Yesterday was proof that Alex Rodriguez still matters in MLB, even if he is a broken down, disgraced former great who might not even be physically capable of playing anymore. I actually found it humorous that Cash's comments about A-Rod's role next year were such a big deal. I mean, in Yankee media circles it makes sense. He still plays for the Yankees. But to see it mentioned on the ESPN scroll like it was actual news was ridiculous. Like anybody else was holding out hope that he would be the starter at third even after they signed Chase Headley.
So love him or hate him, people still want to know what's up with A-Rod and now we know how the Yankees are planning to utilize him next season. With all the mileage on his body and multiple years remaining on his contract, the best way to get max on-field value out of him is from his bat. The best way to get the most out of his bat is to keep him healthy and on the active roster, and the best way to do that at this point in his career is probably to limit him to batting-only duties. Making him the regular DH was the logical move and it was good to hear verbal confirmation from Cash that the team is and was thinking about this logically.
Expectations are going to be at an all-time low for A-Rod next season, as they should be. Steamer projects a .234/.315/.378 batting line (95 wRC+). The latest CAIRO projections have him at .252/.333/.399. For his career, A-Rod is a .268/.364/.496 hitter in 437 career plate appearances as a DH. While there's little chance of him matching that line in 2015, a regressed approximation wouldn't be bad at all. The Yankees must think he has something left in his bat if they made this decision, and they have a legit reason to believe that. Remember that the last time we saw A-Rod on the field and healthy in August of 2013 he hit .280/.359/.451. His bat has slowed down and it doesn't have nearly the pop that it did, but it's not like A-Rod has forgotten how to hit or work an at-bat.
To that point, I think it's worth noting that A-Rod's career BB and K splits as a DH are worse than they are as a shortstop or third baseman. He has walked less (11.9% compared to 12+) and struck out more (21.1% compared to <19) when he has only had to hit and not play the field. Some of that is heavily influenced by most of his DH at-bats coming in recent years when he had started to regress and physically decline, but I also believe it could be something more than that.
As a player who has always had a sterling reputation when it came to understanding baseball and being able to think the game, I think there could be something said for A-Rod not being able to fully "get into" a game mentally when he's only hitting. It is a different routine, one plenty of players have struggled with as they've moved to the twilight years of their careers. Just ask Alfonso Soriano. Maybe A-Rod couldn't think through at-bats as well when he wasn't playing defense and keeping his mind sharp. Maybe that contributed to his BB/K trends as a DH too and maybe that's something that could negatively impact his production next year. Alex will definitely have to get used to long periods of downtime between at-bats. His entire game day routine will have to change.
So where does he fit into the lineup? How many days a week is he going to play? Other guys are going to need DH days, so is A-Rod going to play the field at all? All of those are valid questions and ones that can't be answered right now. I do think it's important to consider his splits against right and left-handed pitching and play to that when possible. It might make sense to hit him 7th or even 8th against righties to start the year and bump him up in the lineup if the Yanks are facing a lefty against whom A-Rod has good history.
And I'm sure the term "regular" is being used loosely in regards to his playing time. Even reduced to DH duty, A-Rod is going to need days off and it behooves Joe to give him those days off. There will be plenty of DH time to go around for Teix and Beltran and McCann, and if he's physically up to it, there's nothing wrong with A-Rod getting a game at third every now and then. If he ends up getting hurt, he ends up getting hurt. That's what most people are expecting and I'm sure that's a possibility the Yankees have considered and prepared for. With the way they've put their roster together, that will be an easy injury loss to overcome.
Moving A-Rod to the full-time DH spot is the lowest risk/highest reward thing the Yankees could have done with him. He isn't going to save any runs at third but he has shown that he still had some life in his bat. If this decision helps him stay healthier and able to play more and he can hit something like .250/.340/.400, I'd take that and I think the team would to. If he really is cooked and he can't get around on a 90 MPH fastball anymore, you sit him on the bench and he rots. If he ends up getting hurt, you open up a rotating DH spot for the rest of your older hitters and maybe open up a roster spot for a young prospect to get a look. There's really no major downside and that's why it was the right and only decision to make.