There’s fewer than 60 days until pitchers and catchers report, which means there’s less than two months until the Alex Rodriguez circus begins again for the New York Yankees.

It’s been a while since the embattled Rodriguez last was a regular topic of discussion and debate in baseball circles, let alone a daily one, as he surely will be come Feb. 20, 2015.

Now that Rodriguez is 39 years old and coming off a few injury-riddled seasons and the longest performance-enhancing drug-related suspension in Major League Baseball history—that is, the entire 2014 campaign—the discussion and debate will rage on. 

What should the Yankees do with Rodriguez? Can the team and fans reasonably expect him, after a year off to train and get healthy, to be a capable performer?

Or has all that time away from the game been too detrimental to both parties? Should the Yankees simply cut their losses, swallow the $61 million still owed to Rodriguez through 2017 and cut him?

The situation is sticky in so many ways.

On one hand, it’s hard to believe that Rodriguez could be more than even a semi-regular player at this stage of his career.

By re-signing Chase Headley to be the starting third baseman and then trading for Garrett Jones to be another option at designated hitter, the Yankees essentially have been trying to make it such that there won’t be any need to rely on Rodriguez much, if at all.

“So it appears that Alex Rodriguez, with 654 career home runs and $61 million in Yankee paychecks due him, has been reduced to a part-time DH at best,” as Wallace Matthews of writes.

Here’s what general manager Brian Cashman said recently, per reports:

I can’t expect Alex to be anything. I’ve got to think the worst and hope for the best. Even before the suspension, he wasn’t the same player at third base on the defensive or offensive side. And that was before the suspension.

And now he’s been out of the game for a year. He’s approaching 40 years of age. And just to automatically assume given his circumstances that he’ll be able to plug right in, play third as an everyday guy and hold up and be productive, I think that would be dangerous thinking from my perspective, in the seat I’m sitting in.

That’s the smart and safe way to handle this, no?

One imagines a world in which the Yankees are forced, by some cruel twist of fate, to count on Rodriguez going forward is a world in which the Yankees are still missing out on Octobers.

On the other hand, however, the Yankees actually need more offense after finishing 2014 as the 11th-worst run-scoring club in MLB, their lowest ranking in that category since—wait for it—1990, when they scored the third-fewest.

New York received an aggregate .230/.290/.372 triple-slash line from the DH spot in the lineup last year, good for a .662 OPS—fourth-worst in the AL. And it’s not entirely crazy to think that Rodriguez could surpass that performance by himself if used as the primary DH with plenty of rest and days off.

After all, despite his age, injury history and PED past, Rodriguez always has produced at the plate, even in the second half of 2013—the last time he was on a baseball field, some 15 months ago—when he hit .244/.348/.423 with seven home runs in 44 games after returning from hip surgery.

The translation of his 118 OPS+ that quarter-season means his .771 OPS was—believe it or not—13 percent above league average.

For what it’s worth, Rodriguez is said to be in “unbelievable shape,” according to a source close to the three-time MVP cited by Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News.

Speaking of which, all of this is shaping up to put a lot on spring training, at which point the Yankees decision-makers, from ownership to Cashman and the front office to manager Joe Girardi, will get their first look at Rodriguez in action in what will by then have been a long, long time.

There’s more than a little chance that Rodriguez can still hit, which means he’ll likely have an opportunity to help the Yankees despite everything he’s been through over the past year-and-a-half.

But the Yankees aren’t planning on that happening, and they’re certainly not banking on it. They’re set up to have an out on Rodriguez if they need it.

As David Lariviere of Forbes writes:

If [Rodriguez is] hitting .220 with a homer and 10 RBI in the middle of May, the real plan is to hand him his walking papers by Memorial Day and eat the remaining $60 million or so on his contract which runs through 2017. The surest bet in sports right now is that A-Rod will never play through the rest of that pact.

Should the Yankees go that route, no one’s saying it won’t cost them a heck of a lot of money.

But should Rodriguez prove to be more of a circus than a productive member of the Yankees, no one’s saying that such a path won’t be worth it, either.


Statistics are accurate through the 2014 season and courtesy of, Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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