NEW YORK (AP) — The Yankees expect Alex Rodriguez to play third base next season but want the suspended star to prove during spring training he deserves to have his position back after a one-year absence.
Rodriguez hasn't played an injury-free season since 2007, turns 40 on July 27 and missed all of this year while serving his penalty for violating baseball's drug agreement and labor contract. He'll have to show his body is up to the rigors of a major league schedule.
"We've got to see where he's physically at, and if he can play the field, how many days he can play the field and how many days he needs to DH," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said at a news conference Monday. "I don't think really any of us know about him until we actually get him into games in spring training."
New York missed consecutive postseasons for the first time since 1992 and '93. While beloved captain Derek Jeter is retiring, the much-maligned Rodriguez will be returning. The three-time AL MVP is signed for three additional seasons for a total of $61 million, part of his record $275 million, 10-year contract.
"He hasn't played in a year. That's not easy to do, to sit out a year," Girardi said. "Do we expect him to be a player on our team? Absolutely. Do we expect him to play third base? Yes. But in fairness I think you have to see where he's at."
As for whether the Yankees will ask Rodriguez to take grounders at first base, where he could back up the oft-injured Mark Teixeira, Girardi said "that's something that we have not talked about yet."
After playing 155 games or more each year from 2001-07, Rodriguez made six trips to the disabled list in six seasons for a strained right quadriceps (2008), right hip surgery (2009), a strained left calf (2010), right knee surgery (2011), a broken left hand (2012) and left hip surgery (2013).
Girardi kept in contact with Rodriguez through text messages.
"Have not talked a ton about baseball. I've talked more about how he's just doing and his family. It was, I don't know, once, twice a month," the manager said. "Obviously that will pick up now that we're through the season and I don't have nearly as much to do, just to see where he's at physically, and encouraging him, and to see what his thoughts are."
Girardi doesn't expect A-Rod will have clubhouse issues with teammates but anticipates fans will remind him of the suspension.
"Our teammates enjoy Alex, his presence in the clubhouse, the way he likes to teach the game and talk about the game. So I don't think that will be an issue," Girardi said. "Will he have to deal from some angry fans? Yeah, but we'll help him get through that. When was the last time Alex hasn't had to deal with that? So it's not like it's something that he's not used to, and sometimes players thrive on that."
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