That time has come, and the clock is officially ticking.
After the conclusion of the World Series, which will play on without the Yankees for the fourth year in a row, Rodriguez has 10 days to inform the team whether he's going to opt out of his current deal or not. The favorite for this season's American League Most Valuable Player Award would easily be the top name in the free-agent class.
Should Rodriguez choose to remain in New York, he would command a $27 million salary for the 2008 season. With uber-agent Scott Boras heading the negotiation for Rodriguez, there's a chance the Yankees may not know A-Rod's decision until the last possible minute. It's been speculated that the third baseman could make at least $30 million per year on the open market -- reason enough to consider testing the waters.
"The first step in the process is that I have to sit down with ownership," said Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who acquired Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers in February 2004. "I can't go through hypotheticals, or how or when. Today, we lost. We got knocked out by the Cleveland Indians. We've got to start focusing on '08.
"All of those discussions about next season, unfortunately, we're going to have to focus on sooner than we would have. That's as much as I can say, because I have nothing more to add about who's coming back and what free agents [will be pursued]. We haven't started those conversations."
One upcoming conversation that could potentially help convince Rodriguez to remain in the Bronx is the Yankees' pending talks with manager Joe Torre. When New York trailed Cleveland, 2-0, in the Division Series, principal owner George Steinbrenner indicated that Torre's job was on the line if the Yankees didn't escape the first round.
After the Yankees absorbed a 6-4 loss on Monday night, the Indians advanced to the AL Championship Series to face the Red Sox -- New York's bitter rival. Rodriguez, who hit .314 with 54 home runs and 156 RBIs this season, said that Torre's status with the club would definitely play a role in his decision.
"There will be a lot of factors -- that will certainly be one," Rodriguez said. "Torre and I, we've had a funny relationship for four years. It's definitely come full circle, and I have the utmost respect for that man in there. I feel disappointed, because I feel like we let him down, as well as the city of New York.
"It takes time to get to know people," he continued. "For me, this year, I think we really got to understand each other and he really made it easy for me and very comfortable for me to play. I know this 25-man roster feels very disappointed right now.
"What he's been able to do here for the last 12 years is remarkable. He's a Hall of Fame manager, and I wish Joe the best. I wish things work out for him."
On Monday, Rodriguez went 2-for-4 with a seventh-inning solo home run -- a mammoth blast off Indians reliever Rafael Perez that crashed over the wall near Monument Park in left-center field. It could very well be his last long ball as a member of the Yankees. But it was too little, too late in the decisive defeat, leaving New York without a World Series ring for a seventh straight season.
The 32-year-old Rodriguez has faced extreme criticism for his shortcomings in postseason play since suiting up for New York. Rodriguez's homer against the Tribe marked the first time he drove in a run in the playoffs since Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS against the Red Sox. In the 12 games between, Rodriguez hit a paltry .118 with no RBIs in 51 at-bats.
"The reason I came to New York first and foremost was to help this team win a championship," said Rodriguez, who signed a 10-year deal worth $252 million with Texas prior to the 2001 season. "I must say I have failed at that, as one of the leaders of this team. So, whatever blame you guys want to put on me is fair."
Never mind that Rodriguez has launched 173 home runs in his four seasons with the Yankees, or has 518 career blasts to his credit -- he understands that no World Series titles over that span is what fans remember most. Still, Rodriguez took time during his emotional interview to apologize to the Yankees faithful.
"I'm very appreciative for the way they've been to me this year," he said. "They've elevated my game to the best season of my career, and this is my 13th year. I give them a lot of that credit, because they love baseball and they know baseball. Right now, I'm sorry I let them down.
"Without a championship, everything else is just numbers."
Now, the only numbers that will come into play are the ones that consume the language in Rodriguez's monstrous contract. While he tiptoed around that topic on Monday night, the next month will reveal his intentions.
"I've really enjoyed my teammates," Rodriguez said, "and I've enjoyed playing and growing, even as a human being and as a baseball player, in New York. It's been a tough ladder for me, and I've learned some things this year as a player in this clubhouse.
"For that, I'm most proud. It's too bad it has to end like this."