Alex Rodriguez Still Set To Be a Productive MLB Player in 2015


It is not just Alex Rodriguez‘s achievements that come with an asterisk–it is even the mere mention of his name. You can’t talk about Rodriguez’s unbelievable season as a 20 year old in 1996 or his game-winning double in Game 4 of the 2009 World Series without starting off the conversation “I know what a joke he has become, but remember when…”

Alex Rodriguez is now a 39-year-old designated hitter set to earn $22 million in 2015 plus $6 million more if he can hit 6 home runs to tie Willie Mays for fourth on baseball’s all-time list. We knew the day would come when Rodriguez would be an aging star making far too much money, but no one knew in 2005 or 2007 that he would be remotely as hated as he is now.

The funny thing is, though, that despite all the malice towards him and the distractions he creates for his teammates, Rodriguez has the ability to help the New York Yankees win next season. There is certainly no guarantee of that, but the most likely outcome is that he will provide more good to the team than bad.

The last time we saw Rodriguez, the last two months of the 2013 season, he was still a reasonably good player. In 181 plate appearances, he hit to a .244/.348/.423 line, good for a 113 OPS+, meaning he was 13% better than how a league-average hitter would produce at Yankee Stadium. In 2012, he was just two ticks worse at 111 and in 2011, he was farther above at 119.

Rodriguez’s 13 consecutive years of 30 home runs and 100 RBIs are well in the past, but while he has declined, he has never been worse than 10% above league average. Since 1996, that OPS+ of 111 in 2012 is the worst he has managed. Is it so crazy to think that he can put up a season like that again?

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As noted by Joel Sherman, Chase Headley just received a four-year, $52 million contract from the Yankees after a season where he managed a 102 OPS+. You can call Headley’s bad season a fluke or note his 119 OPS+ in pinstripes, but it is worth noting that Rodriguez hasn’t been as bad as Headley’s overall numbers in two decades. It remains to be seen whether Rodriguez can sustain that for any longer, but he certainly has a chance.

In 2015, Rodriguez will be coming off a year of suspension, but also a season of rest, a season where he could finally move past his nagging injuries. His rest will continue in the form of half off-days for nearly all of 2015 as he sees most of his time at designated hitter. Rodriguez, despite all of his flaws, remains a talented hitter. Most of his talent is gone, but all of the breathers will help him make the most of everything he has left.

In 2015, Rodriguez will give the New York Yankees a reasonably strong designated hitter situation while also providing depth at the infield corners. He is well past his prime and will receive no accolades for being a good teammate, but his track record suggests that he can still play and his time off will only help him this season.

Yankee fans changed their opinion of Alex Rodriguez once when he was excellent after returning from the DL in 2009 and subsequently delivered in the postseason. He admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, but he managed to achieve a measure of redemption through his play. That will not be happening this time around–Rodriguez’s legacy is beyond saving.

Even so, neither the Yankees nor their fans need to like Rodriguez the person to consider Rodriguez the player valuable. If he hits the way he is capable at the plate, Rodriguez may still hear more boos than cheers at Yankee Stadium, but people will appreciate his contributions to their team. Though Yankees would rather not have Rodriguez under contract, given that they have him, they will give him playing time knowing that he deserves it.

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