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Timing of A-Rod’s Benching Raises Series Questions

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Admittedly the assertion is purely speculation, but it seems very obvious that the announcement of Alex Rodriguez's benching for "fatigue" before Friday's interleague matchup between the New York Yankees and the Florida Marlins signals that something is drastically wrong between the enigmatic slugger and his team. While it is not inexplicable that a player who missed as much time as A-Rod at the beginning of the season would need some rest — the public explanation for the move by the organization — the fact that Alex will begin his respite during a rare series in his hometown shows that, at the very least, the Yankees will extend their struggling star no loyalty or leeway based on past laurels during the length of his offensive torment.

And even as Alex tries to stay amicable with the team and his manager to the press, his frustration at the apparent thinly veiled message sent by this blatant disregard of Rodriguez's wants, needs, and ego, shows more translucently through his comments than even A-Fraud at his "best" can mask.

On the surface the move could arguably be called a pure baseball decision by manager Joe Girardi. In his 38 games back from the disabled list A-Rod is hitting only .212 with a .462 slugging percentage. Instead of steadily improving as he works back from hip his injury, Alex has toiled through a horrific June, batting .145 this month, collecting only 8 hits in 55 at bats. With Alex in a current 0-15 skid, and his lack of overall progress and improvement offensively, one could easily argue that A-Rod needs a rest while continuing to shape his way back into the historically powerful hitter that is his usual embodiment. Alex's return caused an instant turn-around in the Yankees' offensive output earlier in the season and Joe Girardi would be well served to make sure his slugger is ready for the long haul of the season.

In reality though, there is strong evidence that this move stems from factors beyond A-Rod’s futile on the field performance. Consider the full situation surrounding the timing of Friday afternoon's announcement. The Yankees were coming off a horrible series against baseball's worst team, the now 19-win Washington Nationals. They dropped two out of three games to the normally sterile Nats, culminating in a humiliating  rain-delayed shutout on Thursday. The entire offense was struggling and the Yankees' next destination was Alex Rodriguez's backyard for a three-game set against the Marlins. Doesn't seem like the most logical time to bench a player some call the best hitter in the game based solely on baseball variables.

A-Rod was pumped for this series. He reportedly bought over 100 tickets for friends and family, undoubtedly excited to play in one of the few environments where he likely wouldn't be serenaded with constant jeers every trip to the plate. When speaking to reporters about his dismay in warming the bench on Friday A-Rod lamented "I was looking forward to this day, honestly, for five or seven years. It's a big disappointment."

But with arguably the MLB's most dangerous — albeit slumping — slugger that excited for a series, with the notoriously vain Bronx Peacock ready to strut his colors for the few people on this planet retaining any sympathy for the heavily tarnished figure, Joe Girardi decided that Friday's opener in Miami provided the perfect opportunity to give Rodriguez some much needed rest.

Had Alex been feeling some ill effects from his surgery or even himself professed some kind of physical fatigue maybe Girardi's PC explanation would be palatable but in the manager's own words, none of these issues factored into the benching. Said Girardi before Friday's win over the Marlins, "We just feel that he needs a couple days physically. Is he sore? No, he's not sore. But we think he's a little bit run down and that he could recharge his batteries."

So Alex isn't injured, isn't sore, and acted about as opposite from wanting a day off as one can by purchasing his own A-Rod Section at "Land Shark Stadium," and yet Girardi still chose to bench a player that has 562 career home runs and whose return literally transformed the Yankee lineup over night, for Angel Berroa (and his two, now three, hits).

Again, the evidence is only deductive and circumstantial, but given the timing of A-Rod's benching, his own profession of physical health, and the comparison of offensive output to that of the options to replace him in the lineup, it seems clear that A-Rod's benching is about more than a brutal June. It just might be that the scales have tipped once again in the saga that is A-Rod's career, and the value of his presence and his power are once again becoming outweighted by factors that aren't dictated by skill with a bat, ball, and glove.

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About Anthony Tobis