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The surprisingly conventional Final Days of Alex Rodriguez’s Career

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The Yankees’ moves of the past week or so have made the direction in which they’re heading clear. They’re rebuilding, no matter how they spin it, and the future isn’t now. Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia and other veterans are still hanging around, but they will not be there the next time the Yankees are competing.

Mark Teixeira is still playing first base most days because, well, he has to. Sabathia is still taking his turn in the rotation. Alex Rodriguez, however, is no longer an every day player. He’ll be used as a pinch hitter here and there and start sometimes, but when you’re the DH there are always guys who can take your place. He’s four homers shy of 700 for his career and will likely hang around that long, but the New York Daily News is reporting today that the Yankees could release him before the end of the season. Buster Olney of ESPN is hearing many of the same things.

Unlike past stories about A-Rod leaving the Yankees, this isn’t overheated political stuff coming from people with axes to grind. There’s really no reason for anyone to grind an axe. The Yankees accepted over a year ago that they’re not getting out of their obligation to pay Rodriguez. Rodriguez, for his part, has been a model citizen and, unexpectedly, showed the world in the past year that his teammates actually like him and that he’s a pretty good guy in the clubhouse, at least compared to how things were several years ago. Many have suggested that he could even coach when he’s done playing. The days of Evil A-Rod are over for everyone except desperate columnists up against deadline. Now it’s just about the baseball and the roster spot.

The baseball is going poorly for A-Rod, obviously, thereby putting that roster spot in jeopardy. He’s hitting .205/.253/.358 which doesn’t play for anyone, let alone a guy with no defensive value anymore. At some point soon, the Yankees are probably going to want to take a look at a younger player. If they just want to look at his bat, they may want him to take A-Rod’s diminishing available hacks. If they want to check out his glove, they may want to shift someone into the DH spot to make room. There are only 25 slots on the roster until the end of August and no matter what happens, A-Rod is the most obvious odd man out.

As Olney notes, the Yankees could handle this one of two ways: tell A-Rod, gently, what he probably already knows: he’s not going to play much. Tell him that if he wants to, he can ride pine or, possibly, hit the disabled list with some non-specific old man injury for a chunk of August, hang around in September once the rosters expand and then end the season in uniform. Or tell him that they plan to release him at the end of the season and, if he’d like to go home now, they can make that happen and it may be better for the club. The idea of him playing in 2017 right now is hard to get one’s mind around. His 2015 resurgence was a nice story but he’s really got nothing left at all.

I suspect — and sort of hope — that he stays on the roster for the year and, at some point in September, some sort of announcement is made about him retiring or taking some role with the club after the season. He is obviously still owed money for 2017 and he doesn’t owe the Yankees any sort of favor in the form of getting them off the hook financially, but that’s between them. For fans who still like A-Rod and care about such things, it’d just be nice to see him hang it up at least partially on his terms, and with a nice wave to an early autumn crowd at Yankee Stadium. That’d be far preferable to a January press release or a spring training press conference in Tampa following a roster cutdown.

Whatever does happen, it’s amazing that the conversation we’re having about the end of Alex Rodriguez’s career is so . . . conventional. That it’s following, more or less, the same form every other great athlete’s swan song takes. Three or four years ago the smart bet would’ve been that A-Rod would end his baseball playing days as Public Enemy Number One, with people either shouting epithets of wearing “Free A-Rod!” shirts. Or that he’d, I dunno, be beamed into the heavens by some alien ship because what the hell else in his career had ever looked normal?

But now, in 2016, he’s just a 41-year-old ballplayer who, while occasionally being able to deposit a mistake pitch into the seats, can’t really play the game anymore. He’s like the thousands of other players who couldn’t defeat time and the small handful of all-time greats who defeated it for longer than most thought but eventually succumbed.

Truly happy endings are rare in sports. At the most we get bittersweet. Here’s hoping that the ending of Alex Rodriguez’s career has at least some sweetness to it.

UPDATE: A-Rod was asked today about the possibility of being released. He’s pretty zen about it.

Nationals GM Rizzo won’t reveal length of Martinez’s new contract

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WASHINGTON — Dave Martinez spoke Saturday about managing the Washington Nationals for “many, many years” and over the “long term” and “quite some time,” thanks to his contract extension.

Sharing a table to a socially distanced degree with his manager on a video conference call to announce the new deal – each member of the duo sporting a 2019 World Series ring on his right hand – Nationals GM Mike Rizzo referred to the agreement’s “multiyear” nature, but repeatedly refused to reveal anything more specific in response to reporters’ questions.

“We don’t talk about terms as far as years, length and salaries and that type of thing. We’re comfortable with what we have and the consistency that we’re going to have down the road,” said Rizzo, who recently agreed to a three-year extension of his own. “That’s all we want to say about terms, because it’s private information and we don’t want you guys to know about it.”

When Martinez initially was hired by Rizzo in October 2017 – his first managing job at any level – the Nationals’ news release at the time announced that he was given a three-year contract with an option for a fourth year.

That 2021 option had not yet been picked up.

“The partnership that Davey and I have together, our communication styles are very similar. Our aspirations are similar, and kind of our mindset of how to obtain the goals that we want to obtain are similar. I think it’s a good match,” Rizzo said. “We couldn’t have hit on a more positive and enthusiastic leader in the clubhouse. I think you see it shine through even in the most trying times.”

The Nationals entered Saturday – Martinez’s 56th birthday – with a 23-34 record and in last place in the NL East, which Rizzo called “a disappointing season.” The team’s title defense was slowed by injuries and inconsistency during a 60-game season delayed and shortened by the coronavirus pandemic.

World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg threw just five innings because of a nerve issue in his pitching hand and players such as Starlin Castro, Sean Doolittle, Tanner Rainey, Adam Eaton and Carter Kieboom finished the year on the IL.

“This year, for me, we didn’t get it done. We had a lot of bumps in the road this year. But I really, fully believe, we’ve got the core guys here that we need to win another championship,” Martinez said. “I know Mike, myself, we’re going to spend hours and hours and hours trying to fill the void with guys we think can potentially help us in the future. And we’ll be back on the podium. I’m really confident about that.”

Rizzo was asked Saturday why the team announces contract lengths for players, as is common practice around the major leagues, but wouldn’t do so in this instance for Martinez.

“The reason is we don’t want anybody to know. That’s the reason,” Rizzo said, before asking the reporter: “How much do you make? How many years do you have?”

Moments later, as the back-and-forth continued, Rizzo said: “It’s kind of an individual thing with certain people. I don’t want you to know what I make or how many years I have. Davey doesn’t want you to know. And I think that it’s only fair … when people don’t want certain information out there, that we don’t give it.”

There were some calling for Martinez to lose his job last season when Washington got off to a 19-31 start. But Rizzo stood by his manager, and the team eventually turned things around, going 74-38 the rest of the way to reach the playoffs as an NL wild-card team.

The Nationals then beat the Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals to reach the World Series, where they beat the Houston Astros in Game 7.

Washington joined the 1914 Boston Braves as the only teams in major league history to win a World Series after being 12 games below .500 during a season.

“Everything from Day 1 to where he’s gotten to now, he’s grown so much. He’s really become one of my favorite managers of all,” three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer said after helping Washington win Saturday’s opener of a doubleheader against the New York Mets. “Davey really understands how to manage a clubhouse, manage a team. We saw it in the postseason. He knows how to push the right buttons when everything is on the line.”