NEW YORK -- A year ago at this time, there was the thought that New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez might never play in the major leagues again, let alone hit 33 homers and become a featured TV analyst during the World Series.
In 2015, he did not cause any problems off the field, nor did he fail any performance-enhancing drug tests. Instead, he helped the Yankees return to the playoffs after a two-year absence. A-Rod, who also made rehabilitating his relationship with fans a priority, seemed like a changed man.
Is he? With spring training about a month away, what can we expect from A-Rod in 2016? Our Yankees writers, Wallace Matthews and Andrew Marchand, discuss.
Marchand: It's still pretty unfathomable that A-Rod will enter this year's camp as the beloved leader of the Yankees. He was a pariah 365 days ago. The Yankees did not want him, but still owed him $60 million-plus so they had to keep him. It appeared to me that it was going to be a 24-plus-one situation. Instead, A-Rod said the right things and, most importantly for his good graces with the team and many of its fans, he hit.
A-Rod also acted differently. He was much more welcoming and friendly than in the past. Could it have been an act? We did see this once before, during "PED Redemption Tour No. 1" in 2009, which was the eve of his involvement with Tony Bosch and his Biogenesis friends.
Matthews: He did act differently, but we have to remember he was on his best behavior for a number of reasons. He was trying to court the Yankees' front office, his teammates, the fans, the media, and probably most of all, new commissioner Rob Manfred, who had prosecuted MLB's case against him in the Biogenesis affair. So while he was different, I'll reserve judgment on whether A-Rod is truly a changed man until we see his demeanor this season.
Marchand: I agree. The other thing that can't be ruled out is how the heck did he do it last year? I mean, two hip surgeries, his 40th birthday and basically two years of inactivity and A-Rod was great for three-quarters of the season. My mom taught me a long time ago, if it is too good to be true, it usually is. That said, maybe A-Rod was doing things on the up and up -- but at this point, it would be naive not to at least wonder if he still had some extra help.
Matthews: Unfortunately, baseball and all professional sports have made this dirty bed for themselves and it’s not only naive, but irresponsible for us as journalists not to suspect hanky-panky when an athlete of an advanced age does something it seems unlikely he would be able to do. I’ll give Alex the benefit of the doubt on 2015, but would be very surprised if he were able to remain healthy all season and produce like that again in 2016.
Marchand: I doubt he'll be as lucky with his health as he was last year. At 41, even as a full-time DH, you have to think he is due for an injury or, at least, less production. While I do believe the fans will turn on him to some degree if he is not good, I think there is some breathing room. He won't be hated, like he once was, if he is just bad or hurt. However, if he is caught using PEDs again, well, that is another story. As for tying Babe Ruth with home run No. 714 this year -- he enters 2016 with 687 career longballs -- I don't see another season of 27-plus homers in the cards.
Matthews: To get back to our original question, I don't know for sure if Alex is a truly changed man, but I expect him to conduct himself in 2016 pretty much the way he did in 2015. I think he got a taste of what it's like to be a fan favorite, of a sort, and I also think he got a glimpse of what his future in the game could be after his retirement -- a nice, cushy TV job. He may be crazy at times, but Alex Rodriguez ain't stupid.