Yankees' Backup Plans If Alex Rodriguez Never Returns at All in 2013

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Yankees' Backup Plans If Alex Rodriguez Never Returns at All in 2013
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The New York Yankees are hoping that Alex Rodriguez will return from hip surgery in 2013, but the latest news suggests they should prepare for the possibility that he won't play again until 2014.

According to Wallace Matthews of ESPNNewYork.com, the doctor who will be performing surgery on A-Rod's wounded left hip next week said in a conference call with reporters that the extent of the damage isn't yet fully known. He won't know until Rodriguez is on the operating table, and he cautioned that the surgery will be "very technically challenging." 

As for A-Rod's recovery, Dr. Bryan Kelly said, "Optimistically, he should come back after the All-Star break." He did, however, acknowledge that Rodriguez's recovery could take longer.

This opens up the possibility that A-Rod may not be ready to return after the All-Star break. If his recovery hits enough bumps in the road, it's possible that he may not return at all in 2013.

If that ends up being the case, the Yankees will have to consider their options for third base both in the short- and long-term.

And they are...

 

Take It as It Comes in 2013, Then Re-Sign Kevin Youkilis

The Yankees have already acquired an insurance policy for A-Rod in 2013, signing former Boston Red Sox nemesis Kevin Youkilis to a one-year contract in December.

The idea is for Youkilis to play third base at least until A-Rod gets back. The hope for Youkilis, meanwhile, is that he still has something left in the tank after two straight trying seasons.

Youk's OPS declined from .933 in 2010 to .833 in 2011, and again to .745 in 2012. He can still grind out at-bats, but he's hit only .246 over the last two seasons and he's lost a fair amount of his power.

USA TODAY Sports
Youk showed plenty of signs of life after leaving Boston in 2012.

However, there's some hope for the Yankees that Youkilis, who will be 34 on Opening Day, will turn back the clock. He performed significantly better in his 80 games with the Chicago White Sox than he did in his 42 games with the Red Sox in 2012. He gave the White Sox a .771 OPS and 15 home runs, and the Yankees will take that kind of production over a full season.

If the Yankees' luck pans out, Youk will indeed give them a full season's worth of production. And if he does, the Yankees may keep A-Rod off the field for good even if he does recover, with the idea being that a full year off could help him in the long run.

If Youk were to perform well in 2013, the Yankees could choose to reward him by re-upping with him for 2014 and maybe 2015 as well. Youkilis isn't getting any younger, to be sure, but neither is Ichiro Suzuki and the Yankees were willing to give him a two-year deal.

If the Yankees were to re-sign Youkilis after 2013, they could once again station him at the hot corner, with A-Rod returning to a role as a full-time DH. Even if he does get a year off in 2013, that's the best place for him now anyway.

It's either this, or the Yankees could wave goodbye to Youk and take their chances with Rodriguez in 2014 and beyond.

 

Let Youkilis Go After 2013 and Hope for the Best with A-Rod

The Yankees would not have gone after Youkilis if A-Rod's hip problem hadn't come to light. In fact, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman insisted in October that A-Rod was still a capable player.

"Do I expect him to return to the MVP-caliber type Alex Rodriguez? No," Cashman said, via ESPNNewYork.com. "Obviously you decline with age, and he's getting up there in his age... But despite the age where he's at, he's still an above-average player at [third base]."

I'm assuming the Yankees have their doubts now, but there's a chance that their doubts will disappear in 2013 if A-Rod comes back and plays better than expected. If he does, the Yankees will surely feel very comfortable moving forward with him as their everyday third baseman in 2014.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
A-Rod had a solid .806 OPS before he broke his hand in 2012.

