NEW YORK -- When Alex Rodriguez returns to the Yankees next year, he will not be guaranteed the starting job at third base.
"We have to see where he is at," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Monday during his end-of-season news conference. "I think that is the thing that we have to do. I believe he is going to be 40 next summer, and we need to see where he is physically at."
Rodriguez, who will turn 40 next July, will be removed from the restricted list at the end of the World Series. During his yearlong suspension for his connection to the Biogenesis drug scandal, Rodriguez could have been with the Yankees, but all parties agreed to keep a distance after the contentious legal fight. Girardi said he has kept in touch with him all year, mostly by text.
Rodriguez has three years and $61 million left on his contract. If he hits six more home runs, he will tie Willie Mays for fourth on baseball's all-time list with 660 and trigger a $6 million bonus.
But his playing time will be based on his ability. Girardi has already shown a firm hand with Rodriguez, pinch-hitting for him and benching him during the 2012 playoffs.
"Do we expect him to be a player on our team? Absolutely," Girardi said. "Do we expect him to play third base? Yes, [but] in fairness we have to see where he is at."
Girardi said the Yankees have not talked about the possibility of Rodriguez seeing time at first base as possible insurance behind Mark Teixeira. When asked specifically whether Rodriguez could be a backup, Girardi said he couldn't say what would happen before adding he "expects him to be our third baseman."
With Derek Jeter retired, Girardi knows that Rodriguez will be a focus both locally and nationally.
"I think our players will handle it fine," Girardi said. "The first couple of days of spring training, there will be more attention, and that will die down. That will die down. Something else will happen in sports that will help it die down. That's the nature of sports, too. Something is going to happen so the focus will be off of him again.
"I have a good relationship with Alex. You know that our teammates enjoy Alex. His presence in the clubhouse, the way he likes to teach the game and talk about the game, I don't think that will be an issue. Will he have to deal with some angry fans? Yeah, but we'll help him get through that. When was the last time Alex hasn't had to deal with that? So it is not like it is something he is not used to. Sometimes players strive on that. So maybe it will help him."
Not only is Rodriguez returning from his yearlong timeout, but he was limited to just 44 games in 2013 because of a second hip surgery. From 2011 through 2013, Rodriguez averaged only 88 games a season, averaging 14 homers, 46 RBIs and a .269 batting average.
Looking on the bright side, during the final question of his news conference, Girardi even joked that a guy like Masahiro Tanaka might not have to deal with as big a spotlight next spring.
"There might be someone who draws some of the attention away for a while," Girardi said.