Happy New Year to all my fellow fans. I recently posted a three-part series looking at the Yankees from their pitching, their bullpen and starting lineup. Now I intend to zero in on a look at them from a position-by-position standpoint. With spring training mere weeks away it seems an appropriate time to do this. Enjoy!
THIRD BASE – KEVIN YOUKILIS (19 HRs, 60 RBIs, .235 BA)
With Alex Rodriguez headed for surgery to his left hip this month the Yankees were forced to take a plunge into the free-agent market for a replacement and they chose 33-year-old Kevin Youkilis.
The former Red Sox nemesis has had his own issues with injuries throughout his career but the Yankees needed someone who could play the position and provide some offense until Rodriguez is ready to to return to action, which won’t come until at least June.
Youkilis enters 2013 free of the swirling rumors of his commitment to the game former Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine thrust upon him last season. After he was traded to the Chicago White Sox he did pick up his production, hitting .236 with 15 home runs and 46 RBIs, largely batting second.
After undergoing sports hernia surgery that ended his 2011 season, Youkilis suffered through the early part of 2012 with a groin injury that landed him on the disabled list. When Will Middlebrooks produced good numbers in his absence, the Red Sox decided to send him packing to make room for the rookie.
Youkilis has never played in more than 147 games in any of his seven full major-league seasons, which was in first full season with the Red Sox in 2007. His best season with the Bosox was in 2008, when he hit 29 home runs and drove in 115 runs.
But Youkilis’ all-out style of play has also left him susceptible to nagging injuries, which have lessened his power and production numbers. In addition, Youkilis’ unusual batting style, which worked well for him when he was younger (He hit a career-high .312 in 2008), has left him less effective the last two seasons in which he has hit .258 and .235.
It will be the job of hitting coach Kevin Long to get Youkilis back on track at the plate with is timing and to get Youkilis driving the ball as he did so well at Fenway Park. As a right-hand hitter, the Yankees will not be looking for big-time power from Youkilis. But they would like him to get back to hitting closer to his lifetime .283 average and driving in runs.
There is a good possibility that Youkilis might slide into the No. 3 or No. 5 spots in the batting order to separate left-handers Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson. That means the Yankees will be counting on Youkilis to provide solid production in the heart of the batting order.
A lot will depend if Youkilis is 100 percent healthy when he reports to camp in Tampa, FL, and he can remain healthy. He will have to because the Yankees’ options behind him are quite limited and much less productive.
As a fielder, Youkilis is considered an excellent first baseman. He won a Gold Glove for his work there in 2007. However, he is not as accomplished as a third baseman. Of course, he is actually still considered above average at the position.
There is no doubt that injuries have had an effect on his fielding at third the past two seasons. He made nine errors in 2011 and he committed the same total in 2012. So the slip in his fielding percentage at third had to be due in large part to the sports hernia and groin injuries.
His career fielding percentage at first is .997 but at third it is .966. But the Yankees feel if he is healthy, he can play the position more than adequately. Fielding, after all, was not a strength of A-Rod’s game either.
Of course, it is hard to know what the strength of Rodriguez’s game is really. Last season was another one of those seasons that he has failed to provide the production the Yankees needed and his season ended with a late injury which may or may not have contributed to his poor postseason.
After playing in just 99 games in 2011, largely due to a right knee injury, Rodriguez played in 122 games in 2012. He missed more than a month of the season and returned in early September after being struck in the left hand with a pitch from Seattle Mariners ace right-hander Felix Hernandez.
But when he was healthy, Rodriguez did not produce much in the way of power or runs batted in. He finished the season hitting .272 with 18 home runs and 57 RBIs. Batting in the middle of the most productive lineup in baseball in 2012, A-Rod hit .200 with the bases loaded and .230 with runners in scoring position.
But the most telling statistic is this: Rodriguez hit a home run every 25.7 at-bats in 2012. In his career, he has hit a home run every 14.9 at-bats. To say the 37-year-old three-time Most Valuable Player is suffering through a serious erosion of his skills is putting it mildly. It even lead to his being pinch-hit for at a critical point in the 2012 American League Division Series against the Baltimore Orioles.
So even when Rodriguez returns the question is how much can the Yankees count on him? Rodriguez has not played more than 138 games since 2007.
What looked to a be a lock that he would eventually break Barry Bonds’ dubious all-time home run record of 762 looks to a longshot now. But the real problem is the Yankees are on the hook for paying Rodriguez, in sickness and unproductive health, through the 2017 season.
