NEW YORK -- Alex Rodriguez has made a lot of changes in his life, and they seem to be working so far. It's tough to judge the new A-Rod except on his playing exploits, as he's made himself a lot scarcer in the new Yankee Stadium (he was nowhere to be seen on workout day Thursday). But folks around him have observed a lot of alterations and see the difference in A-Rod.
There is a lot of hope around the Yankees that A-Rod's changes carry him to a big postseason after a several poor ones in New York, and after he crushed the Twins in the type of monster playoff series they've been waiting for since he got here 5 1/2 years ago, there's talk among Yankees people that he may carry them to a title. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman won't go that far but did say, "Right now he's in a good place ... It seems like he's making better decisions."
Everyone around A-Rod agrees that's the case. But how did he get there? Here are some of the theories for the new and improved A-Rod.
1. Mark Teixeira: Mark Teixeira is A-Rod's new best friend on the team, and Rodriguez is probably closer to Teixeira than anyone in the locker since batting practice pitcher Mike Borzello went with his godfather Joe Torre to join his Dodgers.
"We just really hit it off this year," Teixeira said. "Alex and I have hung out this year. We've gotten together, our families have gotten together -- couple dinners, couple lunches -- just talking about the game, but also talking about life after baseball, what his plans are. We have a lot of similar ideas about business, and we love our kids and want to win a championship."
They played together in Texas for a year when Teixeira was a rookie, and the rumor was that they didn't get along, but Teixeira has scoffed at those whispers from the start.
Folks close to both say Teixeira say he's actually provided a blueprint for a "workmanlike" superstar. Teixeira said, "We have a very similar work ethic and take our craft very seriously."
2. A-Rod's real estate agent: He sold his Park Avenue apartment as part of his divorce and moved to the west side of Manhattan. But word is, he is spending more time at an abode up in leafy Westchester County. It has to be a more sedate setting for a celebrity, and it can't hurt that it's closer to Teixeira, who resides nearby in stately Greenwich, Conn.
3. Dr. Marc Philippon: It isn't certain whether the noted hip surgeon, the rehab specialist or anyone in Colorado said anything, but the surgery itself has had an effect.
"The hip surgery has him focused on staying healthy and keeping it simple," Cashman said. "His energy is all going in the right direction. He clearly made the decision to concentrate on baseball."
Rodriguez does like big stars, and in the world of surgery Philippon is right up there, so it's no surprise the pair connected. Plus, the surgery worked so well that Philippon said it's likely he won't need the second surgery this winter.
4. Kate Hudson: Only A-Rod can begin dating an A-list Hollywood starlet at a time he's toning things down. But this appears to be the case.
By the accounts of people around the team, she's a nice person -- according to a New York Post story, she's so nice even the tight Yankee wives' clique lets her in their club -- who isn't exactly a baseball expert. Anyway, somehow Rodriguez reduced his publicity around the same time he started dating Hudson.
The last bit of bad pub was a Details photo spread that included him staring into a mirror, and it was done before he showed up in spring training. This pleases his bosses.
"We signed a baseball player, not one of the top 100 celebrities in the world," Cashman said. "He has always lived life to the fullest. And he's become such a public figure, which creates a lot more drama. Sometimes that drama plays out more strongly in public life than it I think it is."
Even is that's true, Cashman did notice a reduction in publicity opportunities and extra "drama." And oddly enough, it came out a time when an actress entered his life.
5. Guy Oseary: After using old pal Madonna's agent for a few mistake-filled years, Rodriguez recently dumped this fellow whose strategies apparently work better with the Hollywood set. Word is, Oseary did things like obsess over what A-Rod would wear for his steroid sitdown with Peter Gammons.
6. Brian Cashman: Following perhaps Rodriguez's strangest misstep, which was to visit with his cousin after outing him as the steroid supplier this spring, Cashman had a few stern words for Rodriguez on the subject of discretion. And in that vein, Cashman declined to discuss what was said when asked about it recently.
7. Al himself: As Cashman noted, "he's an adult" who's responsible for his own decisions (though he's clearly been influenced by a lot of different folks along the way). But the biggest decisions ultimately come down to him. "His business is baseball," Cashman said, "and he's sticking to it."
The first hint of what the winter might be like came via the Angels, and for Bobby Abreu it is eerily reminiscent of the winter of 2008-09. The Angels offered Abreu $16 million over two years, it was learned.
Abreu might wonder whether he's in a time warp, as that is the very same figure the Rays offered him midway through last winter before they gave that deal to Pat Burrell instead. The $16 million bid represents a raise over his current bargain $5 million salary. But Abreu was by many accounts (including manager Mike Scioscia's) the Angels' MVP. He was making $16 million a year as a Yankee before they rejected an option for that amount for 2009 and spent their money elsewhere.
While the Yankees were investing $423.5 million in Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, teams weren't exactly rushing to Abreu, who's as consistent a personality and player as they come. The market mysteriously dried up for Abreu last winter, and he wound up taking a $5 million, one-year deal with the Angels over a few similar bids. The one big advantage to the one-year deal is that it put him right back on the market.
Of course, he doesn't want to repeat the winter of a year ago.
Abreu loves his time in Southern California, where his ingrained patience and laid-back style have been widely appreciated and his reluctance to crash into outfield walls largely ignored. Abreu is recognized there for what he is: an underrated, low-key star. He is also one of only three players to have driven in 100 runs over the past seven seasons, along with Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod earns $30 million a year, and Pujols seeks that much. Meanwhile, Abreu's latest per-year salary offer is for little more than a quarter of that figure.
Abreu's greatest attribute is his patience. It's being tested again now.
If a contract can be worked out, hitting guru Rudy Jaramillo makes a lot of sense as the person to try to revive the Cubs' woeful offense. Jaramillo was said to be in talks with the Cubs only one day after turning down the Rangers' offer for him to return, and the Cubs badly need to solve an underachieving offense that frustrated two hitting coaches last year (first Gerald Perry, then Von Joshua).
The Cubs have spent a lot of money on their hitters (i.e. Alfonso Soriano's $136 million deal), so it's no wonder they have designs on the best-paid hitting coach. Jaramillo became the personal guru for a few hitters on other teams, including Andruw Jones before he joined Jaramillo in Texas and Jeff Francoeur. After turning down a contract believed to be worth at least $600,000 with Texas, the Cubs are thought to be weighing a $750,000 salary for Jaramillo, who would be entrusted to try to solve the hitting woes of Soriano and Geovany Soto. As a team, the Cubs were 10th in runs and OPS in the National League.
A couple other teams are believed to have been in contact with Jaramillo, as well. But he is thought to be leaning toward going to Chicago.
Manny Acta is in as good a position as is possible after guiding the woeful Nationals to a 28-61 record this year before being fired. He is under consideration for the managing openings in Houston (where he once worked) and Cleveland. And while he isn't necessarily viewed as a favorite for either of those jobs, he also has an offer to return to the Mets as a coach. There are two openings on the Mets' staff, probably for a third-base coach and bench coach assuming holdovers Razor Shines and Sandy Alomar Jr. fill different roles. But if he takes either coaching job, Acta may be viewed as much as a manager in waiting in New York.
• Tony La Russa is expected to have his decision within a week or two as to whether he'll return to manage the Cardinals after leading them to the NL Central crown. La Russa made clear in interviews in St. Louis on Wednesday that if he decides to manage next year, it will be with the Cardinals. And while La Russa didn't rule out other baseball alternatives, there seems to be positive momentum toward a return building. Owner Bill DeWitt told SI.com in a phone interview before the season ended that he was "hopeful" La Russa would return to manager, and DeWitt upgraded that slightly on Bernie Miklasz's St. Louis radio show, saying he was "confident" that La Russa would return. Meanwhile, La Russa's trusted pitching coach and right-handed man Dave Duncan told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he'd come back if La Russa did.
• In addition to their more high-profile attempts to sign Pujols and free agent Matt Holliday to long-term contracts, the Cardinals are expected to try to keep free agents Mark DeRosa and John Smoltz. They may let free-agent pitcher Joel Pineiro go, and are planning to go on without three more free agents -- Troy Glaus, Khalil Greene and Rick Ankiel.
• There's been talk that the Rockies might trade outfielder Brad Hawpe. But Rockies people see him as the "glue" in the clubhouse, so they'd probably have to be overwhelmed to consider that.
• The Rockies will not make an offer to free agent pitcher Jason Marquis, who did a terrific job in the regular season. Colorado has Jeff Francis returning to take Marquis' spot, anyway. But Marquis did not react well to his relief role in the postseason. Marquis, a Staten Island product, has told folks he'd like to go home to play for the Mets, which would make it five NL teams for him. He is a durable pitcher, so he makes more sense for them than, say, a Rich Harden. Marquis has been a good-luck charm, as his team has made the postseason every year he's played (not even Derek Jeter can say that).
• Jose Reyes underwent surgery on his hamstring tendon Thursday. The Mets announced that they expect him ready to be back on a field after the new year and ready to play come spring training. They didn't say whether that prediction came from one of their own doctors or the Dodgers' doctor ...
• The San Diego Union-Tribune suggested the Padres GM job may be between Red Sox assistant GM Jed Hoyer and Yankees front-office person Billy Eppler, a San Diego product. Eppler gets high praise from Cashman, but Padres owner Jeff Moorad said a couple weeks ago that he is well under way in the process, and Yankees people say they have yet to hear from the Padres about permission to interview Eppler.
• Congrats to Rangers executive A.J. Preller, a workaholic who helped make the Rangers a major presence in Latin America and was just promoted to become their senior director of player personnel. Preller first made his presence felt (to me anyway) when he introduced himself as a Cornell student at the 1999 baseball Winter Meetings.
• If the Dodgers win the World Series, when Bud Selig looks to hand out the trophy, it could make for an interesting tug-of-war between the McCourts.