Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, who defied all expectations, in spring spotlight again

Everything A-Rod does this spring, and this season, will be examined as intensely as if he were running for president, which come to think of it, would be no surprise, either. AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

NEW YORK -- If I had told you at this time a year ago that in 2015, Alex Rodriguez would...

(A) Be cheered in Yankee Stadium on Opening Day,

(B) Earn himself serious consideration for a spot on the 2015 American League All-Star team at midseason and for MLB's Comeback Player of the Year at season's end,

(C) Get back in the good graces of new commissioner Rob Manfred, who had successfully prosecuted baseball’s PED case against him the previous winter,

(D) Emerge as a serious and responsible team spokesman,

(E) Stay healthy enough to play in 151 games,

(F) Be recognized as a knowledgeable and articulate television analyst during the World Series,


(G) Lead the New York Yankees in home runs,

… you probably would have asked about me the same question some people were asking me about A-Rod: "What is this guy on?"

What Alex Rodriguez was "on" last season -- his first full season after a 19-month absence due to his suspension in connection with the Biogenesis investigation -- was a hot streak unprecedented even by the standards of the remarkable 20 seasons that had preceded it.

Why, he even got a handshake from Yankees team president Randy Levine, a man his supporters had castigated as “the devil" during the contentious appeal of his suspension in the winter of 2013 and the man who had tried to deny the payment of A-Rod's contractually stipulated $6 million home run bonus.

Talk about leading a charmed existence.

In one sense, A-Rod’s stunning 2015 season makes it quite likely that his second season back will be a lot more difficult than his first.

After all, heading into last year’s spring training, he and Yankees GM Brian Cashman, who rarely agree on much, agreed wholeheartedly on this: Neither knew what, if anything, to expect out of a 40-year-old slugger who had not seen a live major league pitch in 19 months.

And by A-Rod’s own admission, it’s a lot easier to perform effectively when you come to work with no expectations on your shoulders and no obligation to carry a team, as he had in just about every one of those previous 20 seasons.

Heck, when he showed up in Tampa, Florida, last February, Alex Rodriguez didn’t even have a job.

In 2015, Alex Rodriguez may not have been playing with house money, but he was certainly playing with Hal’s money. And frankly, he couldn’t lose.

But with accomplishment comes expectations -- remember the great line from the old Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher Billy Loes, who once explained away his inability to win 20 games by saying, “If you do it once, they want you do to it every year" -- and as a result, this spring Alex Rodriguez not only has a job, he has a burden.

Any player who hit 33 home runs last season can be reasonably expected to approach that number again this season, even with his 41st birthday looming right around midseason.

How A-Rod handles that burden will be one of the most interesting stories of the Yankees' upcoming season.

“Going into last year, we were hoping for the best but expecting the worst," Cashman said. “What he did last year gives us reason to be optimistic, but because of his age there’s a lot of volatility in terms of performance swings."

In plain English, it is quite possible Alex Rodriguez could wake up on any given day this season and suddenly feel every day of his 41 years. Cashman acknowledged A-Rod’s production in the first half of last season, while not forgetting his late-season swoon.

“Unfortunately, like a lot of our guys, his August and September weren’t productive," said Cashman, referring to the period when A-Rod batted .192 and his home run production was cut in half, from one home run every 10 at-bats for the first four months of the season to one every 20 at-bats over the last two.

“But we had a lot of guys who fell off the cliff," said Cashman, noting that the Yankees' team batting average, which was .260 through the end of July, fell to .235 in August and September.

Taken as a whole, Alex Rodriguez’s 2015 season should serve as a reminder that nothing about this player, or this man, is easy to predict, nor does anything seem to go as expected with him.

That is why -- although Cashman says, "It's always easier to predict decline than it is to predict improvement" in an aging player -- that maxim may not apply to Alex Rodriguez.

His 2015 season was not only improbable, it would have been nearly impossible to predict based on what we had seen of him over the previous year and a half, which was precisely nothing.

By the same token, it is just as difficult to predict what we will see from him in 2016.

It would be logical, of course, to predict some degree of drop off from Alex Rodriguez this season. But then, logic and A-Rod have rarely belonged in the same sentence. He had not hit as many as 30 home runs since 2010, and in the interim had undergone knee surgery, suffered a broken hand and had major surgery to repair a torn hip labrum, the second time he had had the procedure in four years.

And oh yeah, he also had that MLB-mandated 19-month vacation.

Anyone who tells you he or she had predicted that kind of a return to form by A-Rod is either lying or crazy.

And somehow, right.

And that is why trying to predict what Alex Rodriguez will do in his second "comeback" season is a fool’s errand.

Here’s what I can tell you for (reasonably) sure: A-Rod will not bring a fielder’s glove to training camp. He once again will probably hit third, ahead of Mark Teixeira, in the Yankees' batting order, at least to start the season.

And everything he does, good or bad, will be examined as intensely as if he were running for president of the Untied States, which, come to think of it, would be no surprise, either.

By just about every possible standard, Alex Rodriguez had an outstanding 2015 season. And judging off that, you want to know what he will do in 2016?

Ask me next February.