Alex Rodriguez has opinions on issues of the day, like everyone else who follows New York baseball. So, for the record, he favors Masahiro Tanaka to start the American League wild-card game and Jacob deGrom for the NL Cy Young Award.
Unlike the rest of us, he has dual national forums in which to discuss such things.
A-Rod will wrap up his rookie season as a game analyst for ESPN with Tuesday’s NL wild-card game, then return for his fourth year as a Fox analyst for the rest of the postseason.
“It’s so interesting; it’s so much fun and so different,” he said of the two roles. “I think that’s the exciting part . . . The optics are completely different.”
Rodriguez has been working for Fox since 2015 - the autumn before he left the Yankees and retired from baseball - a job for which he has received widespread praise.
This season he joined ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” team, replacing Yankees manager Aaron Boone, alongside play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian and analyst Jessica Mendoza, despite having worked in a game booth only three times previously.
The reviews have been more mixed in that role, for which Rodriguez said there were “some learning pains for me, just being my first time out doing this. But I thought toward the end I started getting more comfortable and more fluid.”
One common criticism of ESPN’s approach is its focus on Rodriguez, setting him up as the centerpiece of the show. Rodriguez did not agree with that perception.
“You have to crawl before you can walk, then you run,” he said. “For me having someone so experienced like Matt kind of running point and Jessica has a handful of years under her belt as well, then me being the rookie, I thought it was a very democratic approach.
“I think Buster [Olney, the sideline reporter] is kind of the unsung hero. He’s fantastic. And I thought it was great. I was very happy, and I’m looking forward to next year kind of just building on what we started this year.”
He said the challenge was learning the nuances of a game broadcast, from the “talk back” button that connects announcers to the production truck to “the importance of keeping score, stay in the flow. And you’re thinking a lot more like a manager rather than a player. That’s kind of been the biggest shift for me.”
Rodriguez dismissed the notion that doing a game of the week was a grind.
“One thing I always tell people, no matter what the grind is right now, it’s a fraction of how it was when I played,” he said. “Nothing in life will compare to playing 200 games in 232 days.”
Rodriguez said it is “crazy” that five days before the NL wild-card game, he did not know who would be playing in it, but he picked the Cardinals at the Brewers.
He also picked the Mets’ deGrom for the NL Cy Young.
“The conundrum that we have any time we start these conversations is in so many ways we are married with our history, and our history tells us that wins are a big component to the Cy Young,” he said. “So if we are now saying we are changing that, then deGrom can very easily be the Cy Young.
“If we are putting value on wins, which ultimately he cannot control, then ultimately it’s going to have to go to someone else.”
DeGrom pitched eight innings of shutout ball on Wednesday night, and with no further starts scheduled, he is 10-9 with an MLB-best 1.70 ERA.
Rodriguez said if contenders such as the Phillies’ Aaron Nola or the Nationals’ Max Scherzer had led their teams to the postseason, he might have gone with one of them. Absent that, “I’m fine with deGrom,” he said. “DeGrom’s my pick.”
As for the debate about whom the Yankees should start Wednesday against the Athletics – Tanaka, Luis Severino or J.A. Happ – Rodriguez said, “Boy, oh boy. It’s good to have three choices . . . I think I would start Tanaka and then go Game 1 Severino in the ALDS."
Rodriguez made his pick before Tanaka's start on Wednesday night, in which the righty allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits in four innings of an 8-7 loss to the Rays in Tampa.
“I think Tanaka in a controlled environment like Yankee Stadium, for him, he’s been really good there. I think he has the ability to pitch in and out of trouble, to miss barrels when he needs to get the double play, and fields his position well. Then I like Severino to have him for Games 1 and 5 in the ALDS against the Red Sox.”
Rodriguez picked the Yankees but cautioned against overconfidence.
“I think the Yankees win that game at home, but it’s a trap, so you have to be careful with it,” he said. “Oakland is a dangerous team and they’re young enough where I think they’re good no matter where they play.”
Rodriguez continues to serve as a special advisor for the Yankees and has worked in particular with Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, “talking to them, trying to mentor them as much as possible, just like I did Gary [Sanchez] last year.
“I continue talking to Gary this year, [Aroldis] Chapman, a lot of our guys, whether [Giancarlo] Stanton or [Aaron] Judge. I like being kind of someone that can be just here for them when they need help.”
Beyond that and his television work, Rodriguez said retirement from playing has afforded him more time with his family and with philanthropic work and being what he called “an ambassador for the game.”
His contracts with both ESPN and Fox expire after the 2020 season.
“For me it may be like, ‘This was fun, it was great, I did it for five years, and on to the next chapter,’” he said. “Or I may do it again. I’m not sure where I am. So far, it’s been a great pilot, a great project . . . But I have not thought about life after my contract as far as broadcasting goes.”