Alex Rodriguez has been "fantastic" in his most recent rehab assignments, and Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports that the New York Yankees third baseman is likely closer to a return than captain Derek Jeter.
Rodriguez, who has been recovering from surgery to repair his severely damaged right hip, has not played a game for the Yankees this season. His hip has given him issues over the past few seasons, limiting him to just 221 games the past two seasons (of a possible 324).
Biogenesis scandal aside, Rodriguez seems poised to return sooner rather than later. Heyman's report cites Rodriguez's stellar displays in batting practice, physical shape and ability to run as the major reasons why Rodriguez looks like he's nearing a return.
Brian Cashman and Co. have maintained that he's likely to return after the All-Star break, though no exact time has ever been mentioned. It could have meant September, for all we know. His progress would suggest that he could return right after the break, however.
Jeter, on the other hand, is still a few steps behind Rodriguez in terms of rehab progress. Jeter was just cleared last week for light running, whereas Rodriguez is already taking lengthy batting practices and doing much harder running exercises.
This puts Rodriguez on track to return several games (possibly even several weeks) before the Yankees' captain.
In terms of the largest hole on the team, Rodriguez's return is likely most important (crazy, right?). The Yankees have received nearly zero production from the hot corner, as a combination of Reid Brignac, Kevin Youkilis and David Adams haven't brought anything substantial to the lineup.
Jayson Nix has performed admirably at shortstop, however, posting a .260/.321/.311 line with one home run and 19 RBI. He may not be producing many runs, but it's hard to complain about a utility infielder, playing in an everyday role, putting up respectable numbers. He's put up a WAR of 0.2, suggesting that he's even been slightly better than a replacement player.
Even if Rodriguez doesn't come back and hit home run and after home run, having a steady presence in the lineup is important. If the Yankees want to make a run at the playoffs, then they certainly cannot afford to have a merry-go-round of players playing at key positions.
Despite what Yankee fans want to think, having Rodriguez back this season is actually important to the success of the team. If he hits, then the Yankees have a better chance at the playoffs.