Does Alex Rodriguez's Hip Surgery Signal the End Is Near for Slugger?
For the following discussion on Alex Rodriguez, I recommend cuing up "The End" by The Doors. It's a song that conveys just the right amount (see: "a lot") of doom and gloom for the matter at hand.
This year has not been the best of times for A-Rod. Things went from bad to worse to worser for the New York Yankees third baseman, and now they've gone all the way down to utterly horrible.
A-Rod managed just a .783 OPS and 18 home runs during the 2012 regular season and then only three hits in 25 at-bats in the postseason. And the word on Monday is that he's headed for yet another hip surgery.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post was the first to report the news via a series of tweets:
Hear exclusively Alex Rodriguez was playing with re-tear in surgically repaired hip Likely going for another surgery #Yankees (cont)— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) December 3, 2012
A while later, Sherman corrected himself and noted that the surgery will be on A-Rod's left hip rather than his right hip, which was surgically repaired back in 2009. The timetable for his recovery is not encouraging:
Surgery will be done early in new year, recuperation time is 3-6 months. #Yankees hope A-Rod is back in June as a full player— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) December 3, 2012
Via Bryan Hoch of MLB.com, the Yankees confirmed that A-Rod will have surgery and that his recovery could indeed take as long as six months.
This, of course, would represent the "utterly horrible" portion of A-Rod's 2012 narrative. And since there is clearly some sort of narrative going on here, one shudders to think where it's going to go next. This narrative has the shape of a spiral, and it's headed downward.
A-Rod may still have five years and $114 million remaining on his contract, but there's no escaping the notion that the end of the 37-year-old's great/controversial career will be here sooner rather than later.
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You can be optimistic if you want. After all, A-Rod came back to hit 30 home runs and post a .933 OPS in 124 games after his first hip surgery in 2009, and then he was the Yankees' best player in the postseason. He's come back from one hip surgery, so who's to say he can't come back from another?
Alas, logic all but renders the optimistic approach to A-Rod's situation moot. He was only 33 when he had surgery on his right hip, and he's now 37 with more miles on his body. A 37-year-old Rodriguez dealing with two bad hips won't be as effective as the 33-year-old Rodriguez who was dealing with one bad hip.
If you don't feel like taking my word for it, you can take Chris Duncan's word for it. The former major leaguer cautioned on Twitter on Monday that hip surgeries are no joke:
Ive had two hip surgeries. Very difficult too return from. Slowed my bat down quite a bit. Ny still owes Arod over 100mill wow!! Bad deal— chris duncan (@chrisduncan11) December 3, 2012
The last thing Yankees fans want to do is put "Alex Rodriguez" and "slow bat speed" in the same thought. His bat is slow enough as it is. The notion that his bat speed is going to be even slower upon his return is one that cannot be considered without shaking one's head.
It gets worse.
Nobody—and I mean NOBODY—can reasonably expect Rodriguez to be completely over his injury woes when he returns from his hip surgery in 2013. One look at his recent injury history (see Baseball Prospectus) will pretty much confirm that the scars are only going to keep piling up.
In the five years since A-Rod signed on for 10 more years and 275 million more dollars in the wake of his MVP season in 2007, he's dealt with injuries to his shoulders, thighs, knees, neck, groin, feet, fingers, thumbs, wrists, elbows and, presumably, several parts of the human body as yet undiscovered by science.
Basically, if there's a part of the human body that can be injured, A-Rod can tell you all about what it feels like.
When he returns in 2013, he'll be tacking on more and more injuries to a body that will be supported by two surgically repaired hips. The slightest breeze could therefore spell trouble, and it may not take much to end A-Rod's career for good.
The Yankees will have no choice but to remove A-Rod from harm's way as much as they possibly can when he returns. Short of keeping him in a padded room or wrapping him in bubble wrap, though, their options are going to be severely limited.
One thing the Yankees can do is move Rodriguez away from the hot corner for good and make him an everyday designated hitter. Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com has indicated that such a transition is already in the club's plans, and now the decision is a no-brainer.
A-Rod can become a full-time DH, and he must become a full-time DH. It's either keep him at third base and watch him play himself into a pile of dusty bones, or stick him at DH and hope that his bat can stay alive for a couple more years.
To this end, the bright side is that there's hope. A-Rod had a higher OPS when he DH'd in 2012 than when he played third base, and a good percentage of his plate appearances as a DH came after he returned from a broken hand in September. Two of the three homers he hit in September came on back-to-back days when he served as a DH for Joe Girardi.
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Though the Yankees would be making it official that they won't get fair value for his contract, making A-Rod a full-time DH would surely help extend his career; perhaps even long enough for him to finish out the remainder of his contract.
But the operative word there is "perhaps." No matter what the Yankees do to accommodate Rodriguez's crumbling body, there are no sure bets regarding his health from here on out. There certainly aren't any sure bets in regards to how many games he has left in him.
The narrative that we were talking about way back when thus will not shape up and take the form of a straight line from now until the end of A-Rod's career. It will still be a spiral, albeit a fragmented one. Both Rodriguez's games played and his production are likely to come in spurts, broken up by various nagging injuries and maybe one or two major injuries.
If he's still standing in the final year of his contract in 2017, he's likely to be barely standing. He's going to be on the wrong side of 40, and his injury track record will be long and comprehensive enough for its own Wikipedia page.
It must be said, however, that the Yankees will be able to count themselves lucky if A-Rod is indeed still standing five years from now. His contract will still be a total failure, but at least their plans to keep him on the field with his spikes still on his feet will have worked.
There is, after all, now a strong chance that A-Rod's spikes will be hung up before the end of the 2017 season rolls around. It can no longer be taken for granted that Rodriguez's career will end when his contract ends.
The end is no longer out there somewhere. It's now looming ominously over A-Rod's career, and it's going to take a lot of effort and a lot of luck to keep it at bay.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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