TAMPA, Fla. - Alex Rodriguez is owed $61 million over the next three years.
What he isn't owed is playing time.
"He's on our roster but I think you have to prove yourself in a sense for playing time and how you fit in because we really haven't seen him play in two years," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Friday during his spring training kick-off press conference. "We don't know exactly where he's at so that's something he has to prove and earn."
The Yankees have made clear Chase Headley was signed to a four-year, $52-million contract over the winter to be the club's everyday third baseman, though Rodriguez has told confidants he intends to compete for the job.
But as of now, the plan is for the 39-year-old Rodriguez, coming off a season-long suspension for his PED use and his involvement in Biogenesis, to compete for at-bats at designated hitter. And, perhaps, some work at first base as a potential option for Mark Teixeira, who has seen his share of injuries crop up in recent years.
"That will be a conversation I'll have when he gets here," said Girardi, who discussed that possibility with A-Rod last October. "I can have the conversation over the phone but I can't see his face and his reaction. Everything he's said, he's willing to do anything to help us, and that's what you want from your players."
Indeed, it will likely be an odd feeling for Rodriguez, who hasn't come to spring training needing to earn playing time since his rookie year with the Mariners.
Girardi didn't sound much of a sympathetic tone in discussing it, nor anything else A-Rod-related.
"As an older player I think you have to embrace the challenge to prove to everyone that you can still play," Girardi said. "For him, he's going to have to embrace it."
Girardi did say, because of the amount of time Rodriguez has had off, he won't make many determinations based on early results.
"I think it will take him a good part of spring training just to get his timing down," Girardi said. "Sometimes older players, it takes a little bit longer to get going ... Will it come to the point where we're going to have to send him [to minor league camp] to get eight at-bats one day to catch him up? Maybe."
Girardi was at his most blunt discussing the "distraction" concern, especially given the new faces - and there are plenty - in camp.
"They're going to get baptized very quickly," Girardi said. "And the one thing that you need to have as a New York Yankee player is a thick skin. I think the one thing you have to have as a champion is thick skin. If you're with the New York Yankees, you need to learn to deal with situations like this because it's going to happen."
He even added the Big Top A-Rod Circus could help bond the team.
"One of the things that can really happen with a team when you go through something like we're going to go through in the next five or six days, you can really come together," Girardi said.
The manager said it would be "strange" not seeing the retired Derek Jeter when position players report next Wednesday. Girardi has a lot more on his plate than just A-Rod, though, such as the health of Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, figuring out roles for what looks to be a strong bullpen and banking on bounce-back years from veterans such as Carlos Beltran and Teixeira, just to name a few. But he's excited for the challenge.
"I think this team has a chance to be really good," Girardi said, later noting the relatively low expectations set elsewhere for his club. "Inside that clubhouse the expectations are to be the best we can be and to win a World Series. That's what we come to camp for, that's why you work all offseason. If that's not what you're working for, you don't belong here. You don't belong in the game in a sense."