Sports

Nick Cafardo | Sunday Baseball Notes

Alex Rodriguez is back, and there is interest

The Yankees may try to push the limits this spring by making Alex Rodriguez take long bus rides, trying to wear him down with a lot of playing time at third base and a lot of at-bats.

Associated Press/File 2013

The Yankees may try to push the limits this spring by making Alex Rodriguez take long bus rides, trying to wear him down with a lot of playing time at third base and a lot of at-bats.

If Alex Rodriguez can’t play because he’s physically unable, and goes off into the sunset, it would trigger a nice, clean insurance payout to the Yankees for the $61 million they owe him, according to one major league source. It would be a matter of, “Hey, we tried, but he just couldn’t perform.”

But nothing with A-Rod is simple.

Advertisement

The Yankees may try to push the limits this spring by making him take long bus rides, trying to wear him down with a lot of playing time at third base and a lot of at-bats.

The Yankees would be within their rights to make those demands, but Rodriguez is probably in great shape, his degenerative hips are well-rested, and the chip on his shoulder to prove everyone wrong is probably going to drive him.

Get Sports Headlines in your inbox:
The Globe's most recent sports headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

If A-Rod meets these demands and actually starts the season? Then the Yankees will be able to offset the cost of his $21 million salary by promoting the circus act.

As one baseball marketing expert pointed out recently, the Yankees already saved $27.5 million by virtue of Rodriguez’s yearlong absence. The curiosity factor regarding his return is going to generate increased ticket revenue, better TV ratings, which means more advertising revenue (even though most of ad revenue is determined before the season starts), and more interest and activity in the Yankees’ brand and licensing.

This may not be the case for a full season, but initially you can count on it. It will be interesting to see how high his jersey sales go. There will be a lot of folks walking around wearing No. 13.

Advertisement

Before you utter, “Why would anyone pay to watch him or wear his jersey?” the fact is, he’s the biggest name in baseball right now. And he will create a lot of attention.

The good news for baseball is that A-Rod didn’t take part in domestic violence or child abuse. He took steroids and got caught. The NFL would love for this to be its biggest scandal, but we also know that the public views steroid use in football as a far more minor crime than in baseball.

The curiosity will be positive and negative. If he gets off to a bad start, people will want to see the fall of A-Rod. If he gets off to a good start, people will want to see how he’s pulling it off.

And that curiosity will extend well beyond New York. You don’t think that when the Yankees come to town that the fans in those cities won’t want to come to the ballpark to boo him or just to watch the most celebrated and admitted steroid user of all time?

You don’t think NESN’s rating won’t be piqued for a Yankees-Red Sox game because A-Rod is now back in the lineup and Boston fans can let him have it?

How about the YES Network? Yankees fans aren’t going to tune in to watch the A-Rod Show?

When and if Rodriguez hits his sixth home run of the season, tying him with Willie Mays at 660, a $6 million bonus kicks in on the $10-year, $275 million extension negotiated with the owner in power at the time, Hank Steinbrenner. The Yankees are on record as saying they don’t want to pay it, but how can they not? It was an addendum the Yankees pushed for, not the milestone bonuses, which were agent Scott Boras’s idea, but incentives, which were Steinbrenner’s idea.

Say what you will about the disgraced A-Rod, but he was one of the greatest players of his time, tremendously gifted, which makes his use of chemical enhancements even more bizarre.

Rodriguez has played the game hard. You have rarely seen anything but all-out effort in every aspect. He runs out every ground ball. He runs the bases aggressively. He has been a very good defensive player both at shortstop and third base. When he decided to join the Yankees he knew he would have to move off shortstop because of Derek Jeter. He did so without drama or fanfare and became a good third baseman.

Some believe Rodriguez will always be able to hit, but now we’re curious about whether he can hit without steroids.

Recent reports have suggested that his work with Barry Bonds will likely help create a new compact, explosive swing. If he passes all of the physical tests he’ll likely be the Yankees’ full-time designated hitter, which means less time on the field to absorb abuse from fans.

“Alex is very sensitive,” one of his ex-teammates said recently. “The booing, the hate that people will have for him, will bother him. He’ll try to shut it out but he’ll hear everything.”

Yankees attendance hasn’t been maximized recently, but there’s a chance it could be now. Will those home fans cheer him? Because if they don’t, Rodriguez will be affected emotionally. Will his teammates embrace him as one of them?

