"Do you miss me now?"
I can't help but imagine that Alex Rodriguez is out there somewhere, saying that very thing with a wry smile on his face. He has to know that the New York Yankees are going through some hard times. This has cast a new light on his road back from a January hip operation.
The Yankees suddenly have a strong need for A-Rod.
In case you're just now crawling out from underneath a rock, Tuesday has been injury central in the Bronx. Yanks general manager Brian Cashman hinted to Andrew Marchand of ESPNNewYork.com and other reporters on Monday that first baseman Mark Teixeira could end up back on the disabled list after aggravating his right wrist, and the club made the move official on Tuesday.
On top of that, Bryan Hoch of MLB.com reported that third baseman Kevin Youkilis is also going on the DL, and he's guaranteed to be out for as long as three months:
Youk's season may have just come to an end. If so, there goes $12 million down the drain on a guy who played in 28 games and posted a .219/.305/.343 line with two home runs.
There's a chance that Teixeira's season could also be over. Cashman did not rule out the possibility of him needing season-ending surgery to repair his wrist, and Bleacher Report's Will Carroll wrote on Tuesday that Tex appears headed in that direction.
If Teixeira does need surgery, it would cost him six months. That would mean another $23.125 million down the drain on a guy who hit .151/.270/.340 in 15 games.
Meanwhile, Cashman clarified to Jack Curry of the YES Network that, yeah, A-Rod is still on the club's radar:
Barring a swift conclusion to the Biogenesis scandal—and that's something we can bet against, seeing as how MLB still has a case to build and a fight with the union to look forward to—Rodriguez's return will be happening pretty soon if all continues to go well in his recovery.
According to Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger, A-Rod was able to run the bases at a 75 percent effort over the weekend. McCullough also reported on Monday that Rodriguez was scheduled to face live pitching on Tuesday for the first time in his recovery.
With Youk out for the foreseeable future, the Yankees already have a glaring need for A-Rod at the hot corner. Unless Cashman bundles up all his best prospects and trades them for, say, Chase Headley, all the Yanks have now are their internal options: David Adams, Jayson Nix and Reid Brignac. Their OPSs in 2013: .567, .631 and .247, respectively.
You don't have to like A-Rod. In fact, I don't give a darn whether you hate his guts and never want to see him in pinstripes ever again. I'm not a big fan of the guy myself, truth be told.
But we can all join together and admit this: Heck, even an injured A-Rod can do better than that.
Think back to when A-Rod returned from a DL stint with a broken hand last September. He was all out of sorts, but he still managed a .710 OPS in 28 games. That's horrid by A-Rod standards, but far better than .567, .631 and .247.
Rodriguez was much better before he was done in by a Felix Hernandez fastball in July, posting an .806 OPS with 15 home runs in 94 games. The average third baseman posted a .754 OPS in 2012, according to Baseball-Reference.com. While he wasn't having a terrific year before he got hurt, Rodriguez was still easily above average.
If A-Rod returns to post an OPS over .800 down the stretch this year, people are either going to be celebrating wildly or hurling accusations of PED use at him. Whatever the case, production like that would be a huge surprise after such a long layoff from such a significant operation.
But a .775 OPS? According to FanGraphs, that's the Steamer projection for Rodriguez this season, and it comes with projections for a .338 wOBA and a 107 wRC+.
Numbers such as these have to be taken for what they're worth given the circumstances, but they would make A-Rod an above-average offensive producer. The league's third basemen have a .733 OPS this year. A wOBA of around .320 is typically average, and a 100 wRC+ is exactly average.
As much as the Yankees would prefer the old A-Rod at third base, they'd gladly take these numbers. Going from well below-average production at the hot corner to average or slightly above-average production wouldn't be much of an upgrade, but it would be an upgrade all the same.
Rodriguez's pending return is only going to increase in importance if Teixeira is lost for the season. That would leave the Yankees with a glaring hole to fill in the middle of their lineup, and Rodriguez would be a lesser of seemingly a dozen evils to fill said hole.
No, you ideally don't want to have a .775ish OPS guy batting third or fourth in your lineup, but this is another potential upgrade situation.
The Yankees' No. 3 hitters have posted a pedestrian .741 OPS this season. Their cleanup guys have only managed a .667 OPS, and the numbers don't get better as you move further down the line.
If Teixeira is lost for the season, I also wonder if the Yankees could consider Rodriguez as a part-time solution at first base. There's still some time for them to have A-Rod put in some work at first in his recovery, and playing him there upon his return would have its advantages.
For one, he'd provide more offense at first than Lyle Overbay. He was a steal through the first few weeks of the season, but has since come back down to earth with a .613 OPS in his last 28 games.
Second, stationing A-Rod at first would leave the door open for Adams to provide quality defense at third base. His bat has stunk, but the small-sample-size returns on his defense are pretty good. He has zero Defensive Runs Saved, according to FanGraphs, but a 2.9 UZR in only 149 innings at third.
Several months ago, we weren't supposed to be entertaining possibilities such as these when A-Rod's return would be looming. The Yankees were supposed to have Youk at third, Teixeira at first and solid numbers coming in from both. In that scenario, Rodriguez was either going to be a luxury or a shrug-worthy non-factor when he finally returned.
But ideal scenarios have a tendency to never work out in baseball, and the Yankees can tell you all about that. Youk's season might be over, Teixeira's season might be over soon and now A-Rod's journey back to the Bronx is anything but a non-story.
There's no chance of Rodriguez coming back and being his old great self. But in light of how much disaster the Yankees have faced in 2013, there's a very good chance of him coming back and being a very welcome addition.
I'll say for the umpteenth time: Baseball is weird like that.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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