Turning the Spotlight Back to A-Rod

Can a healthy A-Rod get back to MVP form?

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    There were moments this offseason where you almost forgot that Alex Rodriguez was on the Yankees.

    There was so much drama surrounding the Derek Jeter negotiations, the Cliff Lee pursuit and Andy Pettitte's retirement that the usual lightning rod that is A-Rod faded into the background. 

    Oh, there were the occasional moments that reminded you of both his existence and the overwhelming animosity he faces from the public -- just do a search Super Bowl, Cameron Diaz and popcorn -- but he largely kept out of view.

    Given his 2010 season, that's fairly amazing. A-Rod showed signs that he's breaking down physically and on the field. He played in 137 games, his third straight year missing more than 20 games because of injury, and posted a 123 OPS+ that was his lowest sine 1997. His defense wasn't great and his speed has clearly been compromised by the hip surgery he had in 2009.

    The only positive to the season seemed to be the way he timed it to coincide with the worst year of Derek Jeter's career. All the head scratching about that campaign obscured the fact that A-Rod has turned in two straight regular seasons of diminishing returns.

    Maybe it is just fatigue. People have been worrying about the decline phase of his career ever since A-Rod signed the mammoth contract extension in 2008 that guaranteed he'd be a Yankee until he is 42. There's only so many times you can make fun of Hank Steinbrenner and shake your head about Scott Boras's mystical powers of persuasion before it becomes tiresome.

    The other thought is that perhaps people have finally gotten realistic about Rodriguez. His 2010 season was disappointing by his standards, but it was still better than what the lion's share of baseball players turned in. A run of seasons like that won't make his salary look good in 2015, but it is a strong contribution from a player of his age.

    Either way, it's been a little too quiet around A-Rod. He's an incredibly important player for the Yankees this season and he's been pretty much an afterthought as the team prepares to break camp. So what can we expect?

    He's looked great during the exhibition season, both on the field and standing around in uniform. His hip appears to have recovered enough to give him back some explosiveness in his swing and there was an element of bad luck that helped suppress some of his offensive numbers last season. 

    There have been volumes written about players coming to spring training in the best shape of their lives before having mediocre seasons, so feel free to take it all with a sizable grain of salt. There's also a long line of suckers who expected a declining veteran to find the fountain of youth at 35 and got nothing for their faith.

    That's why we'll stop short of predicting huge things for Rodriguez this year and simply say that it wouldn't be surprising if the man who launched a million tabloid back pages didn't make himself the center of attention once again.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.