Examining Yankees’ options in wake of A-Rod’s injury
They’ve survived season-ending injuries to Mariano Rivera, Brett Gardner and Michael Pineda, not to mention the simultaneous losses of CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte, and still compiled the majors’ best record at 58-39. Now the Yankees have a new loss to contend with, as Alex Rodriguez suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left hand after being hit by a pitch from the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez on Tuesday night. The Yankees won’t announce a timetable for his return until after he sees a team doctor back in New York, but similar injuries can sideline a player for four to eight weeks, longer if surgery is necessary. It’s quite possible he won’t be back in pinstripes until September.
As ever by dint of being the game’s highest-paid player in the largest media market, Rodriguez has been under the microscope this year. The 36-year-old third baseman, who was limited to just 99 games last year due to knee and thumb injuries, is hitting .274/.354/.449, with his slugging percentage lower than it’s been in any season since 1995, when he made 149 plate appearances as a fresh-faced 19-year-old. With four more seasons still to go on his $275 million contract, his power is apparently on the wane; after hitting at least 30 home runs in every season from 1996-2010, he hit just 15 last season, and has 16 this season. Even so, his bat was heating up. He had hit .315/.367/.493 in 79 plate appearances in July, and was off to a 9-for-23 start with three extra-base hits during the Yankees’ otherwise dismal 1-5 West Coast road trip.
The Yankees have the resources on hand to patch through this injury, but their lineup, which is fourth in the league in scoring at 4.82 runs per game, will take a hit. Eric Chavez is a six-time Gold Glove winner who has hit .269/.324/.474 in 173 plate appearances, but at 34 years old, with four shoulder surgeries and two back surgeries under his belt since October 2005, he isn’t up to the rigors of playing every day. Yankees manager Joe Girardi rarely exposes him to lefty pitchers; in two seasons, Chavez has made just 29 of his 348 plate appearances against lefties. Righty-swinging utilityman Jayson Nix, whose primary position is third base, is a marginal platoon complement at best. He he has hit .235/.286/.412 in 93 plate appearances this year, but his career line against lefties is an uninspiring .239/.305/.439. Utilityman Ramiro Pena, who was summoned to Seattle to replace Rodriguez on the roster, is a glove man unfit for regular duty, the owner of a .233/.266/.288 line in 334 career plate appearances.
The Yankees’ best internal option to fill in for Rodriguez, or at least share time with Chavez, has only just begun a rehab assignment himself. Eduardo Nunez, who hit .265/.313/.385 and stole 22 bases in 338 plate appearances while filling in for Rodriguez and Derek Jeter during their DL stints last year, was sent to Triple-A Empire State on May 11 after making a spate of errors, then suffered a right thumb injury just a week later, one that wasn’t expected to sideline him for more than a few days. Details have been scarce (as they sometimes are for minor league injuries), but he only returned to action with the team’s Gulf Coast League entry last week, and was assigned to High-A Tampa on Monday. He’s a righty who has hit better against lefties (.284/.318/.426) than righties (.261/.321/.349) during his big league career, but he has been error-prone in the field.
As they did when they acquired Ichiro Suzuki on Monday to cover for the loss of Gardner, the Yankees may decide a trade is a better option, particularly if Rodriguez’s timetable is on the longer side. Here’s a quick rundown of a handful of options, listed in alphabetical order:
• Chase Headley, Padres. Without a doubt, the hottest hot corner option is this 28-year-old, who is cost-controlled through 2014 (not 2015 as I wrote in my NL West trade deadline preview — score that E-5). Headley’s numbers have been suppressed by playing half his career in cavernous Petco Park; away from there, he has hit .299/.366/.448. The Padres, who are amid a rebuilding effort, don’t need to trade him, and they’ve either locked up lesser pieces (Carlos Quentin), hinted at doing so (Huston Street), or suggested they won’t deal (Edinson Volquez) other players who might be deadline targets. As in the case of Mat Latos, however, Headley could net a windfall of even younger players whom the Padres can build around, so the competition for him is expected to be fierce should San Diego choose to deal. Even if top pitching prospects Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances hadn’t suffered setbacks due to injury or erratic performance, the Yankees might not be willing to trade a blue-chipper such as catcher Gary Sanchez or centerfielder Mason Williams for Headley. If they did, they would obtain a player who could take over third base as Rodriguez is steered towards more DH duty down the road, or who could take over rightfield if Nick Swisher departs as a free agent.
• Mark Reynolds, Orioles. The O’s have shopped him already this season, but found no takers given his $7.5 million salary, his 200+ strikeouts per year and his subpar defense. Reynolds once had mighty power — he hit an average of 35 homers per year from 2008-2011 — that offset the holes in his game, but he has just eight homers in 277 PA this year, along with a .206/.325/.373 line.
• Scott Rolen, Reds. Though he’s not an international superstar, Rolen is the Ichiro of the third base market, a well-decorated former star heading into the twilight of his career. Rolen, an eight-time Gold Glove winner and seven-time All-Star, is 37 years old and hitting just .210/.276/.357 with four homers in 157 PA this year, though his bat has heated up (.262/.329/.431) in the five weeks since he’s returned from a five-week absence due to a shoulder strain (unlike Ichiro, durability isn’t his thing). Heir apparent Todd Frazier proved his mettle during Rolen’s absence, but as he is now filling in for Joey Votto while the Reds battle for the NL Central flag, the chances of Rolen being dealt are low, and while his defense may still be a plus, age and injuries probably make him more trouble than he’s worth.
• Marco Scutaro, Rockies. The well-traveled utilityman has played primarily second base for Colorado, but he has 98 career games at third base under his belt, not to mention plenty of familiarity with the AL East after spending 2008-2009 with the Blue Jays and 2010-2011 with the Red Sox. The 36-year-old righty is hitting just .269/.320/.355 while playing home games in a hitter-friendly environment at Coors Field, but he’s less than a year removed from a .299/.358/.423 line with the Red Sox and owns a career .262/.340/.393 line against lefties. In a shallow shortstop market where the A’s, Pirates and Diamondbacks (who are likely to trade Stephen Drew) all need shorstops, he’s likely to be popular, which could elevate his price.
• Ty Wigginton, Phillies. With Ryan Howard having returned to action, this 34-year-old has been shunted into the utility role for which he is better suited. Overexposed by everyday play earlier in the season, he has hit just .235/.307/.377, down from the none-too-stellar .254/.313/.411 he hit from 2009-2011. His best virtue is a .270/.352/.458 line against lefties, which would pair reasonably well with Chavez in a platoon.