Alex Rodriguez will undergo surgery on his left hip on Jan. 16, and the surgeon who will perform the operation said, "Optimistically, he should come back after the All-Star break."
But Dr. Bryan Kelly, who will perform the operation at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, acknowledged that Rodriguez's recovery could take longer and that the extent of the damage to the third baseman's hip will not be fully known until he is on the operating table.
"The big question is, how much cartilage damage is there, and how much unfixable damage is there?" Kelly said Tuesday on a conference call with New York Yankees beat writers.
That question casts some doubt on Rodriguez's ability to come back to play at a high level this season, as did Kelly's description of the two-hour surgery, which he called "very technically challenging."
Kelly said the surgery, an arthroscopic procedure, involves making three small incisions in Rodriguez's hip, penetrating three layers of muscle, inserting a camera to assess the damage, implanting an anchor in the top of the hip and reattaching the torn labrum to it, reshaping the femoral head of the hip to provide greater range of motion, and finally, repairing as much of the cartilage damage as possible.
"We can definitely fix two of the three problems, the impingement and the labrum," he said. "But the cartilage is a permanent injury, and we won't know how extensive it is until we get in there."
Kelly said his examination revealed "some cartilage wear, but the computer imaging that we use doesn't give us all the information."
It is that unknown factor that makes the prospects for Rodriguez's recovery and return uncertain, and Kelly declined to put a percentage upon the 14-time All-Star's chances for a full recovery.
"The threshold isn't well-defined, but one thing is certain," he said. "The less permanent damage to the cartilage, the greater the possibility of returning to the previous level of play."
In October, Rodriguez went for an examination on his right hip -- the one that had been surgically repaired before the 2009 season -- after a horrendous postseason in which he went 5-for-43 (.116), struck out 18 times and suffered the humiliation of being pinch hit for three times and benched for two elimination games.
The examination showed his surgically repaired hip was OK, but Rodriguez was suffering from a torn labrum in his left hip -- the same injury he had in his right hip -- along with other damage.
Kelly said his examination revealed a genetic anomaly of Rodriguez's hip joint that caused an impingement and restricted his range of motion, as well as cartilage damage from years of repetitive motion. He said the injury was not related to Rodriguez's admitted use of performance-enhancing drugs earlier in his career.
"This isn't a drug-induced problem. This is a developmental problem," Kelly said. "His hip was formed like that from the age of 15. So this has nothing to do with performance-enhancing drugs."
Kelly said the delay before performing surgery was "the best strategy to get someone back to full function the fastest," and outlined a six- to 12-week healing period and at least three months before any strengthening work can begin.
Kelly also said Rodriguez's recovery would be complicated by several factors -- his age (he will be 38 in July), the amount of cartilage damage, and the fact that he already has had one hip surgery and that the repaired hip will have to bear more weight than usual.
"The biggest obstacle that I see is that we really have to manage a lot of issues," Kelly said. "I like to tell people six months is a reasonable time frame for return to play. It would be great if he returns faster. But it's possible it will take longer."