ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Alex Rodriguez last started a game for the New York Yankees on July 22. He will play Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Rays -- batting cleanup, no less -- but after that, he is likely to disappear from the Yankees lineup until Wednesday night at the earliest, when the Mets start a lefty, Steven Matz, at Yankee Stadium.
After that, it is anyone's guess when he will be back on the field. As Joe Girardi said before Saturday's game, "I understand the situation, but to get more at-bats, you have to be productive."
The converse of that statement is also true, of course: To be productive, you've got to get more at-bats.
When the apparent contradiction of this was pointed out to Girardi -- how can A-Rod find his swing again if he rarely plays, and when will Girardi see fit to play him if he doesn't find his swing -- the manager did what he often does when confronted with unanswerable questions. He grew testy.
“When I don’t play him, I’m questioned," he said. "When I play him, I’m questioned. Anyone who wants to do it can do it next time.”
As was the case in the final seasons of Jorge Posada and Derek Jeter, it is obvious that the situation between Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees is no longer working for anyone involved.
For one thing, Girardi is putting A-Rod in a very difficult position, writing his name into the lineup card once a week or so while telling him he needs to hit more to stay in the lineup. Saturday, the Yankees are asking him to raise their eyebrows against Drew Smyly, who has not won a game since May 16. That seems doable. But A-Rod's career numbers in a small sample -- he is 2-for-8 against Smyly with six strikeouts -- along with his season-long struggles (.210 batting average, .625 OPS) make it rather unlikely. And no amount of early batting practice sessions, against the soft-tosses of a coach, can possibly prepare anyone to face live pitching on such a sporadic basis.
For another, the Yankees, whether it is owner Hal Steinbrenner or general manager Brian Cashman, are putting Girardi into a difficult position as well, forcing him to continue to carry a player on his roster that he rarely uses. In effect, the Yankees are asking Girardi to play with 24 players every night, since Rodriguez is incapable of playing a position in the field and, as Girardi points out, he rarely uses pinch-hitters. So he must go to battle each night essentially with a three-man bench, as one of his four nightly reserves is a backup catcher. The bench is even shorter than that when you realize that another of his subs is Ronald Torreyes, who plays almost as infrequently as A-Rod.
It is a situation that will not matter on Sept. 1, when the rosters expand, but in the meantime, there is a month of baseball to be played -- crucial baseball if we are to believe that the Yankees really think they still have a shot at a playoff berth -- and whoever it is who has decided not to release Alex Rodriguez is forcing the manager to work at a significant disadvantage.
If this sounds like a change in my thinking on this matter, you are right. I have never believed Hal Steinbrenner would eat the remaining $24 million or so left on A-Rod's contract, and have always thought that eventually, the bat that has produced 697 home runs would achieve some level of production again.
But now, with nearly two-thirds of the season behind us, it is obvious that Alex Rodriguez' bat is not likely to come around, especially if Girardi is going to use him as a once-a-week player. And since the money is already spent -- economists call it a "sunk cost" -- then maybe it is time for Hal to accept the loss and do what is right both for his team and for the player.
It is humiliating for A-Rod to have to ride the bench and unfair for him to be asked to produce in widely scattered spot appearances.
And it is foolish and ultimately lethal to their already faint playoff hopes for the Yankees to continue wasting a roster spot on a player who the manager obviously no longer trusts or relies upon.
“Of course it is [difficult] because he’s meant a lot to this organization and he’s meant a lot to the success that we’ve had here," Girardi said. "[But] my job is to put out what I feel is the best lineup every day, and that’s what I try to do. I know how much pride he has in what he does. It’s not a situation I wanted to have. I was hoping that he would be as productive as he was last year, but it’s been a struggle, so we’ve had to deal with it.”
Girardi shouldn't have to deal with it any longer. Nor should A-Rod, nor should the Yankees.
It's time for this unhappy triangle to split up while there are still some baseball games, and maybe some dignity, to be salvaged.