So unless A-Rod gets tired of being booed, looking like a fool striking out against mediocre pitchers and he decides to retire, the Yankees have a 6-foot-3, 225-pound albatross around their necks. General manager Brian Cashman has been ordered to reduce payroll to $189 million by 2014 and it will be hard to see how they can remain competitive as long as they are paying big bucks to an unproductive has-been.
But we will see how it all plays out when Rodriguez does make it back to the field in 2013.
Likely, he will not play much third base.
Though Rodriguez two Gold Gloves as a shortstop with the Texas Rangers in 2002 and 2003, he has never been considered a very good fielder at third base. His career fielding percentage at the position is .964 and it was .957 in 2012. He committed eight errors in 81 games at the position last year.
The previous injury to his right hip pretty much has robbed him of some of the lateral quickness and smoothness he needs to field at the hot corner.
So upon Rodriguez’s return it is more likely he will assume the designated hitter role for most of the rest of the season in order to keep his surgically repaired left hip from acting up again.
The Yankees do not have much in the way of options at third base behind Youkilis.
They were hoping that they could convince Eric Chavez, 35, to come back for a third season. But the free agent elected to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Though Chavez was unable to physically handle playing third base on a daily basis, he did contribute mightily to the Yankees at third and first base and as a DH and pinch-hitter. He hit .281 with 16 home runs and 37 RBIs in 2012. He also played 64 games at third base and flashed some of the form that led to him winning six consecutive Gold Gloves at the position from 2001 through 2006 with the Oakland Athletics.
He and his left-hand bat will be missed in 2013.
Instead the Yankees will have to look to Jayson Nix, 30, as the primary backup in 2013.
Nix entered the 2012 season as a minor-league player invited to spring training by the Yankees. After hitting over .300 in the spring Nix was assigned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre but he was recalled on May 3 when the Yankees decided that Eduardo Nunez was ill-suited to be a utility infielder.
Nix hit .243 with four home runs and 18 RBIs in 177 at-bats as largely a backup to Rodriguez at third base and Derek Jeter at shortstop.
Nix was designated for assignment by the Yankees on Nov. 30, 2011 to make room on the 40-man roster for All-Star reliever Mariano Rivera, who was signed to a one-year contract. But Nix agreed to accept an assignment to Triple A in order to remain with the team. He will be invited to spring training and he has an excellent chance of retaining his backup infielder role.
Though Nix will not knock down any fences, he will play solidly in the field and give a good effort at the plate. That is what the Yankees hope he can do.
Nunez, 25, started the season as the team’s infield backup but his careless errors in the field cost him the job. Manager Joe Girardi and the Yankees’ front office agreed to send Nunez back to Triple A to play shortstop exclusively.
However, Nunez spent most of his time in the minors sidelined with a right-hand injury. There are no questions about Nunez’s bat. He is a career .272 hitter with the capability of stealing 40 bases in a full season.
But Jeter, 38, is still the shortstop and Nunez is a butcher in the field, hence the nickname “Eduardo Scissorhands.” He was on a pace to commit 42 errors if he had played every day in 2012.
The Yankees look at Nunez as a potential right-hand DH in 2013 at this point. Nunez is not a home run hitter but he could possibly hit 10 home runs and drive in 60 runs if he got 425 or so at-bats. The Yankees also missed his speed last season.
Nunez stole 22 bases in 112 games in 2011 and he actually led the Yankees for most of the 2011 season with 11 until A-Rod and Ichiro Suzuki passed him in September. Nunez along with left-fielder Brett Gardner and Suzuki would give the Yankees a speed game they were lacking in 2012.
But the Yankees likely will not use Nunez at third base and there is a good possibility that Nunez could be traded to a team needing a shortstop before the season starts. They will listen to offers anyway.
Behind Nix the Yankees do not have a lot of major-league-ready options at the position.
David Adams, 25, and Corban Joseph, 24, are on the 40-man roster but both are primarily second basemen.
Adams hit .306 with eight home runs and 48 RBIs at Double-A Trenton in 2012 while Joseph hit a combined .276 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs between Trenton and Triple-A Scranton.
Adams, a third-round draft selection out of the University of Virginia in 2008, has been held back by a severe ankle injury. Joseph is a fourth round pick in 2008 out of Franklin High School in Franklin, TN.
Joseph would seem to have more upside because of his power and the fact that he bats left-handed. The Yankees could use a left-handed hitting infield backup. But Joseph is not considered as a shortstop. The same for Adams.
