To Play or Not to Play!

One thing is for sure, nothing is coming easy to Alex Rodriguez these days.  First, he is accused of being a steroid cheat.  Then, he admits the story is true.  Next, he faces an army of news media at a press conference scheduled at George M. Steinbrenner Field and readmits his cheating.

Afterwards, he answered numerous questions about said cheating and his answers to these questions led to more questions.  The press checked on A-Rod’s claims and statements and decided he came off looking like a less than honest or contrite dishonored athlete.

Meanwhile, all the Yankees could do is wring their hands and try to minimize the damage done by their stained star.  They came out in support of Rodriguez.  Last Sunday Rodriguez played his last spring training game in Yankee pinstripes before leaving the club to join the Dominican Republic team competing in the World Baseball Classic.  Before doing so, A-Rod sat down for about two hours and chewed the fat with Major League Baseball investigators about the circumstances surrounding his using steroids.   What exactly was discussed remains a mystery, but A-Rod was described as being “cooperative.”

After A-Rod’s departure the thought around the clubhouse was that with Rodriguez playing elsewhere the focus would return to baseball.  After all, the Yankees had scored big in the off-season with the 3 largest (and not just in terms of money) signings of the winter.  They had landed C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira.

However, with all the drama surrounding A-Rod the Big 3 faded into the background faster than a speeding bullet.  Not to mention there were other storylines such as Chien-Ming Wang’s return after foot surgery, Jorge Posada after shoulder surgery and Hideki Matsui after his second knee surgery.  What about Phil Hughes or Ian Kennedy?  All of these newsworthy items took a backseat to the on-going soap opera known as A-Rod.

Well, any thought of the Yankees being able to discuss anyone or anything else besides Alex Rodriguez was short lived.

On Tuesday, the Yankees announced that Rodriguez was playing with a hip injury that would cost him his opportunity to play in the WBC.  They stated A-Rod had been playing with soreness in his right hip and that an MRI taken of the area on the previous Saturday showed a small cyst in the hip.  He was examined by Dr. Chris Ahmad who recommended A-Rod see hip specialist Dr. Marc Philippon in Vale, CO.

Rodriguez saw Philippon on Wednesday and the news was mixed.  First, the cyst was confirmed, but the second examination revealed A-Rod had a torn labrum in the hip as well.  Apparently, labrum tears cause fluids to accumulate leading to a cyst, and that can weaken the muscle.  Dr. Philippon drained the cyst and A-Rod’s activities were immediately suspended.

The Yankees approach at first was complete rest and rehabilitation.

It’s shocking, just shocking information,” Yankee GM Brian Cashman said at the time. “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.”

As late as this past Thursday Rodriguez planned on playing this year with the labrum tear; foregoing surgery until after the season was over.  The thought of starting the season without A-Rod wasn’t one the Yankees relished.  Their only option, if Rodriguez had surgery, was to start Cody Ransom at third.

Ransom is a 33-year old journeyman infielder who has had only 183 major league at bats.  The bulk of his career has been spent at the minor league levels within the Yankees, San Francisco Giants and the Houston Astros organizations.  Last year Ransom played in 33 games for the Yankees at four different positions.  He hit .302 with four home runs and eight RBI.

Nevertheless, the Yankees worst fears came to pass as they announced yesterday A-Rod would have surgery today in Vale under the supervision of Dr. Philippon.

Was there really another option?  No, not when you’re dealing in dollars and sense.  Here you have arguably the greatest player in baseball history, not to mention the highest paid one to consider, and to panic early without even one game being played in the regular season makes no sense at all.  Sense won out and it was decided A-Rod would take care of the injury now, rather than trying to play with it and possibly doing further damage to his hip; damage that could shorten a still bright career.

The prognosis is that Rodriguez will miss between six and nine weeks of the season.  Looking ahead that would put A-Rod at mid-May to rejoin the team for the remainder of the season.

Even now the thought of starting the season without Alex Rodriguez at third base is distasteful, but realistic to the Yankees.

“It’s better than him missing the whole year, but I don’t ever think it’s good news when you’re going to miss a player for six to nine weeks,” manager Joe Girardi said after the announcement. “It could have been a lot worse.”

The doctors performing the surgery will repair the labrum and shave down a section of the bone to reduce the chances of it tearing again.

“There’s always a risk with surgery,” said Dr. Philippon. “But the approach we’re using is definitely much safer than letting Alex play the way he is now.”  Philippon estimated A-Rod’s return this season at 90%.

One of the persons most affected by this turn of events is Girardi.  After the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons Girardi knows there is a big target painted on his back.  Losing A-Rod made his job just that much harder.  Nonetheless, Girardi remained upbeat about the decision.

“I’m glad we’re doing this now instead of a week before the season,” Girardi said.

Even Cashman said A-Rod was excited to get the surgery done now rather than later.

“When it first happened, he said he was bummed out,” Cashman said. “There was uncertainty of not knowing which direction to go. When this option became available, it seemed like the obvious choice.”

“Alex sent me a text message last night, and it was really positive,” Cashman added.

So what does this all mean now?  As Bernie Williams said on Friday when contacted about A-Rod’s situation, “As hard as this may sound, it could be a blessing in disguise for him, because it might give him an opportunity to get away from all this craziness and give him an opportunity to heal. Kind of dissipate the whole distraction.”

Williams also discussed the Yankees.

“I think probably it might be good for the (Yankees), too,” Williams continued. “It’s gonna leave a big hole in their lineup, but they have enough firepower in that lineup. Obviously (Rodriguez) is gonna be missed. But they have a lot of firepower to compensate for his loss. Hopefully they’ll be able to do well.”

That’s exactly the mindset the Yankees have to have.  Other players will have to balance out A-Rod’s absence.  It could also prove to the Yankees that having an all-star player at every position isn’t needed.  You can win with role players, like the Bombers did during their World Series run from 1996-2003.

One of the players expected to help out is Teixeira.  His approach is a simple one.

“Anybody that plays professional sports wants to win,” Teixeira said on Friday before the surgery announcement. “There’s an empty feeling when you go out and have a good individual performance or a good individual season and you have nothing to show for it as a team. It’s a little frustrating, and that’s why I signed with the Yankees. I don’t want that to ever be an issue again.”

“I’ve never played for a contract and I’ve never looked at myself as a salary,” Teixeira went on. “It doesn’t matter how much money I make or what team I’m on; I want to perform. The contract is something that other people talk about more than I do.”

As for him jumping into the huge hole left by A-Rod’s absence, Teixeira said, “I’ve been in the spotlight my whole career. Every year I play, I expect to put up huge numbers and I expect to help carry a team. That’s not going to change in New York. There may be more people watching, but I’m still going to go out and do what I’ve always done.”

As for doing his job Teixeira had an answer for that as well.

“I didn’t come here to play at 80 percent, hope to hit some home runs and drive in some runs; I came here to do what I do,” Teixeira said. “Brian Cashman didn’t sign me to go out and steal 50 bases or hit .380; he signed Mark Teixeira, so I’m going to go out and do what I do every year.”

If everyone on the team has that same approach, just doing their jobs, and not thinking they have to “make up” for A-Rod the Yankees will be fine.  All they have to do is play their game and do what they can do, because no one can replace an Alex Rodriguez.

Girardi said it best about Teixeira and the others, “He can only do what he can do. That’s what we have to guard against, that guys will think, ‘I’ve got to pick up for Alex.’ You can’t pick up for Alex. Just do your part and things will be good.”

If the Yankees can do that, then, when A-Rod returns it will just be icing on an already beautifully made cake.

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