By Sweeny Murti
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The 2011 season might tell us a lot about the type of player Alex Rodriguez will be for the Yankees until the end of his career.  While we question Derek Jeter’s ability to bounce back from career-low numbers in 2010, it’s worth noting that A-Rod also hit career lows in batting average (.270) and on-base percentage (.341) while his .506 slugging percentage was the second lowest of his career.  And A-Rod will turn 36 this year, only one year younger than Jeter.

The most alarming thing is that while a .506 slugging percentage is still a good number, it didn’t even crack the top 10 in the American League last year, and it represents the third straight year Rodriguez has declined (from .645 in 2007, to .573 in 2008, to .532 in 2009, and .506 in 2010).   His home run ratio has declined significantly as well, from 1 HR every 10.8 AB in 2007 to 1 HR every 17.4 AB last year.  Whether it is age, injury, or lack of PED’s (or any combination) A-Rod has not been as productive the last two seasons especially.

Rodriguez has managed to reach 30 home runs each of the last two years, but will he ever be a 40-50 home run guy again?  And remember, he is still due $179 million over the next seven years.  Even as an aging slugger he is still capable of running into 25-30 home runs every year, but with such a large and lengthy financial commitment is that enough?  Can A-Rod reverse the trends, stay healthy, and still be the clean-up hitter the Yankees need him to be?

It begins with a healthy start in 2011.  A-Rod has reported to camp slimmed down (he says he’s 222 pounds, his lightest since 2007) and minus a few Page Six appearances with Cameron Diaz (and the popcorn cameo at the Super Bowl) he enters this season free of controversy.  Every spring, every team has the I’m-in-the-best-shape-of-my-life stories.  A-Rod needs to mean it.

As the Yankees continue workouts in Tampa, A-Rod addressed the media for the first time on Monday, talking at ease about his health, his expectations for the coming season, and yes—even the Popcorn Debacle…

A-Rod Part 1

A-Rod Part 2

Alex Rodriguez will always cast a large shadow over the Yankees, that much is clear.  How big of a factor he is between the lines is the most important thing, something we will all be watching very closely as he begins his eighth season in pinstripes.

Sweeny Murti