PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. -- Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner, in his first public comments since the decision was released in Alex Rodriguez's arbitration case, on Wednesday called the suspended slugger "an asset" and suggested A-Rod could return to the club in 2015.
Asked if Rodriguez would be welcomed back to the Yankees when his 162-game suspension ends, Steinbrenner said: "He's a great player. I have not thought about 2015 nor am I going to right now. When he's on and when he's healthy, he's obviously an asset . . . When Alex Rodriguez is healthy and himself, I think most objective baseball people would say he can be an asset to a club."
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Steinbrenner's comments at the owners' meetings here could be seen as a bit of a surprise because the Yankees and Rodriguez have been at odds for some time. But Rodriguez, 38, is still signed for three years and $61 million after his season-long suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal ends.
Asked about the possible bad blood between Rodriguez and the Yankees and whether that could affect A-Rod's future with the team, Steinbrenner said: "I'm pretty objective in my thinking. This is business. I'm just focusing on the team, the player, is the player an asset to the club or not? That's about as far as I go. I don't get personal."
Unless Rodriguez can get his suspension overturned in federal court, he will next be eligible to play in a major-league game on Opening Day in 2015.
But that doesn't mean the Yankees and Rodriguez will not interact in the next year-plus. Rodriguez's representatives have said he intends to attend spring training, which begins next month, even though he is suspended for the season. That is probably something the Yankees would strongly discourage.
"We haven't even talked about that," Steinbrenner said. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. We're going to reach out to MLB, get their advice, obviously, but we haven't even addressed it . . . It doesn't concern me."
It is unclear if Rodriguez will be allowed to attend spring training; other players with 50-game suspensions and a season to prepare for have done so. But no big-leaguer has ever been suspended for as long as Rodriguez for suspected performance-enhancing drug use, and it is seen as a gray area in the collective bargaining agreement.
The Major League Baseball Players Association, which Rodriguez is suing along with MLB in an attempt to overturn his suspension, had no comment about its position on whether he would be allowed to attend this year's spring training.
Steinbrenner said he had no particular reaction when arbitrator Fredric Horowitz reduced Rodriguez's suspension from 211 to 162 games in a decision announced Saturday.
"I have not been involved with one minute of this process," he said. "I don't know the facts, so I can't possibly have an opinion. Without an opinion, no, I can't be surprised or not surprised."
Even with the ongoing litigation in federal court, Steinbrenner said the Yankees are moving forward as if Rodriguez will not play for them this season.
"We've always got scenarios we're dealing with, Alex or no Alex," he said. "But right now, we have to assume that."
And who is going to play third base instead of A-Rod? Steinbrenner, casually dressed in a T-shirt and jeans in the 72-degree Arizona sunshine, actually chuckled when he mentioned the Yankees' options.
"We've got Kelly Johnson, obviously," he said. "We've got [Eduardo] Nuñez. So, we've got some options. Look, we're not going to be perfect at every position. We never are. No team is."