By Joel Sherman
The Yankees have 15 games until the All-Star break. That should be the leash for Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira to show they still have something left, or Hal Steinbrenner must swallow the contracts.
Normally, such a plan would be about playing for the future. And it would be. But it is about 2016, as well. Because if A-Rod and Teixeira were even at 80 percent of their 2015 production, then the 2016 Yankees just might be in first place.
As it is, the Yankees crawled over .500 (37-36) by beating the Twins, 2-1, Saturday. The Yankees are 20-14 in their last 34, and you can see contention in that. But dig deeper. In that span, they are 15-2 against the Twins, A’s, Angels and Rays — or the four worst clubs in the AL — and 5-12 otherwise.
The AL-best Rangers come to The Bronx on Monday, albeit with an exhausted bullpen and devastated rotation. Should the Yanks start beating teams like Texas, they can be taken seriously, especially because their elite end game of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman (19 batters faced the past two days, one hit, no runs, nine strikeouts) can be the backbone of a playoff run.
But to beat better clubs, the Yankees need Rodriguez and Teixeira to hit or else move aside. Because how could other options be worse?
“One hundred percent I think that [Rodriguez and Teixeira hitting] will happen,” Brian McCann said. “I go off bat speed, and their bat speed looks good. And I go off their track records, and they obviously have that.”
Maybe McCann is right. Plenty of folks wanted to cut Carlos Beltran in April 2015 and CC Sabathia in April 2016. They proved to be proud stars with something left. It would not surprise me if the same occurred with Rodriguez or Teixeira. Heck, it was not like they were last effective in 2010.
Last year they combined for 64 homers, 165 RBIs, an .870 OPS and a slash line of .252/.357/.513.
This season they have contributed to the Yankees scoring two or fewer runs an AL-high 27 times. That included Saturday, when the pair had opportunities to help the Yanks win comfortably, but went 1-for-7 — the one an A-Rod infield single — and hitless in five at-bats with runners on. Both were booed by the crowd of 40,075.
The fans are cognizant of the results: a combined 11 homers, 38 RBIs, .595 OPS and a slash line of .199/.268/.327. Rodriguez and Teixeira are walking less (8.4 percent of plate appearances compared with 13.2 last year) and whiffing more (27.8/21.3), symbolic of pitchers fearing them less and challenging them more.
This would be no easy decision. A-Rod and Teixeira helped the 2009 Yanks win a title and have had brilliant careers — albeit in Rodriguez’s case tainted by PEDs. Then there is the money. Teixeira (at $22.5 million) is in the final year of his contract. Rodriguez is being paid $20 million this year and next. From this point forward, the Yanks owe the duo approximately $45.4 million.
But the Rockies ate about $39 million through next year to cut Jose Reyes, and the Dodgers did the same with Carl Crawford, owing about $35 million. Both teams acted for what was best now and in the future.
If those clubs were willing to eat that much, would the Yankees?
It would be simpler in Teixeira’s case if Greg Bird were available. But if Teixeira’s at-bats are going to be this empty, would the Yanks be better in 2016 with Rob Refsnyder while also gauging his future?
And if this is Rodriguez, the 2016 Yankees would be improved with Beltran as the DH, which would better preserve his body while removing a below-average defender, while giving right field at-bats to Aaron Hicks, Refsnyder and perhaps Aaron Judge.
Refsnyder might be a righty version of the young Daniel Murphy — no obvious position, limited power, but terrific bat-to-ball skills. The Yanks want to believe Hicks is Didi Gregorius II — a terrific athlete whose baseball skills would flourish with regular play and veteran mentoring. But so far neither the aptitude nor attitude is stellar. Playing time the rest of the way would better clarify who Refsnyder and Hicks are while possibly bringing more production than Rodriguez.
As for Judge, there has been a wait for dominance, and in his last 20 games entering Saturday he was hitting .366 at Triple-A with seven homers and a 1.227 OPS. Might it be worth it now and for the future for him to get 300 MLB apprentice plate appearances? Could he produce less than Rodriguez has to date?
Now, Teixeira just returned from the DL on Saturday. Rodriguez fills an important leadership role in the clubhouse. Both deserve more time. Until the All-Star Game feels fair for the veterans to demonstrate they have something left. Or it is time for the Yanks to make the future now.