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December 3, 2012

BP Unfiltered

Alex Rodriguez is Injured Again

by Ben Lindbergh

Aside from the Mike Napoli signing, the biggest news to break on the first morning of the Winter Meetings was something that by now is hardly news at all: another injury to Alex Rodriguez.

It’s been almost four weeks since Rodriguez became an October bystander, replaced by Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez, who was for once playing the role of a team’s less injury-prone third baseman. At the time, we all wondered whether A-Rod’s poor performance down the stretch and subsequent benching were signs that he was hurt. Because if he wasn’t (we wrote, seated comfortably behind our keyboards), Joe Girardi had to be panicking, ignorant of the significance of sample size and platoon splits, and unable to tell which of his players were better at baseball.

Well, it turns out A-Rod was injured, and for the umpteenth time, a baseball team knew something we didn’t. According to Joel Sherman, Rodriguez was likely playing with a torn hip labrum for “at least a portion of the postseason.” Rodriguez experienced discomfort during the ALDS, leading to an MRI on his right hip that revealed nothing. But this injury is to A-Rod’s left hip, not the right one that was previously repaired, so he gets to mark another square in his game of injured body part bingo. Rodriguez will reportedly have the surgery next month (December must be busy for hip surgeons) and could be out until June. He had his first hip surgery in March of 2009 and returned in early May, so either this tear is more serious or A-Rod isn’t expected to recover as quickly at age 37. *(Update: sounds like "more serious": left hip arthroscopy to repair a torn labrum, bone impingement, and the correction of a cyst.)*

For the Yankees, this injury is another reminder that they can’t expect much from the rest of teir relationship with Rodriguez, who might be entirely composed of replacement parts by the end of his current contract. Next season will be his sixth in a row with a DL stint, as his steeper-than-expected decline continues. It’s also the end of any hope of trading him—now we know why Brian Cashman was so quick to downplay that possibility—and a sign that the Yankees desperately need help on the left side of the infield, with both of their ancient infielders on that side of second attempting to recover from serious surgery.

The pickings are pretty slim on the free-agent market: Jeff Keppinger is due for offensive regression and subpar defensively (he hasn’t played shortstop since 2010), while Marco Scutaro wouldn’t come cheap and is likely to re-sign with San Francisco. Stephen Drew is looking for a home, but he might not want to play third. As Sherman points out, the Yankees could go after Hiroyuki Nakajima (whom I wrote about recently), though they reportedly saw him as more of a utility option when they bid on him last offseason. The Yankees could also try to bring back Chavez and Jayson Nix and work Triple-A infielder David Adams into the mix. For now, Cashman will undoubtedly be working to see what’s available via trade.

For us, this injury is another reminder that much of the time we don’t know what we’re talking about. In fact, we should probably start inserting that caveat—“unless, you know, we don’t know what we’re talking about”—before or after every strong conclusion, if we weren’t doing so already. Either that, or we can all just save ourselves some words and assume it’s always implied.

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

8 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Richard Bergstrom

I remember PECOTA projecting A-Rod's downturn before the 2010 season and wondering why the heck it was predicting such a dropoff. I ate my crow but still don't know what it saw besides an age curve for a historically atypical player.

Dec 03, 2012 11:42 AM
rating: 0
 
jimcal

PECOTA got dumped by A-Rod during offseason hence she is so mad at him, leading to the witch curse--and it came true.

I'd like to see if Brian Cashman can pull the trademark magic ward again -- A-Rod wasn't trade target for Yankees before Aaron Boone hurt himself playing basketball in off-season. But with plan 189 in place, it'd be interesting speculation of what Cashman can do.

This winter is going to be chill for New York.

Dec 03, 2012 12:38 PM
rating: 1
 
Dave Holgado

Ben, I've been thinking lately about the Yankees' options with A-Rod, and in particular, how it is they can unyoke themselves from the burden of his contract and its implications on the luxury (or "competitive balance") tax for the team in the next several years. Having just perused the luxury tax provisions of the CBA, there does seem to be an idea worth exploring, though I don't think it will be considered.

We know that if A-Rod is simply released, his entire salary still counts against the Yanks' cap for luxury tax purposes, pursuant to Art. XXIII(C)(2)(d). So that option is out. Similarly, pursuant to Art. XXIII(C)(2)(b)(iii), we know that if A-Rod is traded to another team, any cash considerations provided by the Yanks in the trade (which would of course have to be substantial) would count towards the tax as well. The CBA does provide that the cash is counted in the year it is paid, so a lump sum payment in the first year may or may not provide a marginal benefit to the Yanks (depending on what its luxury tax rates are going to be in 2013 vs. future years), but probably not enough to make much of a difference.

But a third option exists, and may be the most promising. Pursuant to Art. XXIII(C)(2)(f), the Yanks could outright A-Rod to the minor leagues, and his salary would cease to count against their cap for luxury tax purposes. The CBA does provide that this exclusion will not apply to "the Salary of any Player whose Contract has been assigned outright to a Minor League club for the purpose of defeating or circumventing the intention of the Parties" to the CBA, i.e., for the purpose of defeating or circumventing the luxury tax. And that seems, at first blush, to put an end to this idea.

But my thought is this. Wouldn't it be an interesting legal challenge for the Yankees to make, that their outrighting of A-Rod was not done "for the purpose of defeating or circumventing" the luxury tax, but rather, was a legitimate baseball decision? Indeed, might it be in the Yankees' best interests to acquire (within the bounds of a certain amount of salary) sufficient talent this off-season, both at 3B and at DH (as well as any other position A-Rod could credibly play) to bolster the merit of such an argument? Even absent big ticket moves, let's say they merely re-sign Eric Chavez and retain Eduardo Nunez. If A-Rod hits below the Mendoza Line for a month or two upon his return next summer, wouldn't it be a defensible baseball decision to hand the starting job to some combination of those two players, and to send Rodriguez down? I know this will never happen, but if it did, it seems that a credible argument could be made along these lines.

Dec 03, 2012 12:53 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Dave, I don't think the way out is that easy. A player with five years of service time can't be sent to the minors without his consent, and I'm guessing A-Rod wouldn't relish a few seasons in Scranton.

Dec 03, 2012 13:43 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

I imagine if that was possible, some other team would've tried it by now. You wouldn't have to be Scott Boras to file a decade's worth of grievances over it.

Dec 03, 2012 14:32 PM
rating: 0
 
BurrRutledge

How 'bout Staten Island?

Dec 03, 2012 16:11 PM
rating: 2
 
Dave Holgado

Dang it. I got myself worked up over nothing, then. Thanks for the insight, Ben, I did not know that rule.

Dec 03, 2012 16:20 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I think there was a case a few years back about the Orioles trying to demote someone to avoid paying his salary.

Dec 03, 2012 16:28 PM
rating: 0
 
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