Two media scrums on opposite sides of the country revealed last week the sunken state of two once-significant American League forces — one a player and one a ballclub.
First, to Yankee Stadium, where Alex Rodriguez, banished to the bench except to serve as the New York Yankees’ designated hitter against left-handed pitchers, made himself available to the media.
His agenda? To state publicly that the old man isn’t done yet even though he can’t hit, can’t run and can’t play defense, and that no one has seen the last of him. The Yankees, his contract or an injury to someone better will decide that.
Three time zones west, Los Angeles Angels first-year general manager Billy Eppler told reporters that rebuilding isn’t in the franchise’s blood as they sink as in the American League West standings.
Fresh money from owner Arte Moreno and prospects from the farm system also aren’t coursing through the Angels’ veins.
Yet, Rodriguez and the Angels still cling to what they once were.
They don’t really have a choice.
They’re stuck in the now and in the past.
Rodriguez has been trending downward since 2007, his last MVP season. The penalties for using banned substances weren’t as stringent in 2007 as they are now. If the admitted user of performance-enhancing drugs has found another way to cheat the system, with some new undetectable juice, it isn’t working.
Rodriguez has already endured a yearlong ban and wears a scarlet letter in his peers’ eyes after suing the one group that defended him tirelessly, the Players Association.
On the field, the Yankees feel like Aaron Hicks, a career .220 hitter with 23 homers since 2013, is a better option against right-handers than Rodriguez.
He hit some balls hard against the Rangers, even against some righties after Carlos Beltran hurt his hamstring, but he clearly is not part of the winning formula the Yankees have drawn up.
So they’re stuck with possibly the least versatile player in the league on their bench through 2017, and he just happens to be one of the game’s highest-paid players.
The Yankees owe him $10 million more this season and another $20 million next season, which he has already declared as his last, to be a lump.
Rodriguez, according to a report, has no intentions of retiring any sooner than after next season, and the Yankees aren’t in love with the idea of cutting him and paying him $30 million to go away.
Maybe they’re secretly hoping he fails a drug test and gets popped for life.
At least they have hope.
The Angels have nothing to play for this season, except to see if Mike Trout will become a four-time runner-up for the AL MVP award. He’s leading the league in WAR, but his terrific season is going largely unnoticed as the Angels sit nearly 20 games behind the first-place Texas Rangers.
Ace starter Garrett Richards is trying to fend off Tommy John surgery. Andrew Heaney couldn’t. C.J. Wilson is trying to come back from a shoulder injury, but doing so would seemingly only benefit him as he heads toward free agency.
That Tim Lincecum signing looked good for one start. Jered Weaver is still pumping, though not beyond this season with the kind of fastball velocity that no high school pitcher would want.
That rotation isn’t going to get any better in 2017, because of Richards’ and Heaney’s bad elbows, unless Moreno reopens his checkbook. Keep in mind that he still has to pay Josh Hamilton $28 million of the $30 million he’s owed next season.
It’s not just the rotation. Rangers fans, worrying and whining frequently about the bullpen, should watch the Angels’ relievers of late and be thankful for the trials of Sam Dyson, Jake Diekman, et al.
Then there’s the lineup. Albert Pujols is still a home run threat, but his .417 slugging percentage is the lowest of his career. The Angels owe him $152.5 million over the next 5 1/2 seasons.
With the health of his legs a constant worry, it won’t be long until he’s as useful in the field and on the bases as Rodriguez.
Aside from Trout, Pujols, Kole Calhoun and maybe C.J. Cron, the Angels’ lineup is filled with marginal players.
So as Eppler says the Angels aren’t going to rebuild, it might be because they can’t.
They have the worst farm system in baseball, and no team is going to give up a ton of high-end prospects for what tradable pieces the Angels might have.
Calhoun and Andrelton Simmons might get one top-level prospect. Trout might yield an entire farm system, but the Angels aren’t going to rebuild by dumping the game’s best player.
The Angels are stuck.
Rodriguez is stuck.
Stuck in the now and stuck in the past.