Both were elevated to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule V draft in 2013 and both will get opportunities to play in spring training. But Nix and Nunez have a huge upper hand on them because neither of the youngsters have played a significant amount of time at third base. In addition, neither player is among the Yankees’ Top 20 prospects.
The only third baseman among the Top 20 prospects is the Yankees’ first selection in the 2011 draft Dante Bichette Jr., son of the former Colorado Rockies slugger of the same name.
Bichette, 20, opened eyes last spring when he was placed on the traveling squad for an exhibition game against the Houston Astros and he hit a pair of solo home runs in his two at-bats in the only game in which he played. However, his 2012 season was a major disappointment because he hit only three home runs, drove in 46 runs and batted .248 at Class-A Charleston (SC).
But because he was the Most Valuable Player of the Gulf Coast League in 2011 and he has adapted better than expected at third base, the Yankees have high hopes for the Maitland, FL, native. However, he appears to be more than two years away from being ready for the major leagues.
Third base appears to be a big issue for the Yankees entering 2013.
Rodriguez is sidelined once again and his replacement Youkilis has had issues with injuries of his own. There appears to be an adequate backup in Nix but the Yankees have limited options behind him. The jury on Bichette is out for now but the Yankees remain optimistic he can follow in his father’s footsteps.
This is definitely not the Yankees’ strongest position entering the season and there will be a lot of people crossing their fingers Youkilis stays healthy and Rodriguez come back strong. It seems an awful lot to ask for at this point.
The New York Yankees have reached the end of the regular season as champions of the American League East and they have the best record in the league. It was not easy but they are now ready for the playoffs. It is time to look at the players that got them there and give them grades for the season.
THIRD BASE – ALEX RODRIGUEZ (18 HRs, 57 RBIs, .272 BA)
It’s always something.
With Alex Rodriguez it always seems some injury comes up that interrupts his season and rolls him down a highway that is a few exits past his MVP seasons. This pattern has been going since his monster season in 2007 when he played in 158 games and hit 54 home runs, drove in 156 runs and hit .314.
For the past five seasons Rodriguez’s totals have been gradually slipping. The home run totals dropping from 35 to 30 to 30 to 16 and 18 this season. The RBI totals sinking from 103 to 100 to 125 to 62 and now just 57. The batting averages dipping from .302 to .286 to.270 to .276 to .272 this season.
This is not your father’s Alex Rodriguez. The once most-feared hitter in baseball has turned into Scott Brosius before our very eyes and it is pretty to safe to say that age 37 that the vintage A-Rod is not coming back.
After suffering through seasons cut short by a serious hip injury to his injury-plagued 2011 campaign shortened to 99 games because of knee and thumb injuries, this season was supposed to be a big comeback season for Rodriguez.
But after languishing through a terrible first half in which he hit just 13 home runs, drove in a mere 36 runs and hit .266, Rodriguez was struck on the left hand by pitch thrown by Felix Hernandez of the Mariners in Seattle on July 24. A broken bone in the hand shelved him until Sept. 3.
So from the midpoint of the season, Rodriguesz contributed five home runs and 21 RBIs.
A look inside the numbers shows just how far A-Rod’s star has fallen:
- With the bases empty he hit .300.
- With runners in scoring position he hit .230.
- With the bases loaded he hit .200.
His 18 home runs are just two more than he hit in 99 games last season and yet he still hits in the middle of the order as if he was the A-Rod of 2007.
The fact the Yankees are on the hook to pay this large albatross through the 2017 season is quite troubling. When that contract was signed, the Yankees were envisioning Rodriguez becoming the all-time home run champion in pinstripes.
But with Rodriguez stuck on 647 career homers and seemingly unable to hit 20 in a season, he will be lucky to reach 700, much less make to 763 to pass Barry Bonds.
The qustion is how long will the Yankees to allow Rodriguez to underperform for the money his is making and how much he is hurting the Yankees in every game with his strikeouts, weak popups and routine fly balls? Can they afford to keep him? Or are they paying so much for him that they can’t get rid of him?
All I know is what I see and I just see a very sad shell of a player who might be succumbing to aftereffects of performance enhancing drugs. So I do not feel sorry for him. But I do feel sorry for the Yankees being roped into this deal that will hamper their ability to pare salary ahead of the 2014 season.
Rodriguez is also turning into a liability in the field, too.
He made eight errors this season, which sounds OK until you find out he started only 81 games at the position. That total also does not account for the balls that got past him because his surgically repaired hip has robbed him of his lateral quickness. It also does not account for the slow dribblers he was unable to charge fast enough to get the runner at first.
