Alex Rodriguez earned $31 million this season. Wednesday, Joe Girardi bumped him for a pinch hitter. Thursday, Girardi bumped him for a pinch hitter. Friday, Girardi has benched him.
And people think it's easy, managing the New York Yankees.
You've heard them ... "Yeah whatever, anybody could win with that talent."
Actually, maybe that's true. Going back ... oh, about 90 years now, when the Yankees have been loaded with talent they've won. Regardless of whom was managing them. So in that regard, yes: I suspect that at least half of the men who managed teams in the majors this season would have led the 2012 Yankees to at least 90 wins.
Which doesn't mean it's easy.
No, Joe Girardi doesn't have to worry (as often) about who's going play right field or fill that No. 4 slot in the pitching rotation. But the decisions he does have to make are for higher stakes, and So in terms of the demands of a job, both intellectual and managerial and emotional, I don't assume that it's easier to manage the Yankees than, say, the Indians or the Royals.
Case in point: Alex Rodriguez. And Nick Swisher. And Curtis Granderson. It's odd for a manager to worry about three of his every-day players on a team that finished second in the American League in scoring. Especially considering that all three players are actually pretty good.
Swisher now sports a .165 batting average in 42 postseason games.
Granderson, who seemed to have solved his problems against left-handed pitching in 2010 and '11, batted just .218 against lefties this season, with a .304 on-base percentage.
And Rodriguez ... oh, Rodriguez. In 2009, he was outstanding as the Yankees powered their way to yet another World's Championship. Since then, in 18 games he's batted .167 with no homers and six RBI. Granted, 18 games isn't a lot. But when you combine those 18 games with the 122 regular-season games in which Rodriguez was merely good this season, you can understand why some observers might become impatient.
Oh, and here's another thing that makes Girardi's job a little tougher. Most managers, with a right-handed relief pitcher on the mound in a key spot, wouldn't have somebody better than Alex Rodriguez on the bench.
Thanks to the Yankees' largesse, Girardi does. In Game 3, he had Raul Ibanez. In Game 4, he had Eric Chavez. Two left-handed hitters who are demonstrably better hitters against right-handed pitching than, at this point, Alex Rodriguez.
In the wake of Game 3, lifelong Yankees fan Joe Sheehan renounced his favorite team. Why? As near as I can tell, because Joe Girardi made the percentage move in pinch hitting for Alex Rodriguez, after treating Derek Jeter with kid gloves in 2010 and '11 (in both seasons, Jeter struggled badly against right-handed pitching). Why, Sheehan wonders, wasn't Jeter ever lifted for a pinch hitter in a big spot?
Well, you would have to ask Joe Girardi. But it seems to me that it's not completely fair to criticize a manager for doing something that makes sense because he didn't do the (approximately) same thing earlier. Still, one might reasonably ask why the treatment accorded Rodriguez has been so radically different from that accorded Jeter. It does seem that everyone prefers to assume the worst about the Yankee third baseman. Here's David Lennon (via Newsday):
Ibañez rewarded Girardi by swatting the tying home run in the ninth, then followed with the winning blast off lefty Brian Matusz in the 12th in a 3-2 win. Not only was Girardi vindicated, Rodriguez had no choice but to celebrate what had to be an incredibly humbling moment for him personally.
He guessed he had not been pinch hit for since high school. Maybe even junior high. And when a player ultimately reaches that point, at 37, it can be a slippery slope. Still, A-Rod insisted he was not offended, even as Girardi later admitted the delicate nature of such a decision.
It also was a stunning reversal for Girardi, who refused to drop Rodriguez from the No. 3 spot for Game 3, only to pull him for a 40-year-old part-time outfielder. The payoff was immediate. Girardi would be immune from second-guessing on this one. Rodriguez, between boos, went 0-for-3 and struck out in his last two at-bats.
To Girardi's credit, he had seen enough. Or maybe this was more about self-preservation, as he surely knew sticking with A-Rod, when combined with another first-round playoff exit, would be difficult to explain during his season-ending debriefing with the Steinbrenners.
My bullshit detector starts making loud noises whenever it seems that a baseball writer is claiming powers of clairvoyance. Maybe that's just because I recognize that I'm not nearly smart enough to read the minds of other men. But I can't help thinking that maybe A-Rod celebrated because he was, at that moment, genuinely thrilled that his team won a big game. I can't help thinking that Girardi was a lot less worried about a season-ending debriefing than, you know, actually winning a big game ... and perhaps a World Series in a couple of weeks.
Yes, perhaps Girardi is sacrificing the future for the present. Is there anyone in New York who wants him to something else? If the Yankees had lost Game 3, then been eliminated by losing Game 4, would everyone have said, "Hey, it's okay that Joe didn't pinch hit for Alex and we lost because we'll need a happy Alex Rodriguez next year"?
I sorta doubt it. Which isn't to say there isn't a storm brewing.
The pinch hit was one thing. Straight-up benching A-Rod in a playoff game makes me wonder how he stays a Yankee long-term.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) October 12, 2012
What's the alternative to suffering through another five uncomfortable years? There are two options: Release him and eat $143 million, or trade him and eat most of $143 million. Do either of those sound like something the Yankees would like to do? I doubt it. Because he's still their best third baseman -- with due respect to Eduardo Nunez -- it seems likely that they'll keep him around for another year or three, at least. This situation becomes truly unworkable only when Rodriguez a) is obviously costing the Yankees wins during the regular season, and/or b) is creating a poisonous atmosphere in the clubhouse.
One or both of those things would probably happen at some point, whether Girardi had embarrassed Rodriguez this month or not. So, long-term? Yeah, there's a problem here. It's just impossible to say whether everything comes to a head in 2013, or 2017, or somewhere in between.