There was plenty of room for debate about how Alex Rodriguez's on-field performance would be affected by last month's revelation that he tested positive for steroids in 2003, but Sunday's news that he's scheduled for hip surgery leaves no such doubt. Rodriguez will reportedly be sidelined for 6-10 weeks, which would likely knock him out for all of April and at least part of May.
The Yankees' winter spending spree and massive payroll had them looking like AL East favorites to many people, but they're shockingly ill-equipped to handle Rodriguez being out. Cody Ransom now stands atop the third-base depth chart and if you're unfamiliar with that name don't worry — you're not alone. He's a 33-year-old journeyman with over 4,600 career plate appearances in the minors and just 214 trips to the plate in the majors.
Ransom has shown 20-homer power throughout his 11-year pro career, but has hit just .247 in 879 games at Triple-A while producing a modest .770 OPS. He offers enough defensive versatility and pop to be a decent utility man, but has no business starting for an MLB team, let alone one with a $200 million payroll and that plans to win an incredibly tough division.
Baseball Prospectus projects Ransom to hit .216 with a .293 on-base percentage and .386 slugging percentage, while Baseball Think Factory has him batting .236/.303/.415 and Rotoworld pegs him at .229/.297/.376. Meanwhile, Rodriguez batted .302/.393/.573 last season and has hit .306/.389/.578 for his 15-year career. Also worth nothing is that the average MLB third baseman hit .266/.336/.436 last season.
Rodriguez has been about 60-70 runs per season better than a "replacement-level" third baseman offensively since joining the Yankees in 2004, and if Ransom is anything, it's a replacement-level player. Even if A-Rod can return in mid-May, being without him and with Ransom for 40-50 games would probably cost the team 20-30 runs. Throughout baseball history an upgrade or downgrade of 10 runs has typically been worth one win.
In other words, going from Rodriguez to Ransom for six weeks—including five games against each of Boston and Tampa Bay—would immediately knock 2-3 wins off any preseason projection for the Yankees this year. Of course, we are talking about the Yankees here, which means they may not actually go with Ransom as the full-time replacement and are probably already working the phones to bring in a veteran infielder.
Nomar Garciaparra agreeing to a contract with the A's last week leaves Ray Durham and Mark Grudzielanek as the top free agent infielders on the market, but neither has played third base at all this decade. There are plenty of intriguing trade options, but would the Yankees be willing to give up the necessary prospects to land someone like Adrian Beltre or Garrett Atkins if they're convinced Rodriguez will be back before June?
The only question is whether the Yankees will bite the bullet with an in-house stopgap like Ransom and cost themselves 2-3 wins, cash in some of their minor-league assets to bring in someone like Mora or Teahen, or break the bank on a star-caliber replacement like Beltre. Whatever the case, things just got a whole lot more interesting in a division that already figured to be the most hotly contested in baseball.
Dropping just a couple wins by replacing A-Rod with Ransom for a month and perhaps losing another couple games if Rodriguez is rusty — or shell-shocked — once he returns could easily be the difference between first place and third place in an AL East division that may end up with a trio of 90-win teams. Whatever patience the Yankees had is long gone after missing the playoffs last season, so the Cody Ransom era may be a short one.
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