His cannon arm is still there but it can be erratic.
Nope, any way you slice it, A-Rod is just not A-Rod anymore. The sooner Yankee fans realize that the sooner they can stop praying for that game-winning homer in the playoffs. If the Yankees are lucky he will single in a big run with a runner in scoring position.
So don’t get your hopes up for a great postseason for A-Rod. It might turn out like all the ones he produced before his epic postseason in 2009, which brought title No. 27 back to the Bronx. The 28th will have to come some other way.
MIDSEASON GRADE: D
SECOND-HALF GRADE: I
OVERALL GRADE: D
BACKUP – ERIC CHAVEZ (16 HRs, 37 RBIs, .281 BA)
I have already discussed Chavez in my post about Mark Teixeira.
Because of Rodriguez’s injury, Chavez was the primary backup at third base and he started 50 games there. If Chavez were a younger player and capable of playing every day, he would have either replaced Rodriguez outright or, at the very least, be the lefty part of a platoon at the position.
Of course, that is if A-Rod was not A-Rod and he was not getting paid big bucks.
Chavez was the better fielder here and you can make a case that he was a more productive hitter. He hit 16 home runs in 278 at-bats. A-Rod hit 18 in 463.
If it were me, I might even consider moving Rodriguez the DH spot and starting Chavez at third against right-handers in the playoffs. It just makes good sense.
MIDSEASON GRADE: B
SECOND HALF GRADE: B+
OVERALL GRADE: B
The Yankees also played Jayson Nix, Casey McGehee and Eduardo Nunez at third base this season. With Nix out of the early part of the playoffs with an injury, Chavez will be the primary backup and Nunez will not play here unless it is an emergency.
McGehee will not make the postseason roster.
In the minor leagues the Yankees have a slick-fielding third baseman in Brandon Laird. But Laird, 25, had a mediocre season with the bat at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, hitting just .254 with 15 home runs and 77 RBIs.
With Rodriguez blocking his path to the majors, Laird has to hope he can find an opportunity with another organization. He has some value as a potential corner infield backup because he play first base also.
The Yankees do have a potential star in last year’s first draft pick Dante Bichette Jr., who spent the season at Class-A Charleston.
Bichette, 20, has a long way to go after hitting .248 with three home runs and 46 RBIs. This was after a season in which he was the MVP of the Gulf Coast League in 2011. But he is still young and the Yankees love his bloodlines to former Rockies outfielder Dante Bichette.
He looks to be a keeper for now.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C-
It is rare when you are talking about a three-time MVP being worse than the player who backs him up. But that is what we are dealing with in Rodriguez. Out of loyalty, his past track record and to keep the peace, manager Joe Girardi has refused to take A-Rod out of the middle of the order.
Fine. I understand that. But one would hope if A-Rod falls flat on his face this October that he will have the courage to do it next season.
There is only so much you can take. Seeing him swing through fastballs he used to crush and pop up pitches he used to hit hard over the fence is just frustrating to watch game after game.
Opposing scouts, managers and pitchers already see what Girardi has refused to admit. Maybe it is because of what happened to Joe Torre after he batted Rodriguez seventh in the 2007 playoffs against the Detroit Tigers. Torre lost his job.
Perhaps Girardi sees a similar fate for him if he does it and the team loses a playoff series. Just don’t be surprised if Rodriguez hits .125 and leaves a lot of runners on base this postseason.
The New York Yankees have reached the halfway mark of the season and they are comfortably in first place in the American League East. This is despite some injuries to some keep players such as Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain. As we do every year, let’s look at the individual components of the team and issue grades for the first half.
THIRD BASE – ALEX RODRIGUEZ (13 HR, 36 RBIs, .266 BA)
During the 2007 season, Alex Rodriguez was the most feared hitter in baseball. That was a season in which he hit 54 home runs, drove in 156 runs and batted a robust .314.
Those days are gone and there is no better testimony to that fact than A-Rod’s statistics at the halfway point of the 2012 season. He is on pace to hit 26 home runs and drive in 72 runs!
The theory on getting Rodriguez back to his old form was that he needed to stay healthy because he played in only 99 games last season due to a knee injury that required surgery and a late-season thumb injury that rendered him virtually useless with the bat in the playoffs.
Well, so far this season, Rodriguez, 36, has been healthy. He has been sidelined with no major ailments through the first 81 games.
