BOSTON — Alex Rodriguez walked through the visiting clubhouse without a glove. He didn’t need it, serving as the New York designated hitter Tuesday night while the Yankees ease him back into play.
“The big thing is to keep him fresh and keep him strong,” Manager Joe Girardi said before the game.
Near Rodriguez was Mark Teixeira’s vacant locker, his jersey hanging harmlessly inside. Teixeira, who missed 10 games with a strained calf muscle, came back Saturday night, only to reinjure the calf. He is out at least 10 more days.
“When he came back I was still concerned,” Girardi said. “Because of that initial step you have to take – that explosive step – a lot of that comes from the calf. No matter how long you give him off, I’m going to be concerned.”
Concerned. A good description in New York these days.
New York has led the American League East since June 12 and held a 10-game lead on July 18. Now both the Orioles and Rays are charging, and the Yankees are trying to hold on.
Granted, the Yankees’ position is so much more enviable than Boston’s, as the Red Sox keep reaching lows that haven’t been witnessed in 20 years.
But Boston did one smart thing. The Red Sox surveyed their losing situation and jettisoned $287.5 million off their payroll over the coming years, with the trade of pitcher Josh Beckett, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and outfielder Carl Crawford to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
If the Yankees fail to reach the playoffs, they will be left staring at their bloated contracts, with their most expensive players tied up at least through 2016 (or 2017, in Rodriguez’s case), and wondering what to do.
Might General Manager Brian Cashman give the Dodgers a call?
From 2003-08, the Yankees were in a continual slow downturn, from losing to the Marlins in the World Series, to the unmentionable collapse to Boston in the ALCS, to three straight first-round playoff losses, to missing out of the 2008 postseason.
The Yankees reacted by doing what they do better than anyone – they opened the wallet wider and committed $423.5 million to pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, and Teixeira. Plus, they traded for outfielder Nick Swisher.
The addition of those four to a solid core of players (Posada, Cano, Jeter, Rodriguez, Damon, Matsui, Pettitte and Rivera, to name a few) propelled the Yankees to the 2009 World Series title.
New York reached the 2010 ALCS (losing to Texas), and lost to Detroit in the first round last year.
Now comes the scare of missing the 2012 postseason, the experience of another slow downturn. Sabathia, 32, is still a good pitcher but his innings have declined. Teixeira, 32, is still a force, although his production has gone down. Both are signed through 2016 (Burnett was sent to Pittsburgh with $20 million to help pay his contract, which is over after 2013).
What can the Red Sox learn from this?
Well, hopefully, Boston has already taken in one lesson: beware of fixes that cost six figures.
The Red Sox experienced their own slow downturn after winning the 2007 World Series: a loss in the 2008 ALCS, a loss in the 2009 first round, and no playoffs in 2010.
Theo Epstein, the general manager at the time, worked to improve Boston, using owner John Henry’s checkbook. Before the 2010 season, pitcher John Lackey was signed ($82.5 million) and Beckett was re-signed ($68 million). Before 2011, Gonzalez was traded for and then had his contract extended ($154 million), and Crawford was signed as a free agent ($142 million).
It didn’t work – collapse and no playoffs in 2011, and a forgettable 2012. Boston has blown up the blueprint and started over.
Lackey remains the highest-paid player on the team, and he’s been rehabbing all year after elbow surgery.
And we must mention that Boston also traded some prime prospects for Gonzalez. First baseman Anthony Rizzo and pitcher Casey Kelly are already in the majors.
The Yankees also traded prospects, including catcher Jesus Montero to Seattle for touted young pitcher Michael Pineda, who missed this season because of shoulder surgery.
But New York does have its young homegrown players, including pitcher David Phelps, who starts Wednesday.
The Red Sox, despite their trades, still have a treasure of young talent, led by third baseman Will Middlebrooks. Catcher Ryan Lavarnway and shortstop Jose Iglesias should break next spring training camp with Boston. Outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. and Bryce Brentz are a year or less away. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who reached Portland this season, is an All-Star in the making.
A stable of pitchers will come through Portland and Pawtucket over the next couple of years. And one pitcher in the Dodgers trade, Rubby De La Rosa, could join the rotation next year.
Boston undoubtedly will add a veteran or two to the roster, but there is a core here that can succeed.
Building from within doesn’t sound as sexy as big-money free agents, but the Dodgers aren’t likely to bail out Boston again.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: [email protected]