Alex Rodriguez has July 22 circled on his calendar. That is the day the Yankees are at his old stomping grounds in Arlington, Texas, and it also happens to be the day he's telling friends he intends to be back on the field playing in pinstripes.
But A-Rod being A-Rod, he has other big dates in between, and one of them is July 12, when he is scheduled to meet with MLB investigators regarding their extensive months-old Biogenesis inquiry.
Not much is expected to come from that long-awaited meeting between A-Rod and MLB's PED investigators (beyond the usual drama surrounding Rodriguez, of course) as he is expected to invoke the "Jenkins Rule," baseball's version of taking the fifth, according to people involved in the case.
Ryan Braun, the other superstar among about 15 major leaguers being investigated in the Miami Biogenesis case by MLB, declined to answer questions in his interview June 29, as ESPN.com first reported. Rodriguez and Braun are said to have come to believe that MLB is specifically targeting them and that cooperation at this juncture doesn't serve them well. (MLB people declined comment on the case except to say they are only going where the evidence leads them.)
There is an expectation that MLB will attempt to suspend A-Rod, Braun and several other players sometime in the second half of the season, though there's no indication the ruling will come immediately after Tuesday's All-Star Game. A-Rod, Braun and quite possibly some of the other 15 or so players involved are apparently gearing up for what could be a lengthy battle via baseball's grievance process.
First PED offenses are deemed by MLB rules to be for 50 games, though it's possible MLB could try for a longer penalty if it believes in a case or two there's a long pattern of usage interspersed with falsehoods told to MLB. A-Rod is the one player involved who has been interviewed by MLB officials multiple times on past occasions, so presumably he could be more susceptible to such a multi-offense claim than any of the other players.
The original Ferguson Jenkins ruling absolved the future Hall-of-Fame pitcher for declining to cooperate with MLB investigators looking into his recreational drug ties. However, MLB has cracked down on performance-enhancing drugs in the decades since, and MLB people could try to make the case that a Jenkins plea isn't compatible with current PED considerations and suggests a negative inference. MLB isn't likely to suspend only for a failure to cooperate, but could make that a part of its case.
Multiple players are said to have declined to cooperate, not just Braun -- though not all 15, as at least one player is known to have answered the questions of MLB investigators. About 15 players have been linked to Biogenesis, the now-defunct Miami “wellness" clinic at the heart of the investigation, which was begun in spring.
As far as his rehab from his second extensive hip operation is concerned, Rodriguez is said to be experiencing "regular soreness" and although he is not in pain, even people close to him say he is "definitely not ready" for the big leagues with only 10 days to go in the rehab process. Meanwhile, Rodriguez, who turns 38 later this month, speaks hopefully about his return to the field, suggesting to friends he'd expect to move up from Class A Tampa to Double-A Trenton sometime next week with an eye on July 22, which is the day after his allotted 20-day rehab expires. If he isn't ready for that game, that would be a major setback, as he can't simply re-start rehab but must wait five more days to re-start rehab.
It's fair to say nothing is a given in a comeback filled with false optimism, fits, starts and the usual drama surrounding A-Rod. It has also included a low batting average (he is 2 for 15 thus far), and it's no surprise a lot of skepticism remains that Rodriguez will be ready to play July 22.
"I don't think anybody thinks he'll be back then. Yankees people don't think he's up to it physically," one source said.
At the very least, this hasn't been a smooth recovery.
"He had his best day yesterday. But I haven't had a conversation with him. ... You can't predict," general manager Brian Cashman said by phone.
It wasn't too long ago that Rodriguez was considered a week ahead of Derek Jeter in their efforts to return to the Yankees, but Jeter, the Yankees legend, obviously flew past the slow-recovering Rodriguez and made his return to the Bronx on Thursday afternoon against the Royals. While Jeter's rehab went uneventfully, A-Rod's has predictably taken on a soap-operatic feel, between the PED investigation, his over-exuberant tweet declaring himself ready for minor-league games and Cashman's initial reaction that A-Rod should "shut the f--- up.''
A-Rod and the Yankees higher-ups had a clear-the-air session over the phone following Cashman's strong retort, but the player once viewed as a threat to set the all-time home run record is said to have an extremely limited relationship with some sectors of the front office. He hasn't been seen around the team much (i.e. he was in New York when the team was in Tampa, and vice versa), which is said to give Rodriguez the impressions he isn't especially wanted -- at least at times when he is unable to help them on the field.
The once fanciful conspiracy theory whereby Rodriguez is hoping to be proven physically unable to perform before MLB can suspend to ensure he collects his salary (he has about $100 million to go, give or take a few pennies) has even been advanced in one tabloid. Of course, that scenario doesn't really make sense since MLB can make rulings on injured players, and there's no reason to believe insurance companies would consent to paying premiums on players ruled to have violated PED policies by MLB, at least not for the time of their penalty/suspension.
In any case, it's no shocker that A-Rod's rehab/recovery has spawned some wild theories. His whole existence has turned into one big melodrama.