Winter Meetings Day 1: A-Rod to Have Hip Surgery, Now What?

Alex Rodriguez will undergo hip surgery in January to repair a torn labrum, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post. This procedure will be on his left hip, not the same right side that he had repaired in 2009. A-Rod won’t be ready for the start of 2013, with a rehab timetable of 4-6 months. I would lay my money on the latter given his age, so hopefully sometime around the all star break. This probably explains what went wrong for him in the postseason.

If the Yankees hadn’t already realized that A-Rod’s future with the team should primarily be as a designated hitter, this should be the final straw. The Yankees must find a stopgap for at least 2013, but ideally someone long term who can play the position as Rodriguez transitions to DH when healthy. Additionally, Rodriguez’ void creates a lack of right-handed hitting in the lineup. As presently constituted, the right handers are Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira (switch-hitting), and any of the current catchers (yuck).There are no real internal solutions. Eduardo Nunez can’t play the position, and there is nobody else really legitimate to fill in full time. The Yankees will have to go outside the organization to patch this up.

Who are some of the current free agent options? It’s not pretty…

The Orioles non-tendered Mark Reynolds, making him a free agent. We know he has immense power (career .240 ISO), having hit at least 32 home runs each year until 2012 (including 44 in 2009). He hit 23 in 538 PAs this season after missing time due to an oblique injury. It was the first time Reynolds had hit the disabled list in his career, so his health shouldn’t be a concern. The other positives are his age (29), discipline (13.6% BB rate in 2012) and the fact he bats from the right side. The flaws, however, are ugly. And by ugly, I mean REALLY ugly. He set an MLB record for single season strikeouts in 2009, and has a career 32.6% K rate. Reynolds is also a butcher at third base, which is why the O’s kept him primarily at first in 2012. He has -54 career DRS at the hot corner, and -11.5 UZR/150. He’s bad at first, too: -3.2 UZR last season.

Kevin Youkilis, as much as Yankees fans dislike him, is another free agent option. He’s by no means an elite hitter anymore after posting an excellent 159 wRC+ in 2010, as he’s been derailed by injuries. He’s hit the disabled list three times since 2011 and battled a bunch of other nagging injuries as he’s aged. Youkilis will be 34 to start 2013. What he does bring is experience (for what it’s worth), patience (12.3% career BB rate), and a right hand presence. He’s also decent at third base (.6 UZR/150 career), but he’s been very bad the past two seasons (-6.8 UZR). Although his eye hasn’t gone away, his pop has drastically regressed: his ISO was .026 below his career norm in 2012, and his 2012  was wOBA .328 vs. .377 career. Health is probably the main culprit for his decline, so would the Yankees want to replace one injury question mark with another?

A cheaper option could be a platoon of Ian Stewart and Jeff Keppinger:Despite breaking his fibula this offseason, Keppinger is expected to be ready spring training. He’s primarily been a second baseman in his career, but he’s played a good chunk of third base and appears to be average, if not a tick above (1 DRS career). With the bat, he destroys lefties: 158 wRC+ in 2012, 130 for his career.

Stewart, who’ll be 28 in April, was a big time prospect in the Rockies organization, but never met expectations and wound up with the Cubs in 2012. His left wrist is a concern: he had season ending surgery this June and previously dealt with soreness in the same wrist back in 2011. He really hasn’t done much with the bat in his career, posting an 84 wRC+. His best full year was 2009, when he hit 25 home runs and posted a 94 wRC+. His 103 wRC+ vs righties that year was a career best, though. None of this sounds all that attractive, to be quite frank. But maybe the short porch in right can help him as it has with so many other lefties. Defensively, Stewart is pretty good: 3.2 UZR/150 and 19 DRS in his career. If anything, he’s undoubtedly the cheapest available option.

Eric Chavez could be an alternative to Stewart in a platoon with Keppinger. Chavez just recently declared his intent to to play in 2013 after having a revelation of a year in 2012 filling in for Rodriguez. Despite pounding righties to a tune of a 144 wRC+, health is always going to be a concern for Chavy.

As for the trade market, there really aren’t many attractive options, as Fangraphs.com’s Dave Cameron notes. San Diego’s Chase Headley seemed available at the deadline, but his monster second half undoubtedly has put him at his peak value. Headley won’t be 29 until next May, and undoubtedly would draw interest from across the league. He’s a switch-hitter and would be a superb long term solution to third. So why can’t the Yankees get him? They probably don’t have the pieces to offer that the Padres would like. In this video regarding the Rodriguez situation, Keith Law notes that the upper levels of the Yankees’ farm system really don’t compare to what the rest of the league has to offer. It doesn’t sound like the Padres want to deal him, however.

The verdict? I think the Yankees can probably get any of the aforementioned free agents on a one-year deal, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see Reynolds snag a multi-year deal elsewhere. In my opinon, it’s essential for the Yankees to get a right-handed replacement to help balance the lineup. They may get a right-handed hitting outfielder, but the best options for third do appear to be righties anyway. As horrible as he is in the field, I think Reynolds would probably be the most reliable option for the Yankees, simply considering the rest of the group’s health and/or age. The platoon of Keppinger/Stewart would probably rank in as my second choice, with Youkilis as a last resort. In a perfect world, the Yankees would trade for Headley, but unfortunately the Yankees simply do not have the pieces.

Photo by Keith Allison [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Statistics via Fangraphs.com
Injury history via BaseballProspectus.com

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