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For better or worse, A-Rod probably staying with the Yankees

DETROIT -- The daily drama surrounding Alex Rodriguez's role with the Yankees didn't take a rain check when he needed it most.

So even though rain pushed Game 4 of the ALCS between the Yankees and Tigers from Wednesday night to Thursday afternoon, there was no shortage of attention paid to the game's highest-paid player, whose irregular playing time has been well documented.

For the third time in the last five games, Rodriguez was not in New York's starting lineup.

"This is not something that is easy to do," manager Joe Girardi said before the postponement. "I think as a manager and as a team at this time you have got to think about today, and you think about today only."

With the Yankees trailing 3-0 in the series, Girardi has no other choice but to do just that. He needs to put his best lineup for that day on the field or else the club will be hitting the golf tees.

Then again, with the contractual marriage between Rodriguez and the Yankees slated to last for five more years and $118 million, the club can't help but think about the long-term ramifications of relegating Rodriguez to the bench in clutch spots. But there'll be time to restore that confidence and playing time next year after he's made the necessary overhaul to his swing to be an everyday player again.

After all, there's a very good chance Rodriguez will be wearing pinstripes for the duration of that contract.

Sure, there was a report by Keith Olbermann on his mlb.com blog that the Marlins and Yankees had already discussed a possible offseason trade of Rodriguez -- a Miami native who said playing a spring exhibition in the Marlins' new ballpark was "a very special day" for him -- though New York general manager Brian Cashman categorized it as "100 percent false."

Later in the day ESPNNewYork.com reported that there was such a discussion in a chat between Yankees president Randy Levine and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria but that it at least started as a joke among old friends.

But Rodriguez is already 37 and hasn't played 140 total games in a season since 2007 and hasn't played 90 games in the field since 2010, meaning he's not a great fit for a National League club where he can't serve as designated hitter on occasion.

For better or worse -- and both options are very possible -- Rodriguez is and probably will be a Yankee.

"I love the Yankees," Rodriguez told a group of reporters on the field. "I love this organization."

It's smart that he took the high road. His contract is too onerous to move without the Yankees paying most of it. Even if they conceded that, they probably wouldn't receive enough talent in return to justify a deal. After all, why can't Rodriguez bounce back next year?

Look no further than a few infield feet to his left for a precedent. Last year Derek Jeter was a 37-year-old who, as late as July 4 was batting .241 with a .580 OPS against right-handed pitching. We certainly know how that story ended. Jeter went on a tear that's lasted a season and a half, culminating in him leading the majors in hits this season, before breaking his ankle in Game 1 of the ALCS.

Admittedly, Rodriguez has more injury history at this juncture than Jeter did early last July, so it may be harder to have the complete turnaround his teammate had, but he can still be a productive, above-average player, as he was for most of this season, in which he hit .272 with 18 home runs and 57 RBIs in 122 games. The contractual bonuses for career home-run milestones are looking less likely to be exercised as his days of 30-homer seasons are likely in the past, but he can still hit on his good days.

Of course, he'll be wise to minimize all off-field distractions, such as the one detailed in a recent New York Post report that Rodriguez sought a female fan's phone number during a playoff game. (Rodriguez called the report "laughable.") Cashman said Girardi's decision to bench Rodriguez in Game 4 was "purely baseball-related."

Girardi and Cashman cited Rodriguez's poor numbers against right-handed pitchers as the reason he wasn't starting against Detroit right-hander Max Scherzer in Game 4. But Girardi insisted Rodriguez wasn't "a shot player" in decline, just "a guy that's going through some struggles."

Indeed, Rodriguez did struggle against righthanded pitching all year and not just during the postseason, in which he is 0-for-18 with 12 strikeouts against righties. In his 375 plate appearances against right-handers in 2012 (regular season and postseason), Rodriguez has batted .242 with a .312 on-base percentage and .370 slugging. That's a markedly below-average .682 OPS.

Against left-handers, it's a different story. Rodriguez has a .936 OPS against southpaws in 179 plate appearance -- but can a man making more than $20 million per year for the next half a decade really be a platoon player? It's a sunk cost financially but not emotionally, as following through on those intentions could diminish his confidence and his production further.

Cashman described the move as not just a short-term decision, given A-Rod's season-long struggles against righthanders. On the other hand, each day's lineup is a very short-term decision, but in the short-term of this playoff series not starting Rodriguez is a defensible decision. But it won't be come Opening Day next year.

Rodriguez said that his relationship with Girardi was good even if they disagreed on Game 4's lineup decision.

"I've played this game for a long time," Rodriguez said, "and bottom line is, anytime I'm in any lineup, I think that lineup is better. It has a better chance to win."

That's probably true in the context of the next couple of seasons. It just might not be true today.

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