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Thursday, March 5, 2009
A-Rod show just goes on … and on


TAMPA, Fla. -- Shouldn't we just assign Alex Rodriguez his own personal cable network at this point?

ALEXSPN?

MSA-ROD?

Something like that?

He's the broadcasting gift that never stops giving. Without him, I'm not certain how ESPN would continue to make it through the programming day. We'd have to go to full-time T.O. coverage, I guess. And who could survive that?

All I know is that here at George M. Steinbrenner Field, life is one giant Alex-fest. It's all-A-Rod, all the time, day after day after day.

Just when one A-Rod crisis begins to quiet down, there's always another one ready to roar in right behind it. And now this man has proven he doesn't even have to be in town to rock the house.

The Yankees' third baseman was 1,500 miles away in Colorado on Thursday, but his shadow was draped all over his bosses, his buddies and his franchise back in Tampa.

All it took was the sound of the words, "torn labrum," and the Yankees were right back in A-Rod crisis-intervention mode. At least they know the drill.

What they don't know, however, is what Rodriguez's uncertain hip prognosis has just done to their season. And they may not know for days, or weeks, or months.

Here's their best-case scenario:

A-Rod is their Chase Utley.

Utley had a torn labrum in his hip, too, this past season. But he gutted through the discomfort and kept on playing, kept on chugging.

He wasn't Chase Utley, MVP-in-waiting. But he was still better than anybody the Phillies could have traded for, anybody they could have replaced him with. And they won a World Series with him doing it as best he could do it.

The Yankees would take that scenario. Any time.

Unfortunately, that isn't their only scenario. It may not even be their most likely scenario.

What's about to unfold is this: They'll shut A-Rod down for "a while," in general manager Brian Cashman's words. And even the GM doesn't know how long "a while" is. Then they'll try to ease him back into as little spring-training baseball as they can get by with -- and hope he's somehow ready for the season.

Medically, according to one source I spoke with Thursday, there's actually a better chance of that happening than you'd think. But here's the Yankees' biggest fear:

"Plenty of guys have it and play through it," said one person who has known Rodriguez for years. "The question is: This guy, who's so fragile -- can he deal with it?"

And that's a question the Yankees can't answer. Nor can Miss Cleo, the Amazing Kreskin or the entire staff of globalpsychics.com.

You can see it all unfolding now. Can't you?

The season starts. A-Rod feels as though he's 75 percent healthy. But it's that missing 25 percent that plays with his head. So he starts wondering, doubting, questioning. He's better than Cody Ransom, but he isn't himself.

So he gets off to a slow start, at least by his standards. The talk shows start yakking. The fans start mumbling. The fans start grumbling.

Then Selena Roberts' book explodes all around him. He's in the eye of one more hurricane. The questions grow louder. The heat gets hotter. He's not quite right, so he can't shut the world up the way he'd like to.

Then what?

Nobody knows.

It was amazing how hard it was for anybody around the Yankees to answer those sorts of questions Thursday. Or just about any other sorts of questions, for that matter.

Consider the answers poor Joe Girardi was forced to give to a barrage of questions he got hit with, for instance.

Had he considered the possibility that, if this rest-and-rehab approach didn't work, he could lose Rodriguez for most, if not all, of the season?

"That's not something I necessarily want to think about," the manager said.

Asked if Cody Ransom was his most likely Plan B at third base for now, Girardi replied: "I don't know if I'm prepared to think about that yet."

Asked what his options looked like for the middle of his lineup if his cleanup hitter wasn't his cleanup hitter anymore, Girardi answered: "I'm not that far yet."

You have to feel for this man. Don't you? When you get right down to it, his job is riding on this season. And now he has no idea whether he'll have his most important player in his lineup for six months, six weeks, six days or six minutes. Wish him luck.

Meanwhile, his front office isn't certain whether it has to work on replacing its most important player, either.

There are trade options out there, potentially -- the Royals' Mark Teahen and Oakland's Bobby Crosby for two. And there are free agents who might fit somehow -- most prominently Mark Grudzielanek, who has played more than 600 games on the left side of the infield (even though only 31 of them were at third base).

But when asked whether the Yankees plan to explore those options, Cashman replied: "That's not something that's on the front burner right now."

Meanwhile, another Yankees person suggested it could be several weeks before this team would shift into substitute-third-baseman-acquisition overdrive.

"Nobody here is at DEFCON 1 yet," he laughed.

But that doesn't mean they weren't at Shock-Con 1, either. That word, "shock," came up a lot Thursday. Nobody around the Yankees saw this coming. And now they don't know where it's going, either.

Jorge Posada's reaction summed it up well: "I have no idea what to say," the catcher said. "It's shocking. He's our cleanup hitter. … We've got a good lineup, but he's the guy who puts it all together."

Boy, is it ever funny that he should use that analogy. Only two weeks earlier, his GM was using the old Humpty Dumpty analogy to describe this same man. So let's get this straight:

Just when the Yankees were trying to figure out a way to put HIM back together again, they came to the frightening realization that he might be the only guy who can put THEM back together.

It's not a good place to find your baseball team on March 5. But for must-see programming intrigue, you can't beat it.

So join us tomorrow on A-Rod-Span as we ask: How's Alex's hip? How's Alex's love life? How's Alex's forthcoming best-seller? And, most important of all, how do the other 29 teams feel about the fact Alex has singlehandedly wiped all of them off the map this spring? We'll be back with the answers right after this.