10:21 PM EST, December 3, 2012
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For Alex Rodriguez and his Yankees teammates, the chickens are coming home to roost, and that's not a good thing. It's a terrific development for the other teams in the American League, however, especially the one that plays in Detroit.
After almost two decades of excellence, the Yankees may finally be old, tired and yesterday's news. That's the reality that general manager Brian Cashman addressed Monday after news broke that the 37-year-old Rodriguez's good hip had become his bad hip.
And soon another AL team, the powerful Rangers, could be explaining to their fan base why they let slugger Josh Hamilton go to Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Seattle or some other city. Mike Napoli, who hit 54 home runs in his two years in Texas, defected to the Red Sox on Monday, agreeing to a three-year, $39 million contract.
The Tigers have no such problems, as rookie White Sox general manager Rick Hahn acknowledged Monday. They could be stronger in 2013 than the Miguel Cabrera/Justin Verlander-led team that crushed the Yankees in the ALCS before being anesthetized by the Giants' pitching staff in the World Series.
"They're the defending American League champion, and they added a great player in Torii Hunter, another good player comes back in Victor Martinez (who is expected to be recovered from knee surgery)," Hahn said. "We have to be aware of what we're chasing. It does factor in to what we want to build. If we look around and say we're an 80- to 82-win team, we can't say in good faith we're going to catch the Detroit Tigers.''
Hahn only talked about the Tigers, not the Yankees. But as the Blue Jays screamed loudly by adding Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson from the Marlins in a financially risky trade, it is clear that rivals no longer see the Yankees as the standard.
The question, it seems, is whether Cashman can keep the Yankees competitive as the remaining franchise icons head toward the kind of sad endings that guys like Paul O'Neill, Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada avoided.
At least Cashman knew the drill when the Rodriguez bombshell hit with a news conference that followed a story first reported by the New York Post. Before it was revealed that Rodriguez would need surgery on his left hip, keeping him out until June and adding to fears about his contract turning into an albatross for the team, the Yankees had lost the 38-year-old Derek Jeter to a broken ankle and torn ligaments in October and Mariano Rivera, now 43, to a shredded knee in May.
"It's a significant blow,'' Cashman said about Rodriguez. "But we've dealt with significant blows and hopefully we'll be able to deal with this one as well. We've missed significant players for periods of time, and it's our job to find a way to withstand all those. That's part of the baseball season.''
Rodriguez has five years and $114 million left on his contract, and his body has become a train wreck. He previously had surgery on his right hip and spent last winter trying to regenerate a knee and a shoulder through a blood replacement procedure in Germany.
Cashman recounted how Rodriguez told Yankees manager Joe Girardi that his right hip was bothering him again after Girardi lifted him for a pinch hitter in Game 3 of the ALCS, and as the Yankees just found out, it was his left hip that was the problem. Rodriguez somehow has twice torn the labrum in his hips, a rare injury, which reflexively seems connected to his admitted use of steroids after signing his mega-deal with the Rangers before the 2001 season.
Cashman did nothing to slow that speculation by admitting that there is little case history on such hip injuries.
"Labrum tears in your hip are something that's kind of new,'' he said. "It's evolved in this sport, it seems like, in the last decade.''
Interesting time period, huh?
There are big-name free agents who could ease the Yankees' pain, of course. But club President Randy Levine has Cashman under orders to get beneath the luxury tax threshold for the 2014 season, so guys like Hamilton, Zack Greinke and seemingly even Michael Bourn are off limits.
Having lost free-agent catcher Russell Martin to the Pirates, it's not clear the Yankees can outbid teams like the A's and Tigers for shortstop Stephen Drew. This does look like a new era, and it's one that fans in Detroit and Toronto could enjoy a lot more than those in the Bronx.