Alex Rodriguez has been the Yankee scapegoat in their ALDS series against the Baltimore Orioles, the man ridiculed most for their alarmingly inept offense over the first four games of the series. It’s not without merit that the critics have focused on A-Rod, considering his gargantuan contract and 2 for 16 with nine strikeouts thus far in the playoffs.
Still, other Yankees, including Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, have been well below par. But it came as no surprise when Buster Olney tweeted this earlier today:
I think this is a good guess on what the Yankees will do: Chavez at third and Ibanez in the lineup, either at DH or LF.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 12, 2012
And it turns out that Buster’s speculation was right:
BREAKING: A-Rod not in @yankees lineup for today’s Game 5.
— MLB (@MLB) October 12, 2012
Eric Chavez, who recorded the last out at the plate last night in Game 3, will take A-Rod’s place at third base.
This, ultimately, is the larger dilemma of sports: how does a coach or manager balance salary expectations with on-field performance? In a vacuum, the best players play the most. And this is the merit-based delusion to which we subscribe, that players are paid more because they are better. For the most part, this is largely true. But then there’s the case of A-Rod and others like him, players whose contracts are rewards for past brilliance instead of projections of future success.
If Girardi is going to bench A-Rod, he could make just as strong (if not stronger) a case to bench Granderson (1 for 16) and Swisher (2-15) too. But neither player boasts a contract worth $300 million. Neither player typically hits in the heart of the lineup. Neither player has such an uneven relationship with teammates, fans and the media.
This is where any merit-based system is diluted and ultimately breaks down. A-Rod has turned into a lightning rod for controversy – a scapegoat, even. And fairly or not, his repeated failures are only exasperated by the fact that A-Rod is A-Rod. But Yankee Stadium hurling repeated boos in his direction is more than just a radio talking point. It’s a part of the game, one that can shake the confidence of the entire team and a genuine point of consideration for Yankee manager Joe Girardi.
Ultimately Eric Chavez’s performance will be graded against what A-Rod could have done, and even a mediocre night at the plate will satisfy A-Rod’s biggest critics and justify Girardi’s move. But in the larger scheme of baseball, taking A-Rod out of the lineup is hardly the right play – he’s the much more dangerous hitter, plain and simple. But this is the tightroping act of MLB managers, and the mounting anti-A-Rod pressure has forced Girardi’s hand – have your team and the fans second guessing your decision to stick with the better player, disrupting their focus on the task at hand, or go with Chavez and take the chatter out behind the barn once and for all.
Photo via Getty