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Five Yankee ripple effects after the A-Rod report

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The Yankees have to deal with the Cirque de A-Rod for only nine more years. Fortunately for them, they have plenty of experience under the big top. In a Yankees Universe that revolves around the back-page-story-of-the-week, however, the reports that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids is one of the bigger flare-ups. The crisis could mushroom for plenty of people, plenty of ways: Ripple effect No. 1: How to get a good season out of A-Rod? This story won't go away any time soon. A year ago, Andy Pettitte admitted to using human growth hormone, and by Opening Day, it was a moot point. Alex Rodriguez is not Andy Pettitte. A-Rod has not built up the same political capital, not with everything that has happened to the Yankees since he arrived (most notably, no pennants). So for most or all of this season, as more revelations come out, the Yankees staff will have to find a way to keep A-Rod focused on the field. And this is the most delicate psyche in the Yankees clubhouse. His work ethic has never wavered, but while sometimes the game itself has been a sanctuary for Rodriguez, at other times his production has seemed to suffer during a time of crisis. In 2007, there were yearlong questions on whether he would opt out of his contract. He was ripped by the Blue Jays for trying to distract an infielder during a pop-up. And he was caught squiring a stripper around Toronto. That year, he hit ..314 with 54 homers and 156 RBI, winning the MVP. But in 2008, as his marriage fell apart, he seemed to cave to the distraction. He fell to 35 homers and 103 RBI, and the Yankees missed the playoffs. Fallout: The key person here is hitting coach Kevin Long, who has been able to connect with A-Rod better than anyone else since Rodriguez came to New York. A-Rod has few other allies in the clubhouse, but Long usually knows how to push Rodriguez's (many) buttons.
Ripple effect No. 2: How does Joe Girardi handle this one? Joe Torre's great strength in his Yankee years was keeping the ship righted in rough seas. This one would have been right up his alley. But Torre is gone and, as his new book makes clear, he was tired of the A-Rod drama anyway. Girardi began his tenure as Yankees manager as the Pettitte saga came to a head. Girardi expressed optimism that it would not remain a distraction to Pettitte, saying, "The truth shall set you free." Girardi then proceeded to hide or fudge the truth through the entire season, damaging his relationship with the media. In the meantime, he failed to establish a grip on the clubhouse, especially with the veterans. As Torre proved, a manager's first task is managing the personalities of the clubhouse. So while Girardi is a strong tactician, he now faces his toughest test in psychology. No one-hour post-game meeting will solve this. All this comes as Girardi already feels the hot seat. He oversaw the Yankees first absence from the postseason since 1993, and now that he has been handed C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and A.J. Burnett, he has to win. Or else. That task just got tougher. Fallout: Girardi doesn't seem able to relate to players who aren't like he was — that is, no-nonsense, hard-working and burning to win above all else. There's no indication he has been able to get close to A-Rod. Girardi is a smart man, so maybe he'll figure out A) a way to connect with and soothe A-Rod and B) who in his clubhouse can help Rodriguez deal with this (i.e., Long) and let that person handle it.
Ripple effect No. 3: Will this affect the entire clubhouse after the Yankees spent a quarter-billion dollars to reload? If the Yankees get off to a slow start, or A-Rod goes in a slump, someone will have to do damage control. Here's the problem: There isn't a natural leader in the clubhouse. Yes, Derek Jeter is the captain. But he sees his role as setting the example for all things Yankee — as opposed to active leadership. And he's no fan of A-Rod, probably because he can't fathom why Rodriguez has to make everything so complicated. Jeter's approach will be to tell everyone it's not an issue and that the team supports A-Rod. Saying it won't make it so. And, as we said above, Girardi has yet to show a knack for this type of thing. He's relentlessly positive in public, but last year he didn't find a way behind the scenes to get the Yankees to play at the top of their game. Whom could this affect most? Rodriguez tried to mentor Melky Cabrera and Robinson Cano, who both had disappointing seasons in 2008. A-Rod now might be too distracted, or short of credibility, to influence them. Fallout: This group of superstars will never blend into a close group. That doesn't mean they won't win, but the Yankees of recent vintage haven't been able to overcome a lack of cohesiveness and a surplus of egos.
Ripple effect No. 4: Will Brian Cashman finally get sick of all this? Whenever A-Rod's opt-out clause was mentioned in 2007, Cashman said that if Rodriguez chose to exercise it, the Yankees would not negotiate with him on a new contract. A-Rod opted out, and the Yankees gave him a raise. With George Steinbrenner a non-factor, his sons decided to accept Rodriguez's apology and bring him back. So if Cashman had his way, this latest problem would be someone else's. Cashman is used to this type of crisis, but that doesn't mean he likes having it take away from his efforts to build a championship team. And this particular one could simmer inside him, as a reminder that he was overruled on A-Rod.
Fallout: Cashman nearly left when his contract was up after the 2005 season. And again after 2008. By 2011, if he has to keep putting out fires and his hiring of Girardi doesn't pan out, it could really be time to go.
Ripple effect No. 5: Is the Yankees franchise tainted? A disproportionate number of players publicly linked to performance-enhancing drugs have worn pinstripes. Roger Clemens, Jason Giambi and now A-Rod are the big ones. It doesn't mean the Yankees were enablers or suppliers, of course. It does mean that as they tried to fix their on-field problems by going after the biggest stars they were willing to look the other way if they had any suspicions. Then again, does that make the Yankees different from any other franchise? Fallout: When Rodriguez's 14 years with the Yankees are up, the 1996-2000 dynasty will be a distant memory. And the A-Rod era will be an embarrassment or a success based only on whether he can ever take the team to a championship. It has been said many times that the mark of a great player is that he makes those around him better. That makes A-Rod one of the all-time greats — in distractions.
Tagged: Yankees, Athletics, Blue Jays, Andy Pettitte, Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera

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