Maybe he’s a three-headed monster. People love train wrecks, bad boys, dysfunction. They love to see the bad guy go down, and some love to see the bad guy prove the world wrong.

Rodriguez wrote an apology last week. Was it enough? Some believe he needs to say it rather than write it. That hasn’t worked for him in the past, which is why he didn’t do it that way, but he needs to make that attempt even if people call it disingenuous.

Rodriguez said it best. He knows a lot of people aren’t going to believe him, and “that’s on me.” He says he just wants a peaceful final few years of his career, but it’s not going to be so peaceful. He will face scrutiny wherever he goes. There will be angry people shouting at him.

Rodriguez will have to prove that he can play without steroids, if you can ever believe he’s off them. He’s certainly one of the players who was able to beat the testing.

Whether you believe him or not, he will be watched. Everyone is curious about A-Rod’s return. Even at his lowest moment his comeback is the biggest story in baseball, and perhaps in all of sports.

And because if it, amid the confusion, there will be profits. Lots of profits.

CUB REPORTER

Ross is impressed with new teammates

David Ross took one look at some of the Cubs’ young hitters at their Mesa, Ariz., training camp and came away thinking, “Do I belong here?”

Ross said in all the organizations he’s played for, he’s never seen so many promising young hitters on one team.

“I’m watching this kid Kris Bryant, and he missed on a ball and popped it up, and all of a sudden it’s landing against the fence,” said Ross. “It’s incredible to watch, and he didn’t even hit it square. Imagine when he connects what happens. You see that with all the young hitters here. I was hitting with [Javier] Baez, and it’s amazing what power he’s got. You see it with every guy.”

Ross understands it’s going to take time for the hitters to mature, but said “it’s going to be fun to watch the process. I mean, I haven’t even seen [Jorge] Soler hit yet, and they’re telling me he’s got an incredibly powerful bat. It’s really something.”

Ross will likely be Jon Lester’s personal catcher, but that role has not been solidified. Manager Joe Maddon said he’s not opposed to it and understands the relationship Lester and Ross have from their days in Boston.

“We did it in Tampa with [Jose Molina] and David Price and it worked out well, so I’ve got an open mind about it,” said Maddon. “It gives the backup catcher a chance to play on a consistent basis. I just haven’t talked to Jon about that yet.”

What Maddon recognized, almost immediately, is “you’ve got David Ross here and Jon Lester here and these guys are leaders. They want to win. The more I speak to them the more you realize that. It’s going to be very helpful to know that these two guys put winning first. That’s all they want to do.”

Ross said he and Lester have picked up where they left off.

“We’ll always be friends,” Ross said. “We accomplished some special things together and we’d love for that to happen over here. Given what we see here for talent, we feel like it’s going to happen here.”

Ross is the backup to Miguel Montero, but the Cubs also have Welington Castillo, whom they hope to move in a trade.

Apropos of nothing

1. Team chairman Tom Werner says there have been no changes to Larry Lucchino’s role as president and CEO of the Red Sox. “It’s a non-story,” said Werner. “There is no change in his role, nor is there a so-called power struggle. Larry is reporting to John [Henry, the principal owner] and myself, as always.” Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy wrote last week about a possible reduction in power for Lucchino, and that Werner and limited partner Michael Gordon were taking on bigger roles.

2. Cole Hamels wants out of Philadelphia, per his comments to USA Today last week, but it doesn’t mean the Phillies will accelerate a deal. Here’s why, according to a Phillies source: 1. As a top veteran, Hamels has always known he was going to be traded, nor should it be a surprise to Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee, and Ryan Howard if they are dealt; 2. The Phillies don’t have to do anything out of desperation because they are a big-market team with financial resources. Would they love to deal all of them in one fell swoop? Absolutely. Hamels is a terrific pitcher who will bring the haul they need, so they need to be patient. When does patience run out? I’m told the trading deadline would be a drop-dead date. Maybe by then the price will come down on Hamels, but it could certainly work the other way with desperation by a contending team or two driving the price up.

3. If I’m Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, I don’t think the addition of Joba Chamberlain would be fortifying the bullpen in Kenley Jansen’s absence, but adding Francisco Rodriguez or Rafael Soriano would.

4. Who is surprised that John Lackey has been relatively quiet about having to play for the veteran minimum salary for the Cardinals, per the contract he signed with the Red Sox? I am. According to Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, there have been no talks about a contract extension. Stay tuned on this one.

