Now the Yankees are facing the possibility of having to live without their star third baseman, after an examination by an orthopedic hip specialist revealed that Rodriguez not only has a cyst on his right hip, but a labrum tear. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Thursday that Rodriguez will be shut down indefinitely and if surgery is required, he could miss at least four months.
For now, Cashman said, Rodriguez and the Yankees will opt to take a conservative approach of rest, exercise and treatment. But Cashman acknowledged that could change, perhaps in a matter of days.
Rodriguez will not play in the World Baseball Classic, even though he played in an exhibition game for the Dominican Republic on Tuesday, doubled, and appeared to run effortlessly.
"It's shocking, just shocking information," Cashman said. "Last night we were all caught off guard. 'Wow, surgery is an option.' The other option is the conservative side. We hope that's the way it's going to work out. We also know it might not possibly happen."
Cashman, who returned here from a scouting trip to the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, said he was informed of Rodriguez's condition in a late-night conference call.
Orthopedic hip specialist Marc Philippon, who examined Rodriguez on Wednesday in the renowned Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail, Colo., drained fluid from the cyst Thursday and will run tests to determine how Rodriguez responds. If stiffness persists, and fluid accumulates again in the cyst, surgery may be necessary. The labrum tear leads to the accumulation of the fluid that causes cysts, which weakens the muscles around the hip.
"All these types of things over the next few days, maybe few weeks, maybe few months will lead to whether conservative treatment is the way to go,'' Cashman said, "or a more aggressive circumstance [surgery] has to take place.
"He has been able to function but he's had stiffness he's been complaining about. Is there a level where that function turns into reduced play, as well as further damage? That's the gray area.''
Two other prominent infielders, Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley and Boston Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell, had surgery last fall for hip labrum tears. Lowell, who had surgery Oct. 20, is projected to be ready for opening day. Initial reports on Utley, who had surgery Nov. 24 , forecast a June 1 return, but Utley now says there is a "pretty realistic" chance that he will be back by opening day as well.
Lowell first complained of discomfort in his hip last June. By October, he could barely move, and was dropped from Boston's postseason roster prior to Game 4 of the division series against the Angels.
"When my labrum tore, I guess it rolled up into the joint," he said last month in an interview with the Boston Globe. "It's not hanging onto anything. The labrum took away a piece of the bone and every time I ran, my femur pushed it further into the joint. When I would swing it was OK, but when I'd check my swing, it would grind into the bone. That's when I felt the sharp pain and got the flareups. And I couldn't extend my legs to run."
Utley got off to a great start for the Phillies last season, batting .320 with 21 home runs and 52 RBIs in 60 games through June 3. But he said he began to experience symptoms in May, and his numbers tapered off dramatically. He hit just 12 home runs and knocked in 51 runs while batting .272 in his last 99 games.
"Some days, the pain was bad," Utley said at a press conference after surgery. "Some days, I didn't have any pain at all. We started doing some exercises throughout the course of the year. That kind of relieved a little bit of the pain. Did I have to have the surgery? No, I didn't have to have it. But I felt like it was something that needed to be done."
At no time has Rodriguez complained of pain, Cashman said, only stiffness. The team received its first indication that the hip was a potential problem area last June, when Rodriguez was administered an MRI for a torn right quadriceps. The test showed what Cashman called an "irregularity" in the hip, which the team subsequently noted and monitored. A follow-up MRI was not administered, Cashman said, because Rodriguez did not complain of pain, though manager Joe Girardi told reporters Wednesday that Rodriguez mentioned "a little stiffness" last season.
But when the third baseman reported he was continuing stiffness this spring, Cashman said, the decision was made to have team surgeon Chris Ahmad fly down from New York. Rodriguez was given another MRI on Saturday, which showed "some changes," Cashman said, which led Ahmad to recommend that Rodriguez visit Philippon. Rodriguez played in an exhibition for the Yankees on Sunday, then worked out with the Dominican team on Monday and played the next day before flying to Colorado.
His continued activity would suggest that the injury was not regarded as serious by either the player or team. That all changed Wednesday, however, when the labrum tear was discovered.
Cashman said he could not estimate when Rodriguez will resume baseball activity upon his return to Yankees camp. Keeping him out of the WBC, he said, was necessary.
"It's in our best interest," he said, "because he's such an asset. Do you let him play in the WBC or rest him? Part of the conservative treatment is to limit spring training. If we're going to try to get through the season with it, let's shorten the pounding he'd be taking as an everyday player.''
The Yankees do not have another experienced third baseman on the roster. Reserve infielders currently in Yankee camp include Angel Berroa, who has played one game at third in his big-league career, and Cody Ransom, who has played seven. Both Berroa and Ransom have played mostly at short, and neither one has hit.
Yahoo! Sports national baseball writer Jeff Passan contributed to this story.