With 10 minor league games and a good chunk of his 20-day rehab stint in the bags, it was already apparent that A-Rod was very close to returning. Now it's more or less official, according to both the man himself and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.
“I will be back on Monday and I’m very excited,” Rodriguez told WFAN's Mike Francesca on Wednesday. With the usual "if all goes well" caveat, of course.
"That's the hope," Cashman confirmed to Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York. "We'll see through the weekend. We started the 20-day rehab and once we felt he could complete the 20 days and be available to us in Texas. So let's get through the weekend and see where he is at and see if he is major league able."
There you have it. After missing the first three-and-a-half months of the season recovering from his second hip surgery in four years, Rodriguez could be suiting up in pinstripes in a matter of days.
When he does, the Yankees will have more of the thing they need most: offense. For while Rodriguez hasn't been the major offensive force the Yankees have been paying him to be in the last couple seasons, his presence in the lineup has generally been beneficial.
The last two seasons have been the two worst seasons of Rodriguez's career. After averaging a .958 OPS and 36 home runs per year in the first 17 seasons of his career, Rodriguez managed a mere .801 OPS and a total of 34 home runs in 2011 and 2012, all while playing in only 221 games due to injuries.
By themselves, those numbers are, in the parlance of our time, weak sauce.
But with context? They're not so bad.
For starters, the bulk of Rodriguez's production in 2011 and 2012 was racked up at third base. And in relation to other players the Yankees used at third base in those two seasons, it was largely useful production.
Here's a table with some numbers.
In 2011, Rodriguez was far more productive than other players the Yankees used at the hot corner, compiling a better average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He didn't have much competition, as Eric Chavez only had a .650 OPS when he manned third base and Eduardo Nunez wasn't much better with a .666 OPS. Brandon Laird and Ramiro Pena were far worse.
Things were clearly much more stable at the hot corner in 2012 when A-Rod wasn't stationed there. Chavez is the man to thank for that. He hit .306 with a .913 OPS in 56 games at third base because he'd had about enough of being irrelevant and was in the mood for a renaissance season.
However, Rodriguez's numbers at third base in 2012 look much better from a league-wide perspective. According to Baseball-Reference, the average third baseman had a .754 OPS last year. So when he played at the hot corner, A-Rod was a slightly above-average offensive third baseman.
And yes, Rodriguez's numbers at third base look even better when 2011 and 2012 are smushed together. Chavez boosted the Yankees' third-base numbers in 2012, but in his last two seasons combined, Rodriguez has been the Yankees' best offensive option at third base.
Third base, of course, probably isn't going to be Rodriguez's primary home for much longer given his advancing age and declining physical state. He's likely to spend the bulk of his remaining baseball years as a designated hitter. The good news for the Yankees is that he proved he can handle the position in a considerable sample size last year.
Here's another table with another set of numbers, with the focus this time on Rodriguez's numbers as a DH in 2012 compared to other Yankees.
Yes, the other DHs besides A-Rod were better. That's because the DH spot had the Midas touch for Yankees hitters last year—Derek Jeter, Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez and Nick Swisher all had OPS's over .900 when they DH'd (see ESPN.com).
But still, this is another case where Rodriguez was better than your average player at the position. The average American League DH had a .758 OPS last year. Several other AL teams would have loved to have A-Rod as a DH last year.
Hence one of the reasons why I said Rodriguez's presence in the Yankees' lineup in 2011 and 2012 was generally good. Another reason I said that is because I know this: The Yankees were a better scoring team with Rodriguez than they were without him...if only to an extent.
Allow me to explain with another number-y table.
Slightly better with Rodriguez in 2011. More than slightly better with him in 2012.
Which, okay, is a little misleading. Rodriguez was a mess down the stretch, but that didn't stop the Yankees offense from exploding when it got a chance to feast on weak pitching towards the end of the year. The offense really wasn't that much better with A-Rod than it was without him.
But it was still slightly better. Before Rodriguez went on the disabled list with a broken hand last July, the Yankees had been scoring 4.82 runs per game when he played. While he was out, they scored 4.78 runs per game.
Finally, we have the fact that the Yankees haven't just been a better run-scoring team with Rodriguez in the lineup. They've been a better team, period. In 2011 and 2012, they went 132-89 with him and 60-43 without him. That's a .597 winning percentage against a .583 winning percentage.
Provided he stays healthy, Rodriguez should be able to have the same effect on the Yankees in his return from the disabled list this year. His production likely isn't going to be much to speak of, but he won't have to do much to top what the Yankees have gotten out of third base so far.
That would be a .225/.288/.301 batting line with four home runs. Rodriguez could come back and hit .250/.325/.400 with five home runs and it would be a dramatic boost in third base production for the Yankees.
Combine that with what will hopefully be a boost in shortstop production provided by Jeter and a boost in outfield production provided by Curtis Granderson, and the Yankees offense should be a step above "depressing" down the stretch in the second half.
But you're going to want to cross those fingers, Yankees fans. If things stick to the script, Rodriguez, Jeter and Granderson will all get hurt again sometime shortly after they return from their respective injuries. And then there's the Biogenesis mess, which might take A-Rod away from the Yankees for a while.
Maybe that would be a good thing in the long run, but it wouldn't be in the short run. For the Yankees to do anything of note this season, they're going to need those numbers.
Note: Stats and records courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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