5. Starting to like the Mariners and White Sox as division winners in the American League.

Updates on nine

1. Jesus Montero, DH/1B, Mariners — When speaking to Mariners officials this offseason, they kept bringing up Montero. Why? The light bulb finally went on. This was a guy traded in the famous Michael Pineda deal with the Yankees in 2012. Both players were busts until Pineda returned from shoulder woes and pitched well last year. Montero, only 25, was originally a catcher but could never get in shape or put forth a professional attitude. He hit .286 with 24 doubles, 16 home runs, and 74 RBIs with an .839 OPS with Triple A Tacoma last season. Now he’s 40 pounds lighter and there’s a legitimate chance he can win a job. The guy could always hit. While Logan Morrison is currently the starter at first base, Montero could work himself into a platoon.

2. Alex Gordon, Royals, OF — Gordon heads into his free agent season with no certainty he’ll remain a Royal. Gordon is one of baseball’s best overall players but his offensive numbers don’t scream superstar. Yet he had a 6.6 WAR last season, which was sixth among position players in baseball, likely due to his great defense. His .781 career OPS makes him a steady offensive player. He’ll be 32 in 2016. The Royals are said to be torn on how far to go in years and money.

3. Shane Victorino, OF, Red Sox — Don’t buy that Victorino will be Boston’s right fielder on Opening Day. If he’s healthy, he’ll draw interest and be traded. It would be hard to believe he’d supplant Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo. Betts was a player John Farrell spoke of as his possible leadoff hitter for most of the winter, while Castillo has a seven-year deal and likely won’t be on the bench or in Pawtucket. But certainly for the purpose of raising his value the declaration that Victorino will start in right does that, and the fact that he and the team feel he’s 100 percent should enhance trade possibilities.

4. Yoan Moncada, INF, free agent — The 19-year-old switch hitter from Cuba may be on the verge of deciding which major league team he’ll sign with. One GM from a team that was in the hunt and now is no longer in said he would bet on the Yankees. “I think their need is great,” said the GM. “They can sell it as the replacement for Robinson Cano. I don’t think anyone wants to pay out that bonus, but he is a special talent and may be the best of the Cuban hitters who have come over.” The bonus could get up to $50 million. The Dodgers have balked at paying that but remain interested. The Red Sox, Padres, and Phillies are also in the hunt.

5. Joe Maddon, manager, Cubs — Maddon is carrying around a cheat sheet with players names and numbers in his first few days with the Cubs. He had a team meeting Friday when pitchers and catchers reported and stressed the things he’s always stressed to his players — play the game hard all the time, show up on time, and work hard. He said he was “honored” to be their manager. Maddon acknowledged it was going to take him a while to get to know all the players, but he’s been very impressed with the leadership qualities he sees in Jon Lester.

6. Matt Cain, RHP, Giants — Cain is coming off surgery to clean up his elbow, so the Giants will go slow with their former ace, who needs to be a big part of the equation for the Giants to be successful. The Giants went after Lester and James Shields but were rejected by both. They did not dabble in Max Scherzer, but re-signed Jake Peavy and Ryan Vogelsong, so they obviously are putting a lot on Cain to get back to his former self.

7. Drake Britton, LHP, Cubs — Britton didn’t know how much of a chance he would get to make the Cubs’ roster after the Red Sox designated him for assignment, but now that he’s in camp, “I think it’s going to be great. I think they’ll give me a fair shot.” Britton said he was “shocked” to be designated to make room for Alexi Ogando. “I just didn’t understand it, but it’s a business and that part I get.”

8. Theo Epstein, president of baseball operations, Cubs — Epstein has made a lot of good moves to acquire talent since he arrived in Chicago, but it’s interesting that the best deal he’s made was with Dan Duquette, acquiring Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop from the Orioles for Scott Feldman. Arrieta is the Cubs’ No. 2 starter and Strop is a big part of their bullpen.

9. Jordan Zimmermann, RHP, Nationals — Zimmermann’s contract situation sounds similar to Jon Lester’s in Boston. Zimmermann has said he will not negotiate during the season, so if a deal doesn’t get done in spring training he’ll head to free agency.

Extra innings

From the Bill Chuck files — “Over the last three seasons, no leadoff batter has reached base more than Denard Span (641 times).” . . . Also, “In the history of the Red Sox no batter with fewer than 425 plate appearances struck out as many times in a season as Jackie Bradley Jr. last season, whiffing 121 times in 423 plate appearances.” . . . Happy birthday, Casey Kotchman (32), Daniel Nava (32), and Kelly Johnson (33).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.
Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.