Already eroded by free agent departures (actual and likely), the Yankees’ projected lineup for 2013 took another blow when it was announced that Alex Rodriguez could miss half the season following upcoming surgery on his left hip.
Although an obvious setback to an offense already starved for right-handed power, the loss of Arod doesn’t mean doom for the Yankees…at least not yet. Despite age and chronic injuries, expectations for Arod have remained as high as the three-time MVP’s salary over the next five years. However, for the past three seasons, Arod has not produced at a level commensurate with those benchmarks. So, while the Yankees are probably saying goodbye to Arod’s lofty expectations, they aren’t losing a player who was performing up to them. As a result, in order to replace Rodriguez, the Yankees need not set their sights unreasonably high.
Just because the Yankees are not losing the Arod of old doesn’t mean his absence won’t create a big hole in next year’s lineup. Even in a diminished state, Rodriguez has remained a well above average player, so finding a suitable replacement should immediately become a priority for Brian Cashman. Free agent Kevin Youkilis seems like the perfect solution, but there has been no indication of interest, perhaps because his demands do not fit into the Yankees’ new budget? If so, players like Mark Reynolds and Stephen Drew could wind up filling the bill, although neither comes close to the caliber of the former Red Sox All Star nor combines the offense and defense that Arod provided. In other words, the Yankees’ ability to supply the deficiencies left behind by Rodriguez’ injury could depend on how much money they are willing to spend.
Because the injury announcement came so early in the off season, the Yankees still have plenty of time to compensate for Arod’s lengthy absence. And yet, the loss illustrates the precariousness of the Yankees’ current situation in light of the team’s new cost cutting approach. With as much as $90 million owed to Arod, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and Derek Jeter in 2014, the Yankees are looking at an expensive aging core that has suffered more than its share of injuries over the past two seasons. If the Yankees remain steadfast to their new philosophy of fiscal restraint, it will become increasingly difficult for the team to overcome the money tied into aging veterans being paid for past performance. So, while Arod’s injury does not represent a day of reckoning just yet, if the Yankees aren’t prepared to spend their way out of similar predicaments, one is assuredly coming.