BOSTON -- Joe Girardi has improved his managerial skills in many areas since his first season with the New York Yankees, including this one:
How to scream at his team.
In 2008, with his postseason chances crushed, Girardi told his players they weren't grinding enough and then ran three or four circles around a clubhouse table at full speed -- breaking a sweat along the way -- before stopping and barking, "That's how you hustle."
Some witnesses were embarrassed for him, and some wondered if he was cracking under the weight of replacing Joe Torre. Six years later, nobody wonders about Girardi's ability to handle pressure anymore. He's won a championship, made some playoff appearances, and grown more comfortable in his pinstriped skin.
So after sources told ESPNNewYork.com's Wallace Matthews and Andrew Marchand that Girardi ripped into the Yankees on Derek Jeter's final night in the Bronx for being uninspired and out of shape, this while CC Sabathia and teammates were trying to present their captain with retirement gifts, you could certainly question Girardi's timing (Did he really have to do this on the most emotional night of Jeter's career?).
But you couldn't question Girardi's purpose. Even without the familiar scene of Robinson Cano jogging to first base, the 2014 Yankees would never be confused with the grind-out-every-at-bat Jeter teams that won it all.
Girardi's team didn't hit this season, didn't catch the ball, and didn't exactly lead the league in passion. All of which means the manager is going to need some help in 2015. Some help out of left field.
And yes, this is where Alex Rodriguez comes in. A-Rod is ready to walk back through the same door Jeter is using for his getaway, and with significant offensive help at a premium in the free agent market, the Yankees could really use his bat to be as loud as it was before the drugs and the injuries took him down.
Oh yeah, in the year 1 A.D. (After Derek), they could use him to sell a few tickets too.
Before Jeter tweaked a hamstring stretching out an infield single in a 10-4 loss to Boston (he said he will play Sunday in his finale), before he could escape Fenway Park and finally start his second life, Rodriguez suddenly hopped out of the visitors' dugout and made himself a story one last time.
Actually, Brian Cashman was the one who hopped out of the visitors' dugout and made A-Rod a headliner by revealing he's been talking with the suspended third baseman about his terms of re-engagement. It seems like only yesterday that Cashman admitted he was afraid to whisper a word about You Know Who for fear of being sued by You Know Who.
Now the general manager is talking and texting with A-Rod about his offseason workout plans, and making it sound like the relationship between employer and employee isn't so broken anymore.
"Very professional," was how Cashman described their recent conversation. "When you deal with Alex regarding baseball, which is what he loves and what he's been obviously very good at, his work ethic has never been in question. The dialogue that I had with him recently was professional. There was nothing bad about it."
Of course, Rodriguez has been gone for a year, and he turns 40 in July. He hasn't hit at least 20 homers or driven in at least 65 runs since 2010. He hasn't batted at least .280 since 2009.
And yet despite all their riches and the hundreds of millions they just spent on fresh talent, the Yankees are so bankrupt offensively that they're sounding giddy about A-Rod's return.
Never mind the lawsuits he filed against everyone at Yankee Stadium except the beer vendors. That was then, and this is most definitely now. The Yankees have missed the playoffs for two consecutive years, the sluggers aren't slugging, their manager thinks his players aren't busting it, and Masahiro Tanaka -- trying to dodge Tommy John surgery on his right elbow -- just got lit up by the Red Sox in his final start.
This team has problems, big problems, and the mere notion of a reinvigorated Rodriguez made the Yankees forget all the nasty things his lawyers said about them. This is a time to make nice, not a time to review the team's bygone desire to terminate the three years and $61 million left on A-Rod's deal. Cashman asked Rodriguez if he planned to play winter ball, and when the third baseman batted away that thought, the GM didn't even blink.
"It wasn't like a directive that this is what we wanted you to do," Cashman said.
Before the ESPNNewYork.com report surfaced, the Yankees spent part of Saturday extolling A-Rod's one known virtue. With or without PEDs, his workouts are legendary for their intensity and length.
"One thing about Alex," Cashman said, "he has always been a hard worker. It's nothing you ever have to worry about with Alex."
It's maybe the only thing you don't have worry about with Alex. And yet Girardi did some of his best work last season managing the traveling Rodriguez circus, protecting the same player who was attacking Girardi's bosses.
Asked if he could see Rodriguez emerging as a leader (of all things) in Jeter's absence, Girardi said: "I don't necessarily think he would say that I want to be that, but Alex at heart is a teacher.
"He likes to teach the game and where you're supposed to be and how to play a position. He likes to talk about hitting."
It almost sounded as if Girardi wanted Rodriguez on staff.
Either way, the manager agreed he'd likely get a little louder and impose his will on his team more often without Jeter's leadership to lean on. The stakes will be higher for him in 2015, after all. The ruling Steinbrenners remain fans of Girardi, but they're not paying ballplayers what they're paying them to miss the dance for a third straight year.
So maybe that explains the sudden wave of A-Rod optimism on the day of Jeter's penultimate game. Cashman said that Rodriguez is healthy, that the third baseman has been in touch with team officials throughout his suspension, and that he eagerly texted the GM Friday night with a request to talk offseason fitness strategy with the training staff. Request granted.
On their most recent phone conversation, Cashman said, "I didn't rehash anything from the past. It is not productive to do so. He's been suspended. He served his time."
The GM called Rodriguez's return from pariah-dom "a unique circumstance." Here's another unique circumstance:
Joe Girardi needs A-Rod as much as he ever has. Next September, if he ends up ripping a mediocre team like he did on Derek Jeter's farewell night in the Bronx, Girardi might be the one working his last home game.