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March 6, 2009
There's a Breach
Short of finding termites in their new ballpark, the Yankees got about the worst news possible on Thursday. Alex Rodriguez has a torn labrum in his right hip, and he could be out for up to four months. There is considerable doubt about what will happen in the short term, with surgery initially being reported as already calendared for Monday, and the Yankees following up later in the day by saying that surgery was potentially avoidable. As Will Carroll points out, it's possible that Rodriguez will respond to the aspiration of the cyst caused by the tear and be back in the field in a month. He could also require surgery that would cost him the better part of the season.
If Rodriguez has to miss any time, the Yankees are in bad shape. As with the Jorge Posada injury last year, the team is left without any kind of capable backup. You could argue that Posada's shoulder injury, which forced Jose Molina to take on the bulk of the catching duties and cost the team 40 to 50 runs, was the difference between making the postseason, and not. Once again, the Yankees have no major league backup. Of the players in camp, Eric Duncan and Cody Ransom have third base on their resumes, but neither can carry the position. Kevin Goldstein is particularly unimpressed by the prospect: "In 64 games at third base last year, Duncan had more errors (11) than double plays (eight), and hit just .233/.295/.366." Ransom has an acceptable .251/.348/.432 line in scattered MLB playing time; in his minor league career, he's played in 222 games at third base with a .959 fielding percentage and a 27/22 DP/E ratio. That's not encouraging.
Looking outside the organization is a better option, but the Yankees are limited by the uncertainty over how long Rodriguez will be out. A team already stuffed to the gills with corner players can't easily bring in a third baseman in trade, someone like Garret Atkins or Adrian Beltre, and be left with no place to play him come June. On the discard pile you have Esteban German, who was designated for assignment by the Royals last week. Jay Jaffe scanned a list of players who were out of options and found Dallas McPherson and Jeff Baker, both of whom could be a short-term patch. The recently outrighted Andy Marte might be available, though it's unclear if he can hold a major league job.
Jaffe also pointed out that the Dodgers' Mark Loretta has become expendable in the wake of the Orlando Hudson signing. He brings a glove, some OBP, and the ability to be a useful bench player once Rodriguez returns. The Dodgers have some issues in the back end of their rotation and bullpen, and the Yankees' depth in those spots could make a trade work. Loretta, as a free agent signed during this past winter, would have to approve any deal.
Bil Burke noted that the Yankees' traded away a player they could use, sending Wilson Betemit to the White Sox in the Nick Swisher trade. Betemit's lefty pop and so-so glove would look like vintage Graig Nettles to the Yanks right now. Although the Sox would like Josh Fields to take the third-base job, his limitations make it likely that Betemit will get at least 300 PAs as part of a platoon, which is a long-winded way of saying "no backsies."
There's one internal option that's a bit high-risk, but worth mentioning. Xavier Nady was a third baseman at Cal, and got a couple of starts there in 2005 when the Padres had the need. His bat plays better at third than in the outfield corners, and playing him there would also clear up the outfield logjam for a little while. There's a defensive hit, of course, but the upgrade over Nady in the outfield-everyone who might play right field in his stead is a better defender than he is-mitigates that somewhat. There are no good choices here; going with Nady at least has some secondary benefits and doesn't cost a roster spot or talent. At the least, it's worth asking him if he remembers what he did with his infielder's glove, as a solution involving Ransom may also involve the desire to pinch-hit for him late in games.
Until they know just how long Rodriguez will be out, there's little the Yankees can do to replace him. Even if they do make a move, it's just a patch; you can't replace one of the very best players in baseball. If he misses even a month, the Red Sox take over as favorites in the AL East.