Alex Rodriguez the Designated Hitter Could Work

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.

About EJ Fagan

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

15 thoughts on “Alex Rodriguez the Designated Hitter Could Work

  1. Agree with the premise that making A-Rod the primary DH would prolong his career and enhance his effectiveness at the plate. As for his replacement, an internal option which nobody has mentioned would be Jesus Montero. There is a significant history of defensively deficient catchers moving to 3b, most notably Torre in the late 1960s and more recently Pedro Sandoval of the San Francisco Giants. Presumably, Montero has the arm strength to make the switch; as to whether he has the lateral quickness to paly the position, that is something that only can be determined with experience. Obviously, there would be a considerable learning curve but 3b would be an option to consider if it is determined that Montero can’t handle catching at the major league level as a way to enhance both his and A-Rod’s value to the team in the near future.

    • Oh, God…could you imagine a left infield of Jeter & Montero? You’d need a 3rd IF just to get to all the balls that went between them.

    • I don’t think he could handle 3rd at all. Teixeira was moved off of third in the minors, and Montero is much less athletic than Teixeira.

  2. To this I say: no.

    Montero’s bat is good enough to play every day, possibly better than A-Rod’s at this point.

    The DH should be split among Montero (100, w. 40 at C), A-Rod (30, with 110 at 3B after DL time), Tex (10, w. 145 at 1B), Jeter (10, w. 130 at SS after DL time), Swisher & Cano (10 total, w. 150-155 at 2B/RF).

    What the Yankees really need to look for is a 3B/SS to complement Nunez, since between them they can expect to start 60-90 games at those two positions, possibly at the same time if there are dual DL stints like this season.

      • As much as you want it to happen, it most likely won’t. The Yankees know how to maximize value, and Swisher’s value for one year is better than any other option.

  3. Great post EJ, and I see where you’re going. The only thing it over looks is that A-Rod was tremendous in the field for the Yankees this year. His defense passed both the eye test and the sabre test. That’s a lot to give up.

    • Agreed. Long term for the health of ARod it makes sense. But this team shouldn’t be concerned with long term ARod health as much as it should be concerned with long term Montero’s development. ARod played a really good defensive 3B this season, and I think the injuries this year are more flukey than age related. They aren’t repeatable injuries. If his hip started acting up I would understand. But in order to develop Montero properly I think he needs consistent at bats. As for putting Montero at 3rd…we really can’t help but subconsciously think of Miguel Cabrera with this kid can we?

      • I agree with everything you said, except the part about these injuries not being age related. I think a healthy A-Rod is a thing of the past. He may not suffer from the same kind of injury year-in year-out, but I think his joints, bones, ligaments, etc, are showing their collective age. He’s a huge guy who plays a physically demanding sport. Any injury he suffers apart from getting hit by a pitch, or something similar, is probably heavily related to his age.

        • Age related yes, I didn’t use the correct terminology. I meant its not chronic injuries. Chronic injuries are injuries that will always be there, and will constantly degenerate with time and could cause future injuries.

  4. I think you are dreaming in thinking A-Rod would play 150 games even if you make him full time DH. As long as he can play good defense at 3B, that’s where I’d keep him. There just aren’t that many good offensive third basemen so playing him there is the best way to maximize his value.

  5. I dont think making arod or any other player a dh will prolong their career or make them more efficient at the plate, besides catchers. Playing Baseball isnt greatly demanding like other sports.reason why u see more older players in mlb than any other sports. Arod is still one of the better fielder at 3rd. I still think arod can still have “arod” season in him. He just need to get healthy and keep his body in better shape which is going to be harder each year due to his age.

  6. Is there any evidence that DH get hurt less often than 3B? Even if there is, why hurt yourself at two position. I suspect that A-Rod with a decent back up and Montero at DH with some catching duties to back up Martin will be a greater net positive than A-Rod to DH. There is no reason to minimize value versus positional scarcity before you have to do so.