4:17 pm Dec. 3, 2012
The New York Yankees have been a veteran-laden team reliant upon players well beyond the established norms for baseball peaks for years now. Fortunately for the Yankees, their veterans have managed to either stay healthy, or get injured in a neat, orderly fashion.
That era is over.
The Yankees managed to play a 2012 season with Alex Rodriguez, 37, as their regular third baseman and Derek Jeter, 38, as their regular shortstop. Rodriguez provided above-average production in 122 games, Jeter was even better for 159 games, and thus the team managed to win the most games in the American League despite having no real backup for Jeter and the injury-prone Eric Chavez backing up Rodriguez.
But it turns out the massive slump that Rodriguez suffered through in September and right through the playoffs had something to do with a left hip injury so severe it sent him to the emergency room during the American League Divisional Series, and now requires surgery that will keep him out for at least the start of the 2013 season.
Jeter, of course, suffered a broken ankle in the American League Championship Series that also required surgery, ending his 2012 season and putting the start of his 2013 season into doubt.
So in a best-case scenario, the Yankees are going to be relying on a pair of late-30s players coming off of significant surgical procedures to play the bulk of their games on the left side of the infield. More likely, the Yankees need someone to fill in for one, or both, of these players.
Accordingly, Stephen Drew has been linked to the Yankees. At first blush, he'd appear to be a perfect fit. He's 29, he's played shortstop throughout his career, but could presumably shift to third base as needed. He's left-handed, complementing the righties Jeter and Rodriguez in any time-sharing required.
But there are numerous problems with Drew as a fit for the Yankees. For one thing, he hasn't been very good for two years. His 113 O.P.S.+ in 2010 seemed to suggest the cusp of stardom; he dipped to 93 in 2011, and 79 in 2012. And yet, his position and the thin free agent market has him seeking multi-year deals, while the Yankees are trying to avoid spending on 2014, when their aim is to get payroll beneath $189 million for luxury tax reasons.
But mostly, the Yankees absolutely need to be thinking about a plan that can allow them to replace Jeter and Rodriguez for extended periods, not merely sitting them occasionally against righties. And Drew not only has struggled throughout his career against lefties, including a .563 O.P.S. against them in 2012, but he'd be doing so in a lineup overflowing with lefty bats, such as Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson.
Really, the Rodriguez news underscores the biggest problem with Drew: he is not two people.
The Yankees cannot patch this depth problem with a single player for shortstop and third base. Drew is a reasonable placeholder and alternative for Jeter; but they need him, and a regular third base option as well.
The answer there may be in-house, with prospect David Adams, having shifted to third base, performing well with the bat and the glove both at Double-A Trenton and in the Arizona Fall League.
Adams, though, may need to prove himself at Triple-A, leaving the Yankees with alternatives like bringing back Chavez (lefty, probably not up to still playing every day) or using more 2014 money to secure someone like Kevin Youkilis.
Whatever they choose to do, it simply isn't enough for them to sit back and hope Rodriguez and Jeter continue to defy aging curves. They've already stopped; the Yankees now need to figure out what they're going to do about it.