Joe Girardi said he expects Alex Rodriguez to be the New York Yankees’ starting third baseman next season and rebound from a postseason in which the 14-time All-Star was benched for three games while batting .130.
The Yankees’ manager pointed to the performance of two other veterans on the squad, 38-year-old Derek Jeter and 39-year-old Ichiro Suzuki, to underscore his belief that the 37-year-old Rodriguez will again be a force at the plate.
“You’ve seen players who have made adjustments and who have gone back to be extremely productive,” Girardi said today at a news conference. “There was talk about Derek Jeter. There was talk about Ichiro Suzuki, and look what he did for the last two months of the season. Can Alex be a very good player again? Absolutely. I don’t have any question in my mind because the desire is there.”
Jeter hit .316 with 15 home runs last season, his highest average and most homers in three years. Suzuki hit .322 in 227 at-bats with the Yankees following the July trade from Seattle. The two-time American League batting champion was hitting a career-low .261 before the trade.
Rodriguez, Major League Baseball’s highest-paid player, was left out of the starting lineup three times and also taken out in favor of a pinch-hitter on three occasions in the Yankees’ nine postseason games. It was a precipitous fall for a player who won three AL Most Valuable Player Awards and ranks fifth in Major League Baseball history with 647 home runs.
Girardi said he hasn’t second-guessed his decisions to sit or pinch-hit for Rodriguez during the playoffs and that he doesn’t think it will hurt their relationship.
“I’m sure that will be talked about a lot in the coming months, but as a player you always have a chance to rewrite things and make adjustments,” said Girardi.
He said he hasn’t spoken with Rodriguez since the Yankees’ season ended last week with a four-game sweep against the Detroit Tigers in the AL Championship Series.
Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said in an Oct. 21 ESPN radio interview that the team plans to have Rodriguez as its third baseman next season, yet would consider trade offers. Rodriguez has five years remaining on the 10-year, $275 million contract he signed in December 2007. He hit .272 with 18 home runs this season.
“Despite the contract that we had committed to him, he’s an asset at this stage still,” Cashman said. “I don’t see us doing anything there. If someone wants to make phone calls, we’re more than willing to do all that stuff with any of our players. You can run into something that way.”
Girardi said he expects Jeter, the team’s shortstop and captain, and pitcher CC Sabathia to be healthy by the start of spring training. Jeter had surgery on Oct. 20 after fracturing his left ankle during the playoffs and may need five months to recover. Sabathia, a 32-year-old left-hander who went 15-6 this season and lost the team’s final playoff game, is set to have his pitching elbow examined by specialist James Andrews.
Girardi also said he reliever Mariano Rivera, whose 608 saves are the most in major-league history, will probably play next year after tearing a ligament in his right knee before a game in May and missing the rest of the season. Rivera, who turns 43 next month, has said he plans to return.
“I think he’ll sit down with family and evaluate where he is in this process, see how his arm feels and see if he still thinks he can compete at the level he’s accustomed to,” Girardi said. “I don’t think you push a rehab the way he has unless he has an interest in coming back.”
Girardi said while the Yankees will have difficult offseason decisions about whether to bring back free agents such as Suzuki, Andy Pettitte, Nick Swisher and Hiroki Kuroda, he expects the team to contend for the World Series next year. He also said he probably won’t watch much of the World Series, which begins tonight with Tigers facing the San Francisco Giants.
“It’s not easy for me to turn on a baseball game right now,” Girardi said. “I feel if we played to our capabilities one of those teams should be us.”