NEW YORK, N.Y. - When the New York Yankees take the field against Toronto for their opener on April 6, it will be 556 days since Alex Rodriguez last played in a major league game.
Will he resemble the star who won three MVP awards?
Or will he look more like the broken-down third baseman who hasn't played a full season since 2007 due to leg injuries, operations on both hips and a season-long suspension this year for violating baseball's drug agreement and labour contract?
"Really, until he gets out there and starts playing, you're not going to know," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Tuesday.
Spring training is more than three months from now, and already the spotlight is on A-Rod.
Third base? First base? Designated hitter? The bench, if a suitable replacement is found?
Addition or distraction?
"You have the whole spectrum from minimal contributions to significant contributions," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said at the GM meetings in Phoenix. "We are certainly hoping for significant contributions. But I think as you went through the process from a general manager's standpoint, you enter that process with the expectations low and hoping for the best. But I don't think I can bank for our fan base on significant contributions and count on it and be surprised if it's not there."
The only certainty is Rodriguez becoming the focal point wherever he goes.
"When Alex has walked into spring training, when hasn't there been a lot of attention on him over the last five years?" Girardi said. "So, yeah, there's going to be attention. Some of it is going to be negative. Some of it is going to be positive. We'll deal with it."
Rodriguez was limited to 44 games in 2013 following his second hip surgery. He turns 40 next July but wants to come back to earn the $61 million he is owed in salary in the final three years of his contract.
Girardi spoke to A-Rod about potentially playing some first base on days Mark Teixeira is given off.
"I just wanted to put the thought in his mind," Girardi said. "He said let's talk about it. So, we'll sit down and talk about it."
But first is likely to be only a part-time destination.
"He may be the everyday third baseman. He may be the everyday DH," Cashman said. "I don't know."
Chase Headley, obtained from San Diego in July, could be an option to take over from Rodriguez as the primary third baseman.
"If I signed or traded for a third baseman, that would be my third baseman," Cashman said.
Headley is a free agent, and the Yankees have interest in re-signing him.
"He really shored up our defence on that side, played a great third base," Girardi said. "Grinded out at-bats, had some big hits for us and showed an extreme amount of toughness and was great in the clubhouse."
Girardi was at Yankee Stadium for the team's United Service Organizations event to pack goods for American servicemen and servicewomen. While most of the questions were about Rodriguez, he also addressed New York's off-season moves in the post-Derek Jeter era, of the need to "right the ship." The Yankees hope to rebound from an 84-78 record, their poorest winning percentage since 1992.
"I think there's some question marks in our starting rotation, number one. There's going to be some questions marks in our bullpen, and there's some question marks on what our infield is going to be," he said.
Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Carlos Beltran, Brett Gardner and Martin Prado are coming back from injuries.
New York also has some interest in re-signing Brandon McCarthy, acquired from Arizona last summer and also a free agent.
"He struggled in Arizona for whatever reasons, but he pitched really well for us," Girardi said. "He showed that he had the ability to pitch in New York, and I think that's always important."
New York would like to re-sign closer David Robertson, another free agent. If he leaves, Dellin Betances likely would inherit the role.
"It's somewhat of a different mentality," Girardi said. "I think he's capable of handling it."
New York finished four games behind Oakland (88-74) for the second AL wild card, and Girardi watched from afar as Kansas City (89-73) reached Game 7 of the World Series before losing to San Francisco, with the potential tying run stranded at third.
"It shows you how close you were to be possibly being a World Series team, which even makes it hurt more," he said. "If you look at five games where you could have scored maybe 10 more runs, two runs a game, with all the one-run games, that could have been us."
Blum reported from New York and Baum from Phoenix.