MLB Preseason Primaries: Alex Rodriguez

For some, 2016 Spring Training marks the start of a brand new Major League Baseball season. For others, this time of year marks the height of the presidential primary elections. While many pontificate over who is best suited to lead the country, The Sports Fan Journal fam decided to take a look at which player, manager, or front office member is the best candidate to lead their team to the top of the baseball mountain. 
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He hit 33 home runs, 22 doubles and drew 84 walks. His .486 SLG and .842 OPS were his best in five years. Even the traditional metrics that advance statisticians loathe were some of his best since 2010.

And yet, as always, the numbers are a part of the story with Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez.

Yes, he didn’t directly spur on any controversy himself in 2015, but after the comical standoff between the slugger and his employer over previously agreed to compensation for his milestones, we’re going to hear even more about the once-fraught, maybe-healed relationship between the two parties as Rodriguez inches closer to 700 home runs.

As for 2016, Rodriguez is once again an integral part of the Yankees’ bottom line. No, not just the financial ledgers of the team, but the section in the team preview of The Sporting News’ consistently strong annual yearbook:

“This version of the Yankees will look a lot like the previous year’s, which isn’t normally the case in New York. But there has been more focus recently on developing from within and not signing every free agent on the market. The Yankees’ big-spending tendencies will never go completely dormant, but management believes it has plenty of talent on the roster. It just needs to stay on the field.”

Making Rodriguez the primary designated hitter last year (he played four games at 3B and two at 1B) allowed for him to play 151 games, his most in a season since his last MVP season in 2007. The original Highlanders didn’t make a move for a major power bat in the offseason, though trading for new 2B Starlin Castro was a smart play for a team tightening up the purse strings. Perhaps the Yankees believe that not only can they maintain A-Rod for a full season again at DH, but that Mark Teixiera can return to form after missing the final weeks of last season due to a shin fracture.

That’s still a risky proposition as their base-clearing power is largely dependent on three elder statesmen – Rodriguez (40), Teixiera (36 this April) and Carlos Beltran (39 this April) – who have tread on top of tread on their tires.

About said power: projected to his 22 long balls this season (via Fangraphs), Rodriguez should hit #700 at some point in the late spring or early summer, if all goes well health-wise. While he probably won’t stay in the game long enough to top Barry Bonds, in his chase for 700 and more, rest assured that the team won’t have a problem with those premium locations.

What could be of even greater benefit to the team, believe it or not, is not just A-Rod the Hitter, but A-Rod the Analyst.

His well-received run as a guest analyst for Fox Sports’ postseason coverage showed a side to him that few publicly get to see. Evidenced by his desk work during the 2015 World Series, guys like Rodriguez have such an innate and almost savant-like knowledge of hitting that in the right circumstance, they can serve as a second hitting coach to a young potential slugger such as Greg Bird, who will likely take over first base in 2017 when Teixiera’s contract comes off the books.

That the Yankees are reliant on Rodriguez, someone whom they’ve had an acrimonious relationship with over the years, speaks volumes on how much the game has changed around the “Yankee Universe.” 27 rings don’t matter if you don’t have last year’s, but getting mowed down at home by the upstart Houston Astros and Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel in the AL Wild Card Game absolutely does. Where most other teams have either locked down their future stars or moved them everywhere else but New York, the Yankees are stuck with a roster that can only be improved by attrition and time, not money. Yet, this is a team that was actually one of the better surprises of 2015 thanks to smart management by Joe Girardi and multiple contributions on the field from disparate sources.

Can Alex Rodriguez be a part of another surprise in 2016? Can he even unearth a little goodwill if these are the last two years in the career of the should-be-but-won't-be Hall of Famer? If his solid spring training has been any indication, all is possible, especially if he gives them close to the stats he put up a season ago. In a reshuffled AL East and a team that would, at best, flirt with another Wild Card spot, the Yankees will once again ask for a former persona non grata to become their savior.

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