David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Fresh off scaling the side of a 22-story building, tied to a rope and dressed as a Christmas elf, Brian Cashman took an even greater leap of faith Monday in saying that surgeons will fix Alex Rodriguez.
Four years after having his right hip repaired, A-Rod now needs major work on the left one, a more elaborate operation that involves not only a torn labrum, but also a "bone impingement" and "correction of a cyst." For those who skipped medical school, the difference in severity between Rodriguez's 2009 surgery and what he's facing next month is significant.
The first hip operation cost A-Rod the first five weeks of the season. Cashman said this one should require four to six months, and the Yankees general manager prefers to think on the longer side for a player who will be 38 in July.
"The expectation is he's going to return," Cashman said. "This is the strongest reason and the most likely reason that he wasn't the player he was capable of being, and by fixing this, this will put him back in position to provide the maximum potential he has at that stage.
"What that is -- I don't know."
The uncertainty surrounding A-Rod is paralyzing to the Yankees. At a cost of $114 million over the next five years, it's not like Rodriguez can just be replaced and put on the sidewalk, like a broken refrigerator. Cashman talked about securing a space-holder for A-Rod until he's ready to come back, but this is not a hamstring strain or a broken bone.
It's more complicated than that, and citing the Yankees' resilience of this past season -- when they endured the losses of Mariano Rivera, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and yes, A-Rod -- doesn't instill much confidence that they can rebound to win 95 games again.
"This stuff happens to every team in the game, and it's how you handle it, how you deal with it," Cashman said. "I think we've been down this road enough in a lot of different ways. You just have to take a step back, recognize it, deal with it and move forward."
With almost zero contribution from A-Rod last September, the Yankees barely held off the Orioles to win the AL East, then narrowly beat Baltimore in the Division Series. Ultimately, their slumping lineup imploded in a four-game sweep by the Tigers.
But now the Yankees are bracing to pay A-Rod $28 million this season for what, at best, will be three to four months of limited production. At worst, maybe Rodriguez doesn't even make it back this year. Cashman didn't push the medical staff for specifics, but it's safe to say Rodriguez isn't likely to make the same impact he did after the 2009 surgery.
That year, A-Rod returned May 8, played 124 games, and hit 30 home runs with 100 RBIs. The hip was an afterthought as the Yankees won the World Series -- thanks to a big October from Rodriguez.
Cashman repeatedly said that A-Rod's hip issues seriously hindered him during the playoffs this year, but it's no longer necessary to make excuses for that humiliating chapter of Rodriguez's Bronx career. Looking at the road ahead of him now, after twin hip surgeries, those October benchings will be dismissed as a footnote, and possibly the beginning of the end.
"We will wait for Alex," Cashman said. "We will cushion the blow."
There's no doubt the GM believes that. But without fully knowing what lies ahead for A-Rod, the reality could be something different, something uglier over time. Some mistakes can't be fixed.