A-Rod takes care of business

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Coming in to this season, Alex Rodriguez had two demons with which he needed to wrestle: (1) his public relations issues; and (2) his reputation as a playoffs choker. Based on how things are going, he’s beating the demons handily.

On the P.R. front, A-Rod has bounced back nicely since the low point of his outing as a steroids user over the offseason.  Some rather boring and tame Kate Hudson stories aside, he has kept himself off the tabloids’ back pages. Indeed, since coming back from the hip injury, he has more or less put his head down, played ball, and has utterly failed to make waves.  Whether this is because of a conscious change in approach to life on his part or simply a function of the New York press growing tied of writing about him is unclear, but either way, demon number one appears to be vanquished.

The playoffs. At the outset it’s probably worth noting that, contrary to his reputation, Rodriguez is not a complete playoff non-entity. Yes, if you start counting from Game 3 of the 2004 ALCS you would be completely accurate to say that Rodriguez has been a zero, having failed to drive in a run with men on base in 27 straight opportunities. Such an observation would be misleading in the grand scheme because it fails to acknowledge that he was a beat in the 2000 ALCS against the Yankees, the 2004 ALDS against the Twins, and probably would have been the ALCS MVP that year if the Yankees didn’t choke Game 4 and the rest of the series away.  But yes, it would still be accurate to say that the guy has struggled since.

Until last night. 3-2 Yankees, a man on second in the fifth inning. A single to left, Jeter comes home, playoff RBI drought broken. A-Rod haters probably aren’t used to the image of the guy standing on first base clapping his hands following an RBI in a key situation — that’s Jeter’s image — but there Rodriguez was, having done what people somehow think him incapable of doing. And he did it again in the seventh inning for good measure.

What has come over A-Rod?  Maybe nothing. Maybe he’s still kind of a weirdo but no one wants to write about him anymore. Maybe the haters are right and he really is some sort of pathological choker and doesn’t know how to approach the postseason and last night’s RBIs are simply a matter of chance and small sample sizes coming back around again.

But maybe A-Rod has also grown up a little. Maybe he has heeded my colleague Bert Blyleven’s advice and has simply decided to enjoy the playoffs, have fun, and stop listening to the people who want to bring him down.  The power of positive thinking and all that.

Whatever the case, it’s nice to see the guy break out of the box he’s been in for so long, put his head down and take care of business on the ballfield. If, as I suspect will be the case, the Yankees go on to win their 27th title, A-Rod’s transformation will be remembered as a key part of that.

Shapiro, Murray defend Dellin Betances after arbitration feud

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Dellin Betances #68 of the New York Yankees and the American League pitches against the National League during the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The dust hasn’t quite settled after right-hander Dellin Betances‘ arbitration hearing with the Yankees on Saturday. The case was decided in the team’s favor, awarding Betances with a $3 million salary for the 2017 season instead of the $5 million he initially requested. Yankees’ president Randy Levine held a press conference to voice his outrage over the figure presented by Betances and his agency, saying it had “no bearings in reality” since Betances does not have the elite closer status required for a salary bump of that magnitude.

Needless to say, the comments caused some consternation within Betances’ camp. The reliever publicly addressed the outburst, telling the press that he was prepared to put his differences with the team aside until he heard what Levine had to say. Via MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch:

Players union executive Rick Shapiro and Betances’ agent, Jim Murray, also spoke out in the right-hander’s favor. Shapiro presented Betances’ case during the hearing on Saturday and called Levine’s comments “an absolute disgrace to the arbitration process and to all of Major League Baseball.” In a report from FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Shapiro added: “The only thing that has been unprecedented in the last 36 hours is that a club official, after winning a case, called a news conference to effectively gloat about his victory – that’s unprecedented.”

Murray spoke exclusively to Rosenthal, accusing the president of effectively bullying the 28-year-old during the arbitration process and claiming that Levine had both mispronounced Betances’ name throughout the hearing and blamed the reliever for “declining ticket sales and their lack of playoff history.” Like Betances, Murray said that the agency was ready to accept the arbiter’s decision and move on before Levine’s decision to air his grievances to the media. “The only person overreaching in this entire situation is Randy,” Murray told Rosenthal. “He might as well be an astronaut because nobody on earth would agree with what he is saying. Even the others in the room would disagree with him.”

Royals will experiment with Alex Gordon in all three outfield spots this year

CLEVELAND, OH -  MAY 7: Alex Gordon #4 of the Kansas City Royals reacts to a fan while on first base during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on May 7, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Royals’ manager Ned Yost is shaking things up in 2017, starting with left fielder Alex Gordon. Yost told MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan that “every scenario is open,” and expects to utilize Gordon in right and center field this spring while he figures out where to position Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss.

Gordon, 33, hasn’t manned right field since a three-game experiment with the Royals back in 2010 and has yet to play center field during any regular season to date. The focus, however, isn’t on Gordon’s capabilities. Among the three outfielders, he carries the best defensive profile and appears to be the most versatile of the bunch.

According to Flanagan, Soler and Moss are average on defense and will continue working closely with Royals’ coach Rusty Kuntz as the season approaches. One arrangement could see Gordon in center field, flanked by Soler in right field and Moss in left, though Yost foresees Soler taking some reps at DH if his defensive chops aren’t up to snuff.

While Moss is prepared to see starts at either outfield corner, Yost appears to be set on keeping Soler in right field, at least for the time being. The club is hoping for a bounce-back season from the 24-year-old outfielder, who was acquired from the Cubs in December after batting a lackluster .238/.333/.436 and sustaining a slew of minor injuries throughout the 2016 season.