Yanks can’t afford to wait on A-Rod

During the general managers’ meetings last month, Brian Cashman was asked about his plans for a player recovering from surgery.

"In fairness to him and the significant injury he had, we’re going to put him off to the side,” the Yankees GM said of starting pitcher Michael Pineda, who is coming off shoulder surgery. “His rehab will take him into late May, June. It’s best for us to pretend he’s not even there and then have him sneak up on us. And I hope he does. But I’m not going to count on him. I don’t think that’s going to be fair.

"Our fans need us to put something there you feel good about. I don’t want to put something there to take care of April and May, and then lock in, ‘June on, we’re going to have this guy.’ That would be a mistake.”

So, do the Yankees need to plan for life without Alex Rodriguez?

The answer is yes.

Baseball’s winter meetings witnessed a first-inning shocker Monday morning in the form of a New York Post report that A-Rod is expected to undergo surgery on his left hip. A source later confirmed to our Ken Rosenthal that Rodriguez’s recovery is likely to take from three to six months, which puts him on a timetable comparable to Pineda.

The Yankees announced the news later Monday, saying Rodriguez would have a left hip arthroscopy to repair a torn labrum, bone impingement and the correction of a cyst after the problems turned up in his annual team physical in November.

And Cashman should approach Rodriguez’s place on the team in exactly the same way: Forget about the 647 home runs. Forget about the five years and $118 million left on his contract. A-Rod is 37 years old, coming off two middling seasons and headed for hip surgery. The mighty, win-now Yankees have no choice but to plan for a future without him.

San Diego’s Chase Headley would be a nice place to start.

Before Yankees haters howl at this latest instance of the Bronx Assumption — if a small-market team has a talented player, he shall be traded to the Yankees — keep in mind that the Padres would be dealing from a position of strength, not weakness. San Diego GM Josh Byrnes doesn’t have to trade Headley, who has two more years before he can become a free agent.

Instead, Byrnes would be selling high and taking advantage of the Yankees’ precarious position. Headley is coming off a career year in which he led the National League with 115 RBI and took home the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger at third base. His value has never been higher.

Trading Headley would not be the same capitulation that dealing hometown favorite Adrian Gonzalez was two years ago. In prospect Jedd Gyorko, the Padres have a major-league-ready third baseman who posted huge offensive numbers in the minors this year.

What would be a fair return for Headley? Well, the Padres need starting pitchers and might be intrigued by a package built around Phil Hughes or David Phelps. Yes, the Yankees would be reluctant to part with their own starters, for obvious reasons. But they could sign a comparable arm, such as Edwin Jackson. There are more starting pitchers than third basemen available via free agency, so it would make sense for the Yankees to obtain the scarcer commodity in a trade.

But this is about A-Rod himself, as much as it is Headley or the overriding market dynamics. A-Rod’s OPS has declined in each of the past five seasons. He has missed more than 100 games combined in the past two years. He used steroids in the past, and now his body appears to be breaking down.

If Cashman can’t count on a 23-year-old pitcher coming off surgery, then he most certainly shouldn’t rely on a 37-year-old whose baseball shape has deteriorated in recent years.

Cashman said it himself: “Our fans need us to put something there you feel good about.”

At this moment, how do those fans feel about Alex Rodriguez as their third baseman . . . for the next five years?