VIERA, Fla. — What Alex Rodriguez strongly hinted at when spring training started, he seemed to make official Wednesday. But, A-Rod being A-Rod, that wasn’t the end of it.
The designated hitter, who will turn 41 July 27, told ESPN.com late Wednesday morning that he plans to retire when his contract expires after the 2017 season.
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“I won’t play after next year,” Rodriguez said, according to the website. “I’ve really enjoyed my time. For me, it is time for me to go home and be Dad.”
But later in the day, according to two other published reports, Rodriguez, although not retracting his “I won’t play after next year” comment, indicated he was referring only to the end of his current contract, which expires after 2017.
“I’m thinking in terms of my contract, which ends in 2017. After that, we’ll see what happens,” Rodriguez told the Daily News and New York Post. “I’ve got two years and more than 300 games to play.”
Rodriguez’s spokesman, Ron Berkowitz, did imply a wait-and-see approach in a conversation Wednesday afternoon. “His mind is on playing the next 324 games,” Berkowitz said. “It’s not like he’s looking toward retirement.”
If Rodriguez’s intent is to retire, no one would be shocked.
“He’s going to be 42 at the end of his contract and you don’t see players playing really past that age,” Joe Girardi said before a 13-0 loss to the Nationals Wednesday night at Space Coast Stadium. “So I’m not really surprised.”
Brett Gardner, the only Yankees regular on the trip, couldn’t resist taking a dig at A-Rod’s age. “I don’t think it should be too much of a surprise. He’s close to 50 years old, he can’t play forever, right?”
Gardner smiled before continuing. “But he’s been nothing but great to me, he’s always been willing to help. He’s been very, very helpful, whether it be advice for things on the field between the lines or off the field or anywhere in between.”
Girardi left open the possibility that Rodriguez could play beyond the 2017 season. “If he had two really good years,’’ he said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if he changed his mind.”
Rodriguez enters his 22nd big-league season with 687 home runs, fourth behind Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755) and Babe Ruth (714).
Rodriguez is coming off a season in which he surprised just about everyone, including himself. He hit a team-high 33 home runs and had 86 RBIs with a .250 batting average, .356 on-base percentage and .486 slugging percentage in 151 games. He also reached the 3,000-hit milestone with a home run off the Tigers’ Justin Verlander in June. All of this after being suspended for the 2014 season because of his involvement in PEDs and the Biogenesis scandal.
Two more good seasons might leave Rodriguez in position to become the all-time leader in home runs, but his former hitting coach said he doesn’t believe he will stick around just to set more records.
“If you would have asked me that five years ago, I would have said yes,” said Kevin Long, the Yankees’ hitting coach from 2007-14 and now the Mets’ hitting coach. “Knowing him now, he’s at peace with himself in his life, and he’s in a very good place. I think he’s fine with it. I don’t think he’s chasing any records. I think he’s very content to finish out his career and finish it out the best he can.”
After the Yankees’ first full-squad workout Feb. 26, Rodriguez said he was far more “at ease” this spring compared to last. Later, responding to a question about something Mark Teixeira said that day — the 35-year-old first baseman said he hoped to play at least five more years — Rodriguez left little doubt how he felt regarding how much longer he wanted to play.
“I’m madly in love with the game of baseball, that’s for sure,” he said, “but I won’t be playing five more years.”
Girardi said after Rodriguez is done he expects him to stay in the game, perhaps as a broadcaster, part of an ownership group or as a coach or manager.
Rodriguez laughed off the latter possibility in late February.
“I’ll be managing, but I’ll be managing probably my girls’ team, volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club,” he said. “But I won’t be managing. You can quote me on that one.”
With David Lennon and Marc Carig