BALTIMORE - Let the countdown begin. With Alex Rodriguez's suspension up after this season, Hal Steinbrenner Wednesday said for the first time that the Yankees fully expect him back in uniform for 2015.
"That's what he's planning for,'' Steinbrenner said. "And that's what we're planning for.''
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Steinbrenner was in town for the quarterly owners' meetings, where he will help choose a new commissioner with Thursday's vote. He took a few minutes to discuss his struggling Yankees and the future of A-Rod, who is serving his Biogenesis-related 162-game suspension.
Although Steinbrenner said he has not spoken to Rodriguez, he did hear a positive report from the owner's brother-in-law, Felix Lopez, a Yankees executive who bumped into A-Rod in New York recently.
"He says he looks good,'' Steinbrenner said. "He's fit. Alex is a hard worker. Alex will be ready. And we'll just have to go from there. See how he does. See how he responds to playing every day in spring training.
"Point is, he's in good shape. And that's not surprising.''
Steinbrenner probably would like to have A-Rod on the roster now, given his disappointment with an underperforming and very expensive lineup. Despite mentioning the beat-up rotation, Steinbrenner left no doubt where most of the blame lies.
"The offense has been a bit frustrating,'' he said. "They've been inconsistent. They know that. That's got to change -- quickly. But having said all that, we're there. As we were last year at this time. The question is where are we in a month? It's up to them.''
He also left open the possibility that how this team finishes could determine the fate of Brian Cashman, whose contract is up at the end of this season. Not counting the 1994 strike season, the Yankees haven't missed the playoffs in consecutive years since 1993, and Steinbrenner authorized spending nearly $500 million to make sure it didn't happen again.
He was asked if he had made any decisions yet regarding the general manager.
"No,'' Steinbrenner said. "We're so busy right now trying to figure out who's going to be playing in any given game. We'll be talking about that soon enough. But you know me, we have enough things to worry about during the season. That's where our focus needs to be.''
So an extension for Cashman could be tied to whether the Yankees make the postseason?
"Let me get to October,'' Steinbrenner said. "Hopefully, the end of October, the beginning of November, and we'll go from there.''
He also was aware of the public stir created by the Yankees' decision to hold Derek Jeter Day on Sept. 7, a Sunday, rather than his actual finale in the Bronx, scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 25, against the Orioles.
He explained how they wanted Jeter's ceremony to be on a Sunday because that would give more people the opportunity to attend rather than a weeknight. Plus, Steinbrenner didn't want the festivities to be a distraction that late in the playoff chase.
"I need everybody's focus to be on that game and on that series,'' he said. "Particularly Derek -- knowing Derek -- he's going to want to have his head in the game and not have to worry about anything else. And to me it was the logical choice.''