NEW YORK - Alex Rodriguez feels singled out - by Major League Baseball in its drug investigation and by his New York Yankees.
"There are a lot of layers," he said after homering Friday night for the Double-A Trenton Thunder in his return from a leg injury. "I will say this: There is more than one party that benefits from me not ever stepping back on the field. And that's not my teammates and it's not the Yankee fans."
With a lengthy suspension looming, the New York Yankees star hit a two-run homer to left in the third inning of a 6-2 win over the Reading Fightin Phils.
Rodriguez is among 14 players facing discipline in MLB's Biogenesis drug investigation, and suspensions are expected on Monday. While others are expected to receive 50-game bans, Rodriguez's penalty figures to be far harsher - perhaps through the 2014 season or even a lifetime ban.
"I think it is pretty self-explanatory. I think that is the pink elephant in the room," he said. "I think we all agree that we want to get rid of PEDs. That's a must. I think all the players, we feel that way. But when all this stuff is going on in the background and people are finding creative ways to cancel your contract and stuff like that, I think that's concerning for me, it's concerning for present - and I think it should be concerning for future players, as well."
Coming back from hip surgery and a quadriceps injury, A-Rod hopes to rejoin the Yankees for Monday's series opener at the Chicago White Sox, what would be his first time back in the major leagues since last October.
"I think it's possible," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said in San Diego.
Rodriguez is counting on it.
"Unless I get hit by lightning, and these days you never know," he said.
"I am mentally prepared to play for five more years," he said, later adding, "It's not time for me to hang it up. I have a lot more fight in me."
But he might not get back to the Yankees any time soon because of his alleged connection to the closed anti-aging clinic that's been accused of distributing banned performance-enhancing drugs. All-Stars Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta of Detroit and Everth Cabrera of San Diego also may be disciplined.
Cruz hit a tying, two-run homer Friday in Texas' 8-3 win at Oakland.
"It's still hard to deal with it," he said. "You have to be able to separate it."
Many are expected to follow the example set by Milwaukee's Ryan Braun last month and accept penalties without a challenge before an arbitrator. First-time offenders who challenge suspensions can continue to play until their appeals are decided.
"Let's just get it over with," Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
The Yankees expect A-Rod to be accused of recruiting other athletes for the clinic, attempting to obstruct MLB's investigation, and not being truthful with MLB in the past.
Baseball has been attempting to gain a suspension through at least 2014 and has threatened a possible lifetime ban. Negotiations over Rodriguez's penalty are likely to go through the weekend, with the 38-year-old resisting such a lengthy stretch on the sidelines.
He seems to think the Yankees are trying to keep him off the field. While he remains on the disabled list, New York is reimbursed for his $28 million salary by insurance.
Rodriguez seemed to be on the verge of rejoining the Yankees before the leg injury last month. New York assigned him to Trenton for two games and has not said where he'll go afterward.
It is not clear whether Commissioner Bud Selig would attempt to use provisions of baseball's labor contract to prevent Rodriguez from playing until arbitrator Fredric Horowitz rules on an appeal.
Lawyers from management and the union plus attorneys for individual players spent Friday working their way through the many issues resulting from mass suspensions.
For instance: Will there be different treatment for minor leaguers depending whether they are on 40-man rosters.
Under the drug rules, 40-man roster players serving a 50-game suspension would have major league games in September count as time served after the minor league seasons end. Seattle catcher Jesus Montero, Mets outfielder Cesar Puello and Baltimore third baseman Danny Valencia might be in that group.
But that time wouldn't count for players not on 40-man rosters, whose suspensions would spill into 2014. Yankees outfielder Fernando Martinez could be in that category.
For many players, the damage to their images already has been inflicted. Rodriguez has faced fan taunting since 2009, when he said he used PEDs while with Texas from 2001-03.
Nike Inc. confirmed Friday that it no longer has a relationship with Braun, the 2011 NL MVP who accepted a 65-game suspension last month that ended the Milwaukee outfielder's season.