Alex Rodriguez has a torn labrum in his right hip that will require surgery, but the Yankees are hoping to nurse their superstar third baseman to delay the procedure until after the 2009 season.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said on Thursday that Rodriguez had a cyst drained in the hip, but the labrum tear is a new concern. The injury will eventually put Rodriguez under the knife, which would set off a recovery process that Cashman believes will take four months.
Having discussed the issue with Rodriguez via conference call, the Yankees are gambling that the slugger will be able to contribute for the full 2009 season. Cashman cautioned that surgery remains in play if the approach does not work.
"I think we're collectively trying to figure out what's best to do for everybody involved," Cashman said. "If surgery is what has to happen, that's what you have to do.
"If surgery is not something that has to happen at this point in time, then it's something that's manageable. We're all trying to be open-minded."
After consulting with noted specialist Dr. Marc Philippon in Vail, Colo., Rodriguez had the cyst aspirated on Thursday. He has been removed from the Dominican Republic roster for the World Baseball Classic and will not return to Yankees camp until this weekend, at the earliest.
Once Rodriguez comes back to Tampa, it is unclear what baseball activities he will be permitted to perform and how the club will manage his situation.
"You hope that the aspiration does the trick and he's able to be the productive player he always is," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Girardi suggested that Rodriguez could serve as a designated hitter or leave some games early in Spring Training, and that the Yankees would also give him days off when necessary.
"We are going to take this day by day, week by week, month by month," Cashman said. "That does not mean that surgery is off the table. That's a handful."
Cashman said that Rodriguez has not felt pain in the right hip, though an MRI examination taken last season during Rodriguez's stint on the disabled list with a strained right quadriceps revealed an irregularity that was tucked into Rodriguez's medical file.
Because the irregularity was asymptomatic and there was no pain, Rodriguez was permitted to continue playing. He had taken measures over the offseason and during the Grapefruit League season to relieve stiffness and restriction in the hip, including increased stretching.
That led the Yankees to have team physician Dr. Chris Ahmad examine Rodriguez on Saturday in Tampa. When changes from the 2008 MRI were spotted, Ahmad's recommendation was that Rodriguez visit a specialist, which he did by flying to Colorado on Wednesday.
Believing that the club would just be handling a cyst, Cashman said that Rodriguez's diagnosis and the accompanying flood of information had caught the team off guard.
"To be honest, it's like drinking from a fire hose," Cashman said.
The conservative approach to treating Rodriguez's injury, Cashman said, will include rest, exercise and treatment. That program will be coordinated by the Yankees' medical and training staff.
"You watch him closely to make sure that there's nothing wrong," Girardi said. "I know Alex will be honest with his body, and he works very hard. He'll do all the stretching necessary and possible to get on the field."
Rodriguez has played regularly this spring, including a 1-for-3 effort with a double and a run scored in Tuesday's Dominican Republic exhibition game against the Marlins. Girardi said that if Rodriguez's condition does not worsen, he should be able to complete the season.
"I think he'd be productive, too," Girardi said. "He was productive down here. We saw the way he swung the bat down here -- he was pretty good. He was running fine, making plays. That's why I wasn't really that concerned."
Rodriguez left the Yankees on Sunday after playing in their Grapefruit League loss to the Reds at Sarasota, Fla., and teammates said they were not aware of Rodriguez's injury.
"We saw it on the news when we were eating lunch," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "I think he's been swinging the bat great, looking great in Spring Training. We didn't really know anything was going on."
Catcher Jorge Posada said that he was "shocked" by word of Rodriguez's condition and said that A-Rod is integral to the Yankees' chances this season.
"We've got a good lineup, but he's the guy that puts it all together," Posada said. "He's very important for us. We need him healthy."
Cashman said that what the Yankees have in camp now is their protection should Rodriguez become unavailable for an extended period of time. The most likely candidate to step in at third base would be Cody Ransom.
Ransom, a 33-year-old journeyman, has logged only 183 Major League at-bats with three organizations, but Johnny Damon praised Ransom after learning of Rodriguez's injury on Wednesday, calling him the best athlete on the team.
"I think the team is going to try to pick up the slack until he's ready," Ransom said of Rodriguez. "Hopefully, it's not too long. You can't really replace what he does."
A three-time American League Most Valuable Player who is in the second year of a 10-year, $275 million contract, Rodriguez is expected to be the Yankees' cleanup hitter this season.
"It's worrisome, because he's a big part of our club," Girardi said. "There's no doubt. He's a four-hitter, he's a great defender, he steals bases—he's productive every year. If something was to happen, it's something you have to overcome as a team."