Saturday, March 7, 2009

A-Rod's injury a huge blow to the Yankees

About 6,000 conflicting reports still haven't resolved the issue that is Alex Rodriguez's hip; in a conference call on Friday, Brian Cashman said the team and Rodriguez still haven't come to a decision about surgery.

If A-Rod plays, there's no way we can know how much the injury would limit his production.

If A-Rod doesn't play, though, that loss becomes awfully tangible.

The top internal candidate to play third base is Cody Ransom, a 32-year-old journeyman who has 162 career home runs in the minor leagues. (He hit 22 home runs in 116 games for Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes-Barre last season.) In the major leagues, though, he's never had more than 68 at-bats in a season; last season, when he had 43 at-bats with the Yankees, he recorded more than 10 hits for just the second time in his career. (He hit .302 with four home runs and eight RBI in those 43 at-bats starting Aug. 16.)

Had Rodriguez's injury come to light a few weeks ago, the Yankees could have gone after slugger Joe Crede. Instead, with almost nothing left on the free-agent market, it's likely they'll have to do some shuffling. They still could make a trade -- Hank Blalock would appear to be available from the youth-movement Rangers, but he hasn't played in more than 65 games in three years.

ESPN's Buster Olney has suggested that the Yankees could discuss moving Robinson Cano to third base and signing a free agent like Ray Durham. Even that, though, comes with drawbacks. Consider this: Cano has seen his on-base and slugging numbers slip in each of the last two years. His OPS+ has fallen from 126 to 120 to 86 -- or, in other words, from above average to below average.

And look what it would do to the Yankees in terms of production at each position:
* The average American League second baseman last season slugged .410 with 12 home runs and 70 RBI.
Durham slugged .432 with six home runs and 45 RBI.
* The average American League third baseman slugged .431 with 19 home runs and 85 RBI.
Cano slugged .410 with 14 home runs and 72 RBI.

All of a sudden, the Yankees would have below-average production both at second base and at shortstop -- to go along with below-average production at catcher and in center field and slightly-above-league-average production at shortstop, left field, right field and designated hitter.

The only spot on the field where the Yankees can absolutely guarantee they'll have production well above the league average is at first base, where Mark Teixeira is one of the best in the game. That's not what you're looking for if your goal is to win the toughest division in baseball, let alone the World Series.

To put it another way: Without Rodriguez, Teixeira and Xavier Nady are the only Yankees capable of slugging .500 this season. The Red Sox, on the other hand, saw Kevin Youkilis (.569 last season), Jason Bay (.522), J.D. Drew (.519), David Ortiz (.507) and Dustin Pedroia (.493) all finished above or within striking distance of that number a year ago.

The Rays had Evan Longoria (.531) and Carlos Pena (.494) in that range last season, and it'd be tough to imagine B.J. Upton (.401 in the regular season but .652 in the playoffs) not getting there this season.

The injury to Rodriguez means Nady might end up, incredibly, hitting cleanup for the New York Yankees this season. Who else could? Hideki Matsui? Johnny Damon? Nick Swisher? Jorge Posada? Without Rodriguez, the Yankees suddenly become a very, very average team at the plate. And all that money spent on CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett might not mean a thing if the heart of the Yankees' lineup consists, in its entirety, of Teixeira.

(Late update: Yes, that means this is completely ridiculous. Yes, if Posada and Cano and Matsui all reverse the steep downward trajectories their careers have taken, the Yankees can make up for losing Rodriguez. Then again, if the Yankees sign Graig Nettles and he can find recapture his form from 1977, they can make up for losing Rodriguez, too. Both scenarios are equally plausible.)

No comments: