PHOENIX -- Back when the Alex Rodriguez steroid story first broke, there were questions in New York about whether A-Rod was really worth all the trouble.
There were suggestions that the Yankees would be better off without him, and one New York baseball columnist even suggested that the Yankees should release Rodriguez right then and there. There were plenty of questions about how the Yankees would deal with the A-Rod distraction, and I and others said that the Yankees ought to thank the World Baseball Classic for taking A-Rod away from them for a few weeks.
Well, now the Yankees are facing the possibility of life without A-Rod. Now they wish he was simply a distraction.
Here's guessing that if he does indeed need surgery -- and that's still possible, perhaps even probable -- the Yankees will miss him greatly. The Yankees said today that they first want Rodriguez to see if rest, exercise and treatment can solve his hip problem. But they also said if he needs surgery, he'll be out four months.
In five years with the Yankees, Rodriguez has started all but 46 games. His only trip to the disabled list was early last year, when he missed nearly a month with a strained right quadriceps.
The '08 Yankees went 6-11 while Rodriguez was hurt, as opposed to 83-62 in all the other games they played last year. They finished six games out of a playoff spot, so you could almost say that not having Rodriguez for 17 games is what kept them out of the playoffs.
In five years, the Yankees are 146 games over .500 in games Rodriguez has started, and four games UNDER .500 in the games he hasn't started.
Here's another way to look at it: If Rodriguez can't play third base, the next best option on the current Yankee roster is Cody Ransom (166 big-league games, 24 RBIs). If Jorge Posada's shoulder isn't healthy enough to let him catch, the bottom three batters in Joe Girardi's lineup could well be Ransom, Brett Gardner and Jose Molina.
Could the Yankees get a third baseman in a trade? Sure they could, but spring training is hardly the best time to land an impact hitter. Teams aren't ready to give up on a season before it even begins (not exactly a good way to sell tickets), so even teams that wouldn't mind dumping a salary aren't anxious to dump it now.
Manny. A-Rod. Manny. A-Rod.
Can't spring training be about more than just two players, one of whom hasn't yet played in a Cactus League game, and the other who might have already played his last Grapefruit League game?
Three weeks ago, on my first day in Arizona, I listened to Dodger manager Joe Torre talk about the Dodgers' need for Manny Ramirez, and about the A-Rod steroid story. Today, on my final day in Arizona this spring, I once again listened to Torre talk about Manny and A-Rod.
Yes, Manny and A-Rod have occupied our spring, and if you're one of the ones complaining that we should be talking about something else, note the number of comments attached to every Manny or A-Rod story or blog, compared to the number attached to every other baseball story.
That said, spring training has been more than just Manny and A-Rod, so here are a few other observations as I turn Arizona over to Scott Miller and head for Florida:
-- Empty seats are everywhere in Arizona this spring. The new Camelback Ranch ballpark that the Dodgers and White Sox are sharing is beautiful, but there was hardly anyone there today. The new Goodyear Ballpark that the Indians will eventually share with the Reds is beautiful, but there was hardly anyone there on either of my visits. Is it the economy? Very possible. Does this mean baseball attendance will be awful this summer? Not necessarily, because the people who aren't making spring training trips might also be looking for entertainment closer to home this year.
-- The Angels do a lot of things right. With spring training going longer than ever because of the World Baseball Classic, Mike Scioscia went away from the traditional reporting dates for pitchers and catchers. He staggered the reporting dates, and has been holding his regulars out of early-spring games, to give them as normal a spring schedule as possible. I know his players appreciate it, because they told me so. Incidentally, Scioscia plans to bat Bobby Abreu in the second spot, with Vladimir Guerrero hitting third and Torii Hunter hitting fourth. Abreu batted second 17 times for the Yankees over the last two years; before that, he hadn't hit second since 2000.
-- Maybe the best moment of the spring so far was Ken Griffey Jr.'s return to the Mariners. Believe me, other players noticed how nice it was for Griffey to go back to where it started. A few days later in Angels camp, Hunter said that as much as he loves playing for the Angels, he'd love to finish his career in Minnesota. Then he turned to ask Guerrero if he still had great feelings for Montreal -- and Guerrero said yes, he did.
-- After the first day of workouts at Camelback Ranch, I wrote that it didn't feel at all like Dodgertown in Vero Beach. After spending the last two days there, and seeing it on game days, I'll amend that. It still isn't Dodgertown, but you have to admire the way the Dodgers have tried to make their new spring home nearly as fan-friendly as Vero was. The contrast with the White Sox on the other side of the complex is striking. While fans are separated from the Dodger players only by ropes, allowing plenty of interaction, the White Sox fans are left standing on the other side of the fence. The White Sox side has a tunnel so the players can walk under (and avoid) the fans on the way to the workout fields. On the Dodger side, players have to pass right by the fans on the way to workouts.
-- Everywhere you go in the Cactus League, you hear that Arizona spring training is better than Florida spring training. You hear it from players, managers, club executives, scouts and writers. It's true that the facilities here are outstanding, and that the shorter distances make it easier for everyone. But you have to wonder if it's better for the fans of some of the Midwest teams that have moved or are moving here. You can drive from Cleveland to Winter Haven, and judging by the license plates seen at Chain of Lakes Park in recent years, many people did. Not too many will drive from Cleveland to Goodyear.