Alex Rodriguez is old. He’s 36 years old, turning 37 during next season. Most baseball players are getting ready to hang up their cleats at that age. Alex Rodriguez, on the other hand, is signed for 6 more years at the highest average salary in baseball. Its a horrible contract, but you knew that already. We all know how talented Arod is, and he’s been one of the best 3rd basemen in baseball over the last three years when on the field, but his declining health has been a real problem. A lot of people are talking about 2012 seeing Alex DH 50-60 games. I think that they should consider more: make Arod the primary designated hitter.
Arod hasn’t stayed healthy since he signed his monster contract in 2007. At first, he mostly his old self at the plate, but this season (and really 2010 too) he started to really show the effect of injuries. However, he also showed at the same time what he is capable of when healthy: he came out of spring training looking fit, able, and healthy, hitting .290/.407/.609. After a .729 OPS May, Alex rebounded healthy in June, hitting .326/.416/.570. From that point on, he played in just 26 games and hit a horrible .212 with only 3 home runs. Clearly, injuries prevented him from being effective.
We have two options at this point: cross our fingers and hope he can stay healthy while playing 3rd base next season, or accelerate his move over to 3rd base. Instead of DHing 40 games, Arod should DH the majority of games. He should also sit out the occasional game entirely. This gets more complicated when the Yankees look to fill his shoes for those games (hint: not Eduardo Nunez) and do something with Jesus Montero (a combination of backup 1b, DH, and backup C), but I think its a doable option. Alex Rodriguez would enter the back end of his career doing what Jim Thome has been doing: saving his body for hitting. When Arod is 40 years old, still with lots of time left on his contract, the Yankees may be thankful that they kept him off the field at 36.
What would it take me to say, “Yankees, do it”? First, they need a solid everyday-caliber player to hold down 3rd base, or at least a solid platoon. Second, they would need some long term confidence in Mark Teixeira’s health, who could also benefit from significant DH time in the future. Third, they need a plan for Jesus Montero, who I still don’t think should be traded in all but the biggest of blockbusters (though there are 3rd basemen out there that I would trade him for). Jesus may be the biggest reason not to move Alex Rodriguez.
Think about the difference between a healthy (if old) Alex Rodriguez in a lineup or some combination of a banged-up Arod and a backup 3rd baseman for the whole year. We’ve seen plenty of elder players prolong their careers as designated hitters. If Alex can be mostly healthy for 150 games, we can immediately bring a potent bat back into the heart of the lineup, possibly for a few more seasons.