52° Good Afternoon
52° Good Afternoon
SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Alex Rodriguez drama will be good for business in 2015

Alex Rodriguez looks on in the sixth inning

Alex Rodriguez looks on in the sixth inning of a game against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium. (Aug. 20, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

Imagine if the Yankees didn't have the back-to-back teary farewells for Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter? And all they were left with was explaining two consecutive years of missing the playoffs?

That's roughly $400 million worth of futility. But with everyone distracted by the going-away parties for the last two members of the Core Four, the outrage was muted. Let's face it: The Yankees were extremely fortunate to have Mo and Jeet as their shining knights during these darkest of seasons.

Just as they are now lucky to be welcoming back No. 13.

That's right.

Alex Rodriguez.

With Jeter officially retired, the conversation now turns to Rodriguez, even though he doesn't get off the suspended list until the last out of the World Series. Brian Cashman didn't even wait for Jeter to officially hang up his spikes before discussing A-Rod at length before Saturday's next-to-last game at Fenway. Joe Girardi also chatted about him over the weekend, as well as during Monday's wrap-up at Yankee Stadium.

But that's just the beginning. The A-Rod drumbeat is only going to get louder this offseason and accelerate more rapidly as we approach spring training. Once Rodriguez shows up at the Himes facility or Steinbrenner Field in Tampa to play baseball for the first time, the hysteria will go nuclear.

He'll make the fuss over Johnny Manziel seem like Sunday dinner at grandma's. The only thing we can compare it to is maybe George Steinbrenner's return from exile in 1993, when Sports Illustrated dressed him as Napoleon for the cover. Those were down times for the Yankees, too. It felt like they needed The Boss.

In much the same fashion, this is A-Rod's team now.

And that's before we even get into the analysis of whether Rodriguez can be a productive member of his aging lineup. A-Rod turns 40 in July and missed an entire season. Look what happened to Jeter this year. He played 17 games trying to come back from a surgically repaired ankle in 2013, then batted .256 -- more than 50 points below his career mark -- before finally saying goodbye.

As long as A-Rod can stay on the field, as Jeter did for 145 games, he'll be great theater, which is critical for the Yankees. They need someone to get eyeballs to the YES Network. A gate attraction to fill those pricey seats in the Bronx.

Mark Teixeira can't do that. Neither can Jacoby Ellsbury. Masahiro Tanaka only pitches every five days -- for as long as his elbow holds up. A-Rod is guaranteed box office. The Yankees don't have to fret about his OPS until June or July, at the earliest. Rodriguez moves the needle, for better or worse. And Girardi doesn't sound too worried about any negative impact.

"Will he have to deal with some angry fans? Yeah," Girardi said Monday. "We'll help him get through that. But when's the last time Alex hasn't had to deal with that? It's not like it's something he's not used to. Sometimes players thrive on that. So maybe it will help him."

We already know A-Rod can handle the anti-hero role. It fits him like an Armani suit. Remember what he did to Ryan Dempster in prime time last season, with Fenway Park's hostility meter on 11? That's going to be every night on the road next year -- maybe even in the Bronx -- and people won't be able to turn away from it.

How that will affect the Yankees in the standings remains to be seen. They were a terrible offensive team this season, partly because of injuries, finishing 20th in both OPS (.687) and runs scored (633) -- four more than the Mets. Last season, coming back from a second hip surgery, and playing in the shadow of a record 211-game suspension, Rodriguez had a .711 OPS and hit seven homers in 44 games.

Cashman said Saturday that he's had regular contact with Rodriguez, who's been working out at UCLA and in Miami. Beyond that, the Yankees really don't know what to expect from a performance standpoint until they see him in Tampa. Girardi indicated the plan is for Rodriguez to be his starting third baseman, but that's impossible to say with any certainty right now. He's surely going to need plenty of days at DH.

Regardless of where A-Rod winds up, from now on, he'll be the center of attention.

New York Sports