Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The exile is almost over.
Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who has been away from the team all season while rehabbing from left hip labrum surgery, has been cleared to play in minor league rehab games starting July 1.
Ironically, his progress has him on track to return to the Yankees ahead of Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson, all of whom most Yankees fans would rather see back before A-Rod.
You'll be hard pressed to find many people who have been patiently waiting for Rodriguez' return. Life without him in Yankeeland has been serene, peaceful and drama-free, as Rodriguez has dealt with both his rehab and issues stemming from his connection to the PED-peddling Biogenesis Clinic far away from the Bronx.
But whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the Yankees desperately need the former superstar to return to the lineup. They are 41-34 and 2 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East, but they also are one of five AL teams with a negative run differential. In fact, the formerly potent Yankees rank 22nd in baseball in runs scored.
Fantasy owners also seemingly have forgotten about Rodriguez -- he's owned in just 12 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
The third baseman has noticeably declined over the last three years and many fantasy leagues only have one disabled list spot, so it's not hard to see why A-Rod is hardly owned.
However, he's someone owners should begin considering soon, mainly because there just aren't many sure things at third base.
After the "Big Five" of Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Encarnacion, Evan Longoria, David Wright and Adrian Beltre, you are left with plenty of unknowns.
Manny Machado, Matt Carpenter and Josh Donaldson have had fantastic seasons, but they have to prove they can maintain their pace over a full year.
And Mark Trumbo's power is certainly real, but he experienced a massive dropoff after the All-Star break last season after having a big first half.
Mark Reynolds and Pedro Alvarez are going to have a difficult time keeping their batting average above .230.
And Kyle Seager, Ryan Zimmerman and Pablo Sandoval have all put up similar stats this season, but aren't doing anything that A-Rod can't match or outproduce.
Even though he's no longer the 40-homer threat he once was, Rodriguez was still a solid fantasy option in 122 games last season. He had 18 homers, 57 RBI, 74 runs and 13 steals to go with a .272 average and a .783 OPS.
A-Rod had the same surgery on his right hip labrum in 2009 and hit .286 with 30 homers, 100 RBI, 74 runs, 14 steals and a .933 OPS in 124 games after returning to action in May.
If Rodriguez returns immediately following the All-Star break, he'll have 67 games to make an impact. There's no guarantee he'll come through or avoid a suspension from the Biogenesis fallout, but we're talking about a low-risk, high-reward decision. That's unlike Rodriguez' high-risk, high-reward decision to allegedly buy performance-enhancing drugs from Tony Bosch. There's no way adding A-Rod will work out as poorly for fantasy owners as getting involved with Bosch did for Rodriguez.
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