- With A-Rod's days in the Bronx looking numbered, a handful of clubs might make for a good landing spot for the three-time AL MVP at the tail end of his career.
NOTE: This story was originally published on Wednesday, Aug. 3. Since then, Mark Teixeira has announced his retirement and the Yankees have called a press conference for Rodriguez to be held on Sunday, Aug. 7 at 11 a.m. ET.
There has been a lot of scuttlebutt this week about the Yankees potentially releasing Alex Rodriguez—a discussion that has only been fed by the lukewarm denials by New York's manager and GM. Asked if Rodriguez’s game-ending–pinch-hit fly out against Mets lefty Jonathon Niese on Tuesday night was his final at-bat with the team, Yankees manager Joe Girardi replied, “I don’t necessarily think so, no. My plans are for him to be there tomorrow with us.” And general manager Brian Cashman last week said, "Alex is currently a choice off the bench."
As I wrote last week, it makes more sense for the Yankees to release impending free agent Mark Teixeira than Rodriguez, who is owed $20 million for next season—all of which New York would have to eat to release him, even if he was picked up by another team. It’s understandable that the Yankees would want to open up a roster spot and give at-bats to youngsters such as 23-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez—who was promoted on Wednesday—but Teixeira has been as bad as Rodriguez at the plate this season (a 63 OPS+ to Rodriguez’s 62).
That said, it's easy to see why these rumors have emerged. Having not appeared in the field all season and having been limited primarily to at-bats against lefthanded pitching, Rodriguez has almost no role on the Yankees. Plus, having turned 41 on July 27, the chances of him rebounding next season are slim. Rodriguez is hitting just .219/.275/.397 against southpaws this year and has played a total of 27 1/3 innings in the field since 2013. If New York does release him, would any team bother to sign him, even for the pro-rated portion of the league minimum that he’d make over the remainder of the season?
It's highly doubtful. When Barry Bonds hit free agency at age 43 at the end of the 2007 season, he had just hit .276/.480/.565 (169 OPS+) and put together a 3.4 bWAR season despite his brutal play in the outfield. He wanted to continue playing, but no teams came calling. Bonds was older than Rodriguez is now, and the BALCO scandal surely scared most teams away, but he was also still a very valuable hitter. Rodriguez, on the other hand, has been so bad this season that he's not even a sure bet to get the four home runs he needs to reach 700 if another team did pick him up.
Still, that milestone chase could be a compelling enough reason for a team long-since out of the pennant race to sign him, and Rodriguez’s 2015 performance (33 home runs and a 130 OPS+) suggests that it might be worth the league-minimum to find out if he could make one last comeback. With that in mind, here are the five teams on which he would best fit if the Yankees do indeed part ways with him after 13 seasons in the Bronx.
1. Tampa Bay Rays
Rodriguez is a Miami guy through and through, but the Marlins—for whom Bonds is the hitting coach, his first job in uniform for a big league team since he last played—are a National League team in the thick of the pennant race, so they have no use for a DH and no time for any A-Rod-related shenanigans. (Besides: They've already got one 40-something part-timer chasing a major milestone.) The Sunshine State's other team, however, has a 0.0% chance of making the playoffs, per Baseball Prospectus’ Playoff Odds Report; is always in search (and need) of a bargain; and has an incumbent DH with an extreme platoon split. Corey Dickerson has hit .245/.275/.265 against lefties this year and .246/.294/.353 against them in his career, the latter figures inflated by his time at Colorado's Coors Field. Rodriguez has done better than that against southpaws this year. He could even bunk up with longtime frenemy and Tampa resident Derek Jeter. It’s a perfect fit.
2. New York Mets
Could this be the chance for A-Rod to finally play for his boyhood favorite team, the one that pulled out of negotiations for him in 2000 before he signed his record-setting $252 million contract with Texas? Rodriguez’s limited exposure in the field the last two seasons should, in theory, eliminate all NL teams from consideration, but the Mets’ acquisition of Jay Bruce spoke volumes about how concerned their front office is about defense (read: not very). More significantly, New York's hitting coach is Kevin Long, who served in that capacity for the Yankees for much of Rodriguez’s time in the Bronx (2007 to '14). Long spoke highly of Rodriguez this spring after Rodriguez said he planned to retire when his contract expires next season, and he could advocate for taking a flier on A-Rod to help boost an offense that has outscored only those of the Braves and Phillies this season.
By bringing back Jose Reyes, who served a suspension through the first 51 games this year for a domestic violence incident, the Mets have shown a willingness to take a chance on a bargain even if it comes with a ton of baggage. Given the injuries in their infield (Reyes, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, first baseman Lucas Duda and third baseman David Wright are all on the DL), as well as first baseman James Loney’s .488 OPS against lefties this season and their apparent disregard for team defense, the Mets may even be tempted to give Rodriguez regular exposure in the field.
3. Miami Marlins
There are not a lot of good reasons to bring A-Rod back to his hometown, but owner Jeffrey Loria may not be able to resist doing so anyway. It's not like the Marlins' current top righthanded pinch-hitting option, Chris Johnson (.232/.286/.341, 70 OPS+ on the year), has been distinguishing himself. Similarly, the Marlins' primary first baseman, the currently injured Justin Bour, has hit .221/.275/.284 against lefties in his career. Rodriguez has expressed interest in playing first base and would have an ace teacher in Miami in former Gold Glover and current manager Don Mattingly.
The thing most working in favor of Rodriguez landing with the Marlins, however, is his friendship with Bonds, a fellow all-time great and PED pariah. If Rodriguez does land in Miami, don’t be shocked if Bonds is able to fix what has ailed him at the plate this season, making him a valuable pinch-hitter for a team that should be in the playoff hunt right through the end of the regular season.
4. Chicago White Sox
It’s tempting to offer Rodriguez as a potential 2017 replacement for David Ortiz in Boston, particularly given the union-scuttled blockbuster deal that would have sent A-Rod to Boston instead of New York after the 2003 season. But the Red Sox’ offense is too good, their pennant chances are too real and their farm system is too rich for them to mess around with a 41-year-old distraction like Rodriguez. So what about the other Sox? Chicago recently installed lefty Justin Morneau as its full-time DH and has already lost the centerfielder it acquired at the deadline, ex-Cardinals farmhand Charlie Tilson, to a hamstring strain, which could force Morneau’s platoon partner, righty Avisail Garcia, back into the outfield.
Of all of the teams on this list, Chicago is the one with the most hitting-friendly ballpark and thus the club most likely to get that 700th homer out of Rodriguez this season. Melky Cabrera, who considered Rodriguez a mentor during their time together on the Yankees, could be the advocate for this one.
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
Andrew Friedman, the general manager who assembled Tampa Bay's disreputable lineup in 2013, is now the president of a Dodgers team that has the second-worst OPS against lefthanded pitching in the majors. Los Angeles has hit just .224/.302/.363 against lefties as a team and, like the Mets, the big bat it added at the deadline was a lefty: Josh Reddick, who has hit .167/.247/.167 against southpaws this season and .222/.286/.371 against them in his career. Even the latter is worse than what Rodriguez has done against lefties this year and makes Tuesday’s demotion of Yasiel Puig seem even more counterproductive. Rodriguez would be a pure pinch-hitter in L.A., but he might get an at-bat every day against a lefthanded reliever.