By Ernie Palladino
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And you didn’t think anything this week could get any more interesting than a Jets quarterback controversy.
Just when the back pages seemed secure with the Mark Sanchez-Greg McElroy-Tim Tebow (pecking order not coincidental) mess, along comes Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez and his ailments. That could well mean we are about to witness the end — or at least a short, ugly slide to the climax — of two major careers in the Tri-State area.
We all know where Sanchez is. Rex Ryan’s fumfering phraseology at his Monday press conference, claiming he needs more time to figure out how his quarterback situation will shake out, definitely leaves Sanchez out in the cold. The only question now is whether he continues with McElroy, a second-year quarterback, or swallows real hard and throws Tim Tebow out there against the Jaguars.
Bet that a definitive answer won’t come until Wednesday, when reporters see who is running first-team drills in the week’s initial practice. Until then, it’s all speculation.
What is not speculative, however, is the A-Rod situation. The torn labrum in his left hip will necessitate surgery, and could cost him the first half of the 2013 season. Bad enough that many a disgruntled Yankees fans had started campaigning for his departure after he struggled through yet another dreadful postseason with a .125 average in the ALDS, a .111 BA in the ALCS, and a combined zero homers and RBI. He fanned 12 times in a 3-for-25 (.120) postseason.
Those people won’t be happy at all once it dawns upon them that their third baseman who turns 38 next July is basically unmovable now. It’s hard enough to trade somebody with five years and $114 million left on a contract when healthy. Now, he must be considered severely damaged goods, the kind that certainly will never return to his lofty status of old, and may even struggle to attain mere usefulness.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman can’t be too happy, either. Suddenly, he’s had to add third base to a Winter Meetings shopping list that already includes catcher and right field, and possibly left field now that a good and angry Ichiro is looking elsewhere.
The windup here is that Rodriguez may never see a full season again. His body is clearly breaking down. Though missing six weeks worth of games with a fractured left hand led to a 122-game total last year, he only played in 99 in 2011.
Here’s another hint. The Yankees are already predicting this recovery will take up to six months. He was back in two after surgical repair of a similar problem in the right hip in 2009.
Age does that to people. The older you get, the harder it is to come back. For Rodriguez, it could mean the difference between remaining as the everyday third baseman the Yanks depend on for a lot of power or becoming baseball’s highest-paid part-timer.
Rodriguez isn’t going anywhere for now. Declining numbers — you can probably forget about that chase for Barry Bonds’ home run record — and declining health will make him unmarketable at next year’s trade deadline. He’s what the city buildings people might call a “stuck structure,” a once-dominant edifice in the pinstriped skyline now in need of special, extraordinary attention to enable him to stay OR go.
It’s a lousy situation for the Yanks, and an even lousier situation for those who remember Rodriguez as that muscled, finely-tuned home run hitter. It’s never fun to see the greats decline.
It’s kind of like watching the much-younger Sanchez’s demise, times 10.
Your thoughts on the decline of A-Rod? Be heard in the comments below!