Analysis: Alex Rodriguez needs to be realistic about his skills

Alex Rodriguez walks back to the dugout after

Alex Rodriguez walks back to the dugout after striking out in the second inning of Game 2 of the ALCS. (Oct. 14, 2012) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

The bar has been set this low for Alex Rodriguez, a three-time MVP winner with the fifth-most home runs in history:

If you could guarantee the Yankees that in the next five years, he would bat .275 with an average of 20 to 25 homers and 75 to 80 RBIs per year, the team would "sign up for that'' in a second, a person familiar with the club's thinking said Friday.

The problem, the person said, is getting the 37-year-old delusional diva -- an image reinforced with his alleged decision to try to secure the phone numbers of two women behind the Yankees' dugout during Game 1 of the ALCS -- to look at himself realistically.

"He needs to get into his head that that's what he is now and that it's OK to be that,'' the person said. "If he gets his arms around that, he'll be very, very good.''

But Rodriguez has given no indications that he is coming to that kind of conclusion, instead peddling what's become a familiar-sounding line of great -- but unrealistic -- expectations.

"Let's make that very, very clear,'' he said in a side room outside the visitor's clubhouse at Comerica Park after the Game 4 loss to the Tigers. "I don't expect to be mediocre. I expect to do what I've done for a long time.''

He then referenced another experience in this ballpark -- Game 4 of the 2006 ALDS, when the Tigers eliminated the Yankees and a struggling A-Rod was dropped to eighth in the batting order by Joe Torre.

"I sat in this room in 2006 and there were a lot of doubters, and I said I was going to get back to the drawing board and I came back with a vengeance in '07,'' he said. "I'm looking forward to hopefully doing the same.''

But that's assuming facts no longer in evidence.

Rodriguez did come back with a vengeance in 2007, hitting .314 with 54 homers, 156 RBIs and a .645 slugging percentage, easily winning his third MVP award.

But the drop since then has been precipitous. Take, for example, his slugging percentage each year since -- to .573 in 2008, .532 in 2009, .506 in 2010, .461 in 2011 and .430 this season.

Carefully choosing his words after this year's ALCS Game 4 loss, general manager Brian Cashman offered faint praise.

"The bottom line was this year, despite not being the Alex Rodriguez of years past, he's still above-average at that position,'' Cashman said. "That's it. That's all I can say. He's still an above-average player at that position at the very least. Is there more? Absolutely.''

Cashman would take above-average in the coming years.

Especially after watching the shell-of-a-slugger who showed up in the postseason, the one who went 3-for-25, including a helpless-looking 0-for-18 with 12 strikeouts against righthanders.

"No bat speed,'' one opposing team talent evaluator said of what Rodriguez showed in the playoffs. "You wonder if there was something in his lower half.''

He meant an injury, always a possibility, given that Rodriguez had hip surgery in 2009. But all involved have said that A-Rod, who hasn't played more than 138 games in any of the past five seasons and has spent time on the disabled list each of those years, is healthy.

Try as they might, the Yankees aren't likely to succeed this offseason in moving Rodriguez, who has veto power over any trade. But his approval isn't the major obstacle.

It's finding a team interested in a rapidly declining player who has five years and $114 million left on his contract. Even if the Yankees agree to eat a good portion of that, a team has to believe it's getting -- at the very least -- a semi-productive player.

So the Yankees, whose team hierarchy correctly pointed out that A-Rod was not the sole culprit for this year's playoff defeat, likely are left with little more than hope.

Hope that the version of Rodriguez they saw in the postseason isn't what he has become.

Hope that at the very least, he can be an above-average and, maybe occasionally, good player.

Hope that he can accept what he is now, rather than pretending he's what he once was.

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