The days when Alex Rodriguez could single-handedly put a team on his back are over. After two hip surgeries sandwiched between two steroid controversies, A-Rod is no longer the player he used to be.
Yankee fans may cringe at the thought of their season depending on a fallen star coming off of major hip surgery, but that is the situation they are in now. It seems like it doesn't make sense, but here's why the Yankees will miss A-Rod more than people think.
He's Their Best Option
What A-Rod went through last postseason was downright unfair.
Not only were the Yankees postseason woes blamed mostly on him (Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Nick Swisher and others were just as bad if not worse than A-Rod), but he was publicly humiliated time after time by Joe Girardi.
And for the record, the player Girardi replaced A-Rod with (Eric Chavez) went 0-16 in the postseason with eight strikeouts. At least A-Rod had three hits, albeit in 25 at-bats, although he did draw two walks!
I'm not defending A-Rod's downright pathetic 2012 postseason. He was awful, yet even then he was still the Yankees' best option at third, just like he is now.
Eric Chavez is gone after his surprising 2012, and Kevin Youkilis was signed to replace him to the chagrin of Yankee fans everywhere. Besides making some questionable comments during his first week on the job, Youkilis is just as washed up as A-Rod.
After feuding in Boston with Bobby Valentine, Youkilis was traded to the White Sox where he continued his poor 2012, finishing with a .236 batting average, 19 home runs and 60 RBI. Defenders of Youkilis may say 2012 was only a bad year, but it was his second year in a row hitting under .260 with less than 20 home runs. Youkilis is on the wrong side of 30 with two poor years behind him, which is not a good sign for his future prospects.
The Yankees' other option at third is utility man Eduardo Nunez. Nunez is not nearly the player A-Rod is at the plate, and certainly not in the field. While A-Rod has lost a few steps with age, he is still a much better defender than the shaky-gloved Nunez. In nine games at third in 2012, Nunez made two errors (A-Rod had eight in 81 games) and had an Ultimate Zone Rating/150 of -24.7. Here's a comparison of the two. Some may not want to judge Nunez over nine games in 2012, but he's actually been worse at third over his whole career.
Both of A-Rod's replacement options come with just as many question marks as Nunez. Rodriguez also provides something neither of the two do...
They'll Miss his Presence in the Lineup
The most important quality that Alex Rodriguez provides at this point in his career is his reputation. His skills may be diminished, but he is still able to strike fear in opposing pitchers.
For all the talk of A-Rod's decline, he has still posted the ninth-best WAR among third basemen over the past three years (and he's even missed 128 games over that time span!). While that doesn't live up to his contract as the highest-paid third baseman, he remains a top-ten third baseman when playing. Youkilis is one spot behind A-Rod on that list, but over the past two years, A-Rod has been worth nearly a win and a half more than Youkilis despite missing 103 games.
A-Rod has used his reputation to get on base, even as his power has disappeared. He hasn't posted an on-base-percentage of less than .340 during any full season in his career and still got on base at a respectable clip of .353 last season. His holes were exposed during the latter half of 2012, and he will take some time to recover once he gets back, but even in a down year last year, his stats suggest pitchers remain fearful to throw him strikes.
Having A-Rod in the lineup gives the Yankees a bona fide middle-of-the-order hitter. He is no longer a number three or four hitter, but if Girardi hits him fifth in the lineup, the Yankees will have a dangerous lineup. Think of it: Gardner leading off, Jeter second, Cano third, Texeira clean-up, followed by A-Rod then Granderson. That is a solid one through six.
I feel a lot better writing A-Rod in that lineup than Youkilis, even in A-Rod's current state. He's no longer a game-changer, but in the back of your mind, you still know A-Rod has the potential to be one. The hope of that outweighs seeing Kevin Youkilis or Eduardo Nunez due up with the game on the line.
As a fan I'd feel a lot more comfortable with A-Rod up than Youkilis or Nunez, and as a pitcher I'd much rather face the latter two than the three-time MVP. That feeling of discomfort will be something the Yankees will sorely miss with A-Rod on the shelf.