By Ernie Palladino
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For those who value production over punishment, the following will come as no surprise.
For the rest who wanted to see Alex Rodriguez strung up by his thumbs for his intimate relationship with muscle-building substances, bite down hard on something because this is going to be hard to take.
With a tad over a month left before the July 14 All-Star Game, it is entirely legitimate to make the case that A-Rod should appear somewhere on that roster of American League reserves.
Yeah. Those who put a premium on playing by the rules know the feeling.
The fact is, Rodriguez has managed to put together an awfully decent season for someone who spent last year in the PED cooler. With a slash line of .272/.377/.508 with 11 homers and 28 RBIs, he ranks third among regular designated hitters. But even more than that, he is a big reason the Yanks sit where they are today. Thanks to his early production, coupled with Mark Teixeira’s recent power outbreak, the two have helped Joe Girardi’s maddeningly inconsistent lineup generate just enough offense to slip up to the AL East lead.
It will be left for Royals and AL manager Ned Yost to actually pick him, assuming the fan vote continues to trend away from him and in favor of front-runner Kendrys Morales of Kansas City and Nelson Cruz of Seattle. Between the fan vote and that of the players, many of whom lost their taste for Rodriguez when he sued the Players Association last year, it’s likely he’ll be on the outside looking in.
But Yost could have good reason to include him with the rest of his fill-ins. In Rodriguez, he would recognize a still-active player who moved past the sainted Willie Mays into fourth place on the hallowed home-run roll. The All-Star Game is the traditional place to honor such an achievement — PED-aided or not — with or without the endorsement of a Yankees front office that cringes every time Rodriguez does something positive.
The fact is, Rodriguez is back in baseball’s good graces, even if his own franchise’s management wishes it could be rid of him and his still-humongous contract. And this is the All-Star Game, a midseason showcase of stars and popular figures. Nobody is putting the guy up next to Yogi Berra for the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
It’s one night in the Miss America contest, not a White House decision on a lifetime of achievement, good works and humanity that Berra so richly deserves.
Everything else being equal, that’s what Yost should be thinking. But there is another factor that could get in A-Rod’s way. Yost also has to choose a pitching staff. Unless Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller fall off a performance cliff between now and then, Yost should take both of them, since they represent the AL’s best setup-closer combo this year.
Miller stands second in the league with 17 saves and Betances, at 4-0, has an 0.28 ERA in 32 1/3 innings over 29 outings, landing him in the top spot among relievers with more than four appearances.
Only one individual reliever, Detroit’s Joakim Soria, has as good a WHIP (0.73) as the Yankees tandem’s combined mark.
That represents real, unquestioned achievement. And since Yost must ensure every team of representation, having two locks in the bullpen could lead him away from Rodriguez.
It’s a debate, no doubt. But at this point, A-Rod has had a good enough season to belong in Yost’s conversation. To put together the two months and change that he has — at age 39, with two rickety hips and a 2014 season that did not exist –is remarkable.
Even those who still believe in penance for sinners, who wish nothing but hellfire on a man who cheated the game and sullied the record books, cannot argue the numbers. They can only hope a denial of an All-Star spot will keep Rodriguez’s work in the national background.
For the growing number who seem to have forgotten about Biogenesis or never cared in the first place, perhaps they should drop Yost a line.
A-Rod has done enough to enter the All-Star discussion.