The 2013 season for the New York Yankees has featured as many unbelievable twists as one of those over-the-top Spanish-language soap operas.
The latest update from CBS Sports' Jon Heyman concerns third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Team sources say he is "clearly well ahead of Derek [Jeter]" and making "fantastic" progress following January's hip surgery.
Remember when general manager Brian Cashman and MLB analysts worried that he might miss a full year?
Unpopular as A-Rod may be among fans (and even within the organization), it's clear that if healthy, he would infuse some life into the stagnant Yankees offense.
Since Memorial Day (per Baseball-Reference.com), the injury-depleted Bombers have been 9-14. Their brutal .584 OPS has produced fewer than three runs per game. During 10 road contests played in that span, they have combined for only four home runs.
This isn't a huge sample, but it isn't insignificant, either. Out of an 162-game schedule, 23 games is about one-seventh. Also keep in mind, Mark Teixeira and Kevin Youkilis were active for most of this recent stretch. Losing them to the disabled list (again) unfortunately opens up more opportunities for over-matched rookie David Adams and platoon man Lyle Overbay.
Back to Rodriguez. An optimistic timetable puts him in pinstripes shortly after the All-Star break. Remember, he hasn't taken a meaningful swing since mid-October, so a multi-week rehab assignment seems probable. From there, the Yankees would have about two months to get their act together.
Now, let's be clear about what the soon-to-be 38-year-old brings to the table at full strength.
He's not the impotent scrub who totaled one extra-base hit from September 15 through the postseason. Michael Eder of The Yankee Analysts provides a simple breakdown of how the hip injury affected him as the year progressed.
With that said, from 2007-2011, A-Rod was obviously declining. The steady drop in his Isolated Power affirms that he no longer has MVP-caliber offensive ability:
|Year||Isolated Power (SLG-BA)|
What can he still do? Mash left-handed pitching.
Even while less than 100 percent last summer, he batted .308/.410/.514 with the platoon advantage, launching eight home runs.
The Yankees desperately seek somebody who can produce against southpaws. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the only healthy right-handed batter on the squad with respectable numbers in such situations is Vernon Wells (.275/.316/.407, 3 HR). However, he has been ice cold since mid-May.
New York's schedule becomes especially lefty-heavy beginning August 5 with a visit to the Chicago White Sox. That series—or the following matchup in early September—could include a date with AL Cy Young Award contender Chris Sale. The franchise faces the Boston Red Sox nine times down the stretch, which should make it impossible to avoid Jon Lester and Andrew Miller, both of whom have had surprising success versus right-handed opposition. The Tampa Bay Rays (David Price) and San Francisco Giants (Madison Bumgarner) would also pose serious problems to a Rodriguez-less lineup.
Even when A-Rod is slumping, he still contributes with lengthy plate appearances. Throughout a two-decade career, he has consistently seen more pitches than the league average, per Baseball-Reference.com. Compare that to the 26-year-old Adams, who as of June 21, still hasn't drawn a walk in the majors (83 PA).
Manager Joe Girardi would stick Rodriguez somewhere between the second and fifth spots of the batting order.
On this team, he's probably the No. 2 guy. Even if A-Rod fails to slug, he'll be getting on base more than Jayson Nix has been. Putting him second would split up the left-handed bats of Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano.
Assuming Gardner eventually snaps out of his year-long baserunning funk, that opens up all sorts of intriguing possibilities. He has the speed to break up tailor-made double plays or to score from first on line drives into the gaps. When he's right, A-Rod tends to use all fields.
The elephant in the room, of course, is MLB's ongoing investigation into Tony Bosch and the Biogenesis of America PED scandal. A-Rod's name is "prominent in the alleged notebooks," Jon Heyman reports. With investigators "convinced there will be at least some suspensions handed down," it's possible that he'll be disciplined before getting the chance to help the Yankees.
It would be unsurprising yet honestly disappointing if Girardi was denied the option of utilizing A-Rod and his transformative potential.