The New York Yankees seem to be softening their stance on Alex Rodriguez these days — just a little.
With the reality of A-Rod's 162-game suspension ending after this season finally setting in, Hal Steinbrenner said for the first time that the Yankees fully expect him back in uniform for 2015.
"That's what he's planning for,'' Steinbrenner said. "And that's what we're planning for.''
Rodriguez, who turns 40 next July, is owed $61 million by the team over the next three seasons. He has struggled to stay on the field in recent seasons due to hip injuries.
Steinbrenner, who was in Baltimore for the quarterly owners' meetings, took a few minutes to discuss his struggling Yankees and the future of A-Rod, who is serving his Biogenesis-related suspension.
Although Steinbrenner said he has not spoken to Rodriguez, he did hear a positive report from the owner's brother-in-law, Felix Lopez, a Yankees executive who bumped into A-Rod in New York recently.
"He says he looks good,'' Steinbrenner said. "He's fit. Alex is a hard worker. Alex will be ready. And we'll just have to go from there. See how he does. See how he responds to playing every day in spring training.
"Point is, he's in good shape. And that's not surprising.''
And, from Steinbrenner's perspective, having the pariah back in pinstripes might not be such a bad thing right now.
After watching the team's playoff hopes hang by a thread and given his disappointment with this season's underperforming and very expensive roster, even a substandard A-Rod in the lineup must look pretty good to George's son at the moment.
"The offense has been a bit frustrating,'' he said. "They've been inconsistent. They know that. That's got to change — quickly. But having said all that, we're there. As we were last year at this time. The question is where are we in a month? It's up to them.''
He also left open the possibility that the team's finish could determine the fate of Brian Cashman, whose contract is up at the end of this season. Not counting the 1994 strike season, the Yankees haven't missed the playoffs in consecutive years since 1993, and Steinbrenner spent nearly $500 million to make sure it didn't happen again.
He was asked if he had made any decisions yet regarding the general manager.
"No,'' Steinbrenner said. "We're so busy right now trying to figure out who's going to be playing in any given game. We'll be talking about that soon enough. But you know me, we have enough things to worry about during the season. That's where our focus needs to be.''
And Cashman's fate?
"Let me get to October,'' Steinbrenner said. "Hopefully, the end of October, the beginning of November, and we'll go from there.''
Hal is suddenly sounding more like his late dad these days.