The Yankees may feel comfortable moving forward with Rodriguez in 2014 even if he doesn't return in 2013. They could trust that a full year off in 2013 was indeed exactly what A-Rod needed, and their decision would also be motivated by economics as well. They'll be paying A-Rod $26 million in 2014, so they may as well stick with him

That would be a roll of the dice, however, and likely an ill-fated one. Moving forward with A-Rod at third base in 2014 would require the Yankees to trust A-Rod's health, which is a bad idea, and his ability to be productive over a full season, which is another bad idea.

The Yankees could realize this, and they could also realize that they'd be pushing their luck trusting Youkilis to handle third base again at his advanced age.

If so, they'll pursue other options.

 

Sign a Free Agent to be a Multi-Year Solution

If it's not A-Rod or Youk at the hot corner in 2014, it will have to be someone else. And if it is someone else, the Yankees would likely aim for a younger player who could step in and be more than a mere temporary solution.

The list of free-agent third basemen the Yankees could target next winter won't feature any stars. There will, however, be some solid players they could pursue for a multi-year deal.

Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Prado will only be 30 years old next winter.

One would be Martin Prado. He's served primarily as a utility man for the Atlanta Braves during his career, but he's performed well at third base in limited time there. Per FanGraphs, Prado has a 4.1 UZR/150 and 23 Defensive Runs Saved at third base for his career.

Prado can also hit. He's hit over .300 and posted an OPS in the .800 neighborhood in three of the last four seasons. In 2012, he hit 10 homers and stole a career-high 17 bases.

Though he's made the transition across the diamond to first base, Mark Reynolds would be another option if the Yankees were to prefer to add some power to their lineup. Reynolds has that in spades.

Alberto Callaspo would be the super-cheap option for the Yankees. He's an above-average defensive third baseman, and he's occasionally an above-average offensive producer. 

The Yankees wouldn't necessarily have to go after Callaspo just because he would be the cheapest of their options. It feels like they don't want to spend money—especially if it means giving out multi-year deals—with their payroll set to come down below $189 million in 2014, but they'll be able to spend some money next winter if they want to.

Between impending free agents like Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Phil Hughes, the Yankees have a ton of money set to come off the books next winter. They won't go on a free-agent spending spree, but spending some money to shore up the hot corner won't crush their plans entirely.

If they don't like what the free-agent market will have to offer next offseason, the Yankees could always turn to the trade market for a solution.

 

Trade for a Long-Term Solution

If the Yankees decide they need to acquire a star to take over for their fallen star at third base, the trade market is where they'll turn.

The one name that stands out is that of San Diego Padres third baseman Chase Headley, who hit a career-high 31 homers in 2012 despite playing half his games at Petco Park.

ESPN's Buster Olney reported in July that the Yankees were considering making a run at Headley at the trade deadline, so we know they've already toyed with the idea of trading for him. The Padres are saying that they won't move Headley, but they may be swayed to change their minds in the future.

Denis Poroy/Getty Images
If the Yankees want Headley, they can get in line.

Headley certainly looks like a franchise player, but that's a complicated reality for the Padres. Headley is due a big raise in arbitration this winter, and he'll be due another raise next year if his 2013 season is anything like his 2012 season.

If the Padres don't make any progress in 2013, they'll have to consider saving themselves some coin by trading Headley, who will be a free agent in 2015. The Yankees will be an interested party if Headley finds his way to the trade block, and they could be willing to part with some of their top youngsters—such as Mason Williams, Gary Sanchez and/or Tyler Austin—in a deal for him.

If the Yankees were to pull off a deal for Headley, they'd surely look to lock him up to an extension. If said extension were to kick in after the 2014 season, Headley's last of arbitration-eligibility, the Yankees' plans for their payroll in 2014 would not be compromised.

Other third basemen the Yankees could target in a trade besides Headley are Mike Moustakas of the Kansas City Royals, Kyle Seager of the Seattle Mariners or Pedro Alvarez of the Pittsburgh Pirates, to name a few.

It was a trade that first brought A-Rod to the Bronx. Perhaps his successor will come via a trade as well.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Salary and payroll information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.


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