(Not a sign of relief. Courtesy of the AP)
After his latest hip injury and required surgery was announced a week ago today, Alex Rodriguez made his first public comments on the situation this past weekend. Speaking to reporters at a charity function he attended, A-Rod had this to say about the new injury to his left hip:
“I’m not concerned. I’m actually, in many ways, relieved that there’s something tangible that we can go fix.”
He went on to drop lines about being committed to coming back, confident that he can return to form, and ready to take on the challenge of rehab and recovery, all the usual talking points for a great athlete coming back from a serious injury. The problem with all of it is that it rings incredibly hollow at this stage in A-Rod's career. I know he can't come out and say, "yeah, you know, the last one sapped a lot of my power, and now that I've got to have surgery on the other hip I don't expect to be a great everyday player anymore," but I'd also like to think that he he's self-aware enough to know that this is probably it for him and that he knows we all know this is it for him too. Because if there's anything about his career path since the first hip surgery that Alex finds relief in, he needs to look up the definition of the word.
The season before surgery on his right hip, Rodriguez hit .302/.392/.573 (.406 wOBA) in 138 games in 2008. He hit 35 HR, scored and drove in over 100 runs each, and finished the year at 6.3 fWAR. It was his last truly great season. After missing the first month of the '09 after surgery, A-Rod still went on to hit 30/100 that year, hitting both benchmarks exactly, and then managed to repeat the feat in 2010 despite missing 25 more games due to injury. But for all intents and purposes, '09 was it for him. In every season after that his slugging and ISO percentages have gone down, and with them his HR and RBI totals, his wOBA, wRC+, WAR, and status as an elite player.
Putting all his other sprains and strains and breaks and assorted injuries that have caused him to miss time over the last 4 seasons aside, that initial hip injury and subsequent surgery in 2009 stands out as the beginning of A-Rod's end. He was 33 going on 34 when it happened, entering the stages of natural age-related decline, and to suffer an injury to a part of the body so important to generating power in a baseball swing is only going to accelerate that decline, no matter how much rehab work he put in to get back to "100%." With his power and mobility taking a big hit after the injury to his right hip, it's only logical to expect a similar result to his left hip.
It's encouraging to know that this injury is not going to be career-ending, and Alex can take relief and solace in the fact that he will at least be able to get back on the field and play. At this stage in his career, that's the best he and the Yankees can really hope for, staying healthy and spending as much time on the field as possible to at least attempt to get as much value as possible out of the dreadful final 5 years of his deal. But to talk as if this injury and the upcoming surgery are going to "fix" him as a player at age 37, possibly 38 by the time he returns to action, is borderline delusional.
I'm sure he'll still hit a few HR, make some nice plays at third, and draw a good amount of walks when he comes back, but that's pretty much the ceiling for A-Rod at this point. 38-year-old position players with eroding skills and 2 surgically-repaired hips don't get the bar set too high for them and it's important for everyone to remember that, including A-Rod. It's a reality he probably isn't ready to face yet, but if he looked at it the way I and many other writers have these past few years, he'd understand where I was coming from.