NASHVILLE, Tenn. – At this point, all that's left of Alex Rodriguez's baseball career is the hope that modern medicine can save him from a body that keeps betraying him. First went his right hip, then his right knee and left shoulder, and now it's his left hip, which needs surgery that could keep him out for six months – and in pain for up to a year. Which leaves the New York Yankees stuck with a $114 million bill over the next five years for a guy who can't do the Hokey Pokey, let alone hit a baseball.
While Rodriguez's feckless October now makes more sense, it nevertheless illustrates the pickle in which the Yankees find themselves; with old-guy contracts crashing into new budget restrictions. If Derek Jeter's rehab from a broken ankle keeps him out opening day, as it well could, the Yankees will find $45 million worth of late 30-somethings on their bench, with a 43-year-old closer, 40- and 37-year-old starters and an AARP representative giving a talk during spring training on the benefits of fish oil and how best to conceal varicose veins.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has held together his house of cards admirably over the last three years, as the team dive-bombed toward the inevitability of age. What he hasn't done is integrate homegrown talent, and with the Yankees determined to whack their budget to $189 million and avoid more luxury-tax penalties, such failures leave them prone in the American League East.
Toronto is pulling off blockbuster trades. Boston is signing Mike Napoli to a three-year, $39 million deal. Tampa Bay is entertaining offers for David Price, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson to restock their coffers and boost their offense. Baltimore is dangling its surplus starting pitching.
New York is wondering what happened to the player-development machine it was supposed to cultivate with its vast resources and ideal blend of scouting and statistics. Gas leak? Faulty cog? Engine problems? Whatever the culprit, it is damning how little talent the Yankees have produced since Robinson Cano's arrival in 2005.
The starting-pitching core of Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes went the way of the Mets' Generation K. Manny Banuelos blew out his elbow, and Dellin Betances can't throw strikes. Jesus Montero found himself dealt for Michael Pineda, whose shoulder went kablooey. The only everyday players to come from the Yankees' system since Cano: Brett Gardner, Melky Cabrera and Austin Jackson, who never played an at-bat for the Yankees and was dealt with Ian Kennedy for Curtis Granderson. The only pitcher beyond Chamberlain, Hughes and Kennedy: David Robertson. And then there is Eduardo Nunez, in whom the Yankees have such little faith to play every day they're scouring both the third-base and shortstop options to ensure the left side of their infield doesn't look like the product of an impulsive flea-market purchase.
Failed prospecting sends the Yankees right back to the free-agent market, the most inefficient place in baseball, and their over-reliance on it shows. Nine players on the Yankees' roster have eight-figure contracts, and among them – A-Rod, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, Jeter, Cano, Granderson, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera – they will make $159 million. Their average age is deceased.
Fine, it's 35.6 years old. That is the mean age of the Yankees' core: a retired player.
Since his first hip surgery in 2009, Rodriguez has missed 166 games because of various ailments. While his numbers have declined – he slugged a career-worst .430 last season – he has been a well-above-average player, which speaks as much to his talent, and to who he was before, than his current state.
Unfair though it may be, A-Rod is judged not on what he is but against what he was and through the prism of what he's paid. And considering this latest surgery may finally damn him to the full-time designated-hitter duty assumed an inevitability as his contract wore down, his contributions may be limited to a bat with significantly less juice than it once held.
[Also: James Loney signs with Rays]
Left unsaid by so many is what two athletic trainers and one team doctor speculated Monday morning: Rodriguez's steroid usage led to the degeneration of his hip joints. While none of the three has treated Rodriguez, they have dealt with enough cases of steroid users' bodies falling apart as they age to correlate the two. Cashman, when asked about steroids' effects, said: "I have no idea."
He left a news conference Monday afternoon with more questions than answers. Will he fill the Yankees' gaping hole on the left side of the infield? Maybe. Will this affect the Yankees' pursuit of a right fielder and third baseman, their other empty positions? Could. Will A-Rod try to play third base again? Sure ... if he's feeling good enough.
One of the trainers said that with Rodriguez's type of injury – a torn labrum and femoral acetabular impingement, which grinds the bone and cartilage in the hip socket – he won't feel good for a while. While the return-to-play protocol is around six months, athletes don't play pain-free until at earliest the 10-month mark. In other words: Alex Rodriguez, designated hitter is likelier than Alex Rodriguez, third baseman.
While Rodriguez's return from his first hip injury was deemed a success, he was four years younger. No matter how great his work ethic and how frequent the platelet-rich plasma treatments, sometimes the body cries uncle to the point where you don't even know which side hurts. When Yankees manager Joe Girardi pinch hit for Rodriguez in the postseason, A-Rod mentioned something about his right hip hurting. The team did an MRI, saw nothing and sent him back out.
Turns out his left hip was the problem, and now Dr. Bryan Kelly will slice into it in January and try to save the career of the $275 million man. If the old Yankees, married to him for another half-decade, get even half of what he used to be, there will be reason to celebrate and dance. Maybe even the Hokey Pokey.
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