Joe Girardi’s decision to bench Alex Rodriguez for the winner-take-all Game 5 of the American League Division Series is a matter of common sense.
Based on the way he’s been swinging — long before this series began — A-Rod is not the New York Yankees’ best option to start against right-handed pitching.
Raul Ibanez is the better designated hitter. Eric Chavez is the better third baseman. Girardi’s lineup for Friday’s decisive game against Baltimore accurately reflects those realities.
“It is difficult,” Girardi said of the decision. “He has meant a lot to the organization, the game of baseball over the years. He has been a very productive hitter. But he struggled against right handers in the series, and Chavy has been good against right handers all year long. I made a decision to start Chavy today.”
A-Rod is not solely to blame for the Yankees’ current predicament, needing a win Friday to extend their season. He is hitting .125 in this series — but that is better than both Robinson Cano (.111) and Curtis Granderson (.063). Granderson has struck out just as often as A-Rod, a team-high nine times in four games.
This decision has everything to do with A-Rod’s at-bats against right-handers in this series, which have been consistently poor. Rodriguez has only two hits, both against lefties. He has been overmatched by fastballs of 92 mph or more — and even lower, in the case of side-armer Darren O’Day. With his tentative at-bats late in Game 4, Rodriguez offered little hope that he would fare differently against Baltimore righty Jason Hammel Friday evening.
After Ibanez famously pinch-hit for Rodriguez in Game 3, A-Rod promised he’d swing aggressively in Game 4. That never happened.
Girardi said at a Friday news conference that A-Rod will be available to hit against a left-handed reliever (Troy Patton or Brian Matusz) late in the game. Frankly, a platoon role suits the 37-year-old at this point in his career. He had a .924 OPS against lefties during the regular season, but only .717 when facing right-handers.
There is the matter of A-Rod’s ego, as it relates to his future with the team. That is a valid concern. He does, after all, have five years and $118 million left on his guarantee, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. (How much money is that? Well, it’s about what Josh Hamilton — baseball’s top position-player free agent — may get this winter.)
For A-Rod, the contract says “superstar.” The production screams “complementary player.”
Girardi and Rodriguez insisted in the giddy Game 3 aftermath that the pinch-hit decision would not affect their relationship. "I love Joe," A-Rod said then. This decision, however warranted, could jeopardize that goodwill — particularly if the Yankees lose.
“The best relationships, the strongest relationships are always relationships that go through some struggles,” Girardi said. “If things have to be built back up, we can do that. I have had to do that before. So I don’t worry about that. I have got to worry about today. We as an organization and as a group in that room have to worry about today.”
He’s right. A-Rod’s feelings weren’t the foremost concern Friday afternoon on 161st Street and River Avenue. The Yankees are in the business of winning — in this case, winning a single game. Clearly, Girardi is aware that A-Rod’s production has declined for five straight years. It’s time for Rodriguez to accept the same reality about himself.
It’s awkward. It’s humbling. It’s uncomfortable. These things always are.