the weather after the game. “You couldn’t make it up.”
The same could be said for most of A-Rod’s career. No matter which side of the debate you sit, it sure was interesting. You can never question his commitment to winning and his deference to the history of the game. You know it’s killing him to stop at 696 home runs, four shy of joining a very elite club. But the fact is that his bat speed just about disappeared this season, and that decline really dates to last August.
Rodriguez was one of the most interesting guys in the game to talk to, even as his interviews often seemed scripted and staged. But there were times when it was just writers around him with no cameras when you saw the insight he had on the game, on hitting and on what pitchers on other teams were trying to do. And that really came through last October when he worked the postseason for FOX.
• Saturday’s debut of the Yankees’ Judge, who will become the every day right fielder, and Austin marked the first time in more than 47 years the Yankees have had two players debut on the same day, since outfielder Jim Lyttle and catcher John Ellis started against California on May 17, 1969.
• For all the talk about the Cubs, Nationals or Indians, who has had the best record in the majors since May 22? It’s the Astros, who entered Saturday’s game in Toronto at 44-27 since that date. It’s a big bounceback for a team that started 17-28 after nearly beating the Royals in the division series last season.
• Speaking of Houston, Jose Altuve entered Saturday batting .429 on the road this season - second all-time since 1913. Altuve is trying to become the first American League player to lead the league in batting average, hits and on-base percentage since Wade Boggs in 1985.
• Edwin Encarnacion became the fourth Blue Jays slugger to hit 300 home runs with the team when we went deep in the ninth inning Friday night against the Astros. The elite group also includes Joe Carter, Carlos Delgado and Jose Bautista.
• The Nationals on Saturday released embattled closer Jonathan Papelbon, reportedly at his request. Not needed since the acquisition of Mark Melancon from Pittsburgh, Papelbon was used only in a pair of mop-up situations. His career in Washington pretty much ended during the July 26 loss at Cleveland, when he gave up three runs in the ninth to turn a 6-4 lead into a 7-6 loss.