In addition, manager Joe Girardi said he wanted to give Rodriguez a lot of “half days” off by utilizing him at designated hitter and giving him some full days off during the course of the season to keep him rested and fresh. Well, Rodriguez has started 56 games at third base and he has appeared in 78 games total.
So why does Rodriguez have only 13 home runs and 36 RBIs at the midpoint?
The answer just may be that Rodriguez has reached a point in his career that he is declining faster than the Yankees would have hoped when they offered him his second 10-year-contract that puts him on the Yankees’ payroll through 2017. That deal was signed when Rodriguez appeared to be destined to pass Barry Bonds for the all-time lead in home runs at 762.
Rodriguez has 642 but that 120 home run difference is looking like it might be out of reach for this rapidly fading superstar.
Why is this happening? Is it just age? Is it the fact that Rodriguez does not have the help of streoids? Did the steroids lead to that debilitating hip injury he suffered in 2009? Has the pitching in baseball just gotten that much better?
Whatever the reason or combination of reasons, all Yankee fans know is that Rodriguez has been unable to deliver clutch home runs or doubles as he routinely did. His typical 35 home runs and 120 RBI production is just gone.
Rodriguez is hitting .293 with the bases empty this season. Eight of his 13 home runs are solo shots.
But you put runners on base and Rodriguez is hitting like weak-hitting middle infielder Yuniesky Betancourt. He is hitting .227 with runners in scoring position and .182 with the bases loaded.
Pitchers are challenging him with fastballs up in the strike zone like never before and Rodriguez is missing them.
Though A-Rod has always been a power hitter, the highest strikeout total in his career is 139, which he posted in both 2005 and 2006. He currently has 74 strikeouts and that would translate into a career-high 148 strikeouts this season.
Clearly, something is very, very wrong with the veteran slugger. The question is will he ever get back to what he was or will he continue to regress?
In the field, Rodriguez has committed five errors in his 56 starts at third, which is just a notch below his career .964 fielding percentage. But he also has been slow to react to slow rollers and there have been a number of times those balls were scored hits but a younger Rodriguez might have been able to make a play on them.
Teams bunt on Rodriguez a lot because they do not think he is able to make the play anymore. So you will continue to see speedsters placing bunts down the third-base line.
His lateral range is also limited by that hip injury and his 6-foot-5 frame.
When you add this all up, it is easy to see the Yankees might have a very large albatross around their necks for the next five seasons. A-Rod wants to remain a Yankee the rest of his career and the Yankees are on the hook to pay him for another five seasons.
It does not appear that any amount of rest is going to make this situation any better. Alex is just Alex now. It looks as if the Yankees are just going to have to accept it.
Girardi continues to cover for his player by saying he is not worried and that A-Rod always seems to hit his home runs in bunches. OK! Well, we are still waiting for the first bunch.
Perhaps the Yankees would be better off if they dropped Rodriguez in the batting order behind Nick Swisher. That might make his failures less noticeable. But, other than that, there is not much the Yankees can do to awaken his slumbering bat.
MIDSEASON GRADE: D
BACKUP – ERC CHAVEZ (6 HRs, 16 RBIs, .270 BA)
The Yankees are very lucky to have a six-time Gold Glove winner like Chavez to play at third base when Rodriguez is the DH or resting. Chavez has made 19 starts at third base and he has committed two errors there.
But that does not tell the entire story.
Chavez, 34, provides an additional left-hand bat when the Yankees are facing a right-handed pitcher and he provides solid at-bats. Six home runs and 16 RBIs is pretty good production for a backup corner infielder.
He is a smart hitter who can hit with authority to the opposite field. He can stand to improve his .179 average with runners in scoring position but there are a lot of Yankees who can say the same thing.
Though Chavez is not as adept in the field at first base, he does not embarrass himself there either. So he gives Girardi a lot of flexibility to rest Mark Teixeira on occasion. Chavez is also very useful as a left-hand pinch-hitter of the bench.
Earlier in the season, Eduardo Nunez played third against some left-handed pitchers. But he was such a butcher in the field that he was shipped back the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to play primarily as a shortstop.
The Yankees, instead, employ Jayson Nix in that role. But Nix has only made one start here and that was in Game 81. He is hitting .228 with two home runs and six RBIs this season. Nix is more valuable as a middle infield reserve, though he also can play in the outfield.
MIDSEASON GRADE: B
The Yankees have a genuine third base prospect in Dante Bichette Jr., who they selected with their first pick in the 2011 draft. Bichette, 19, is expected to develop into a big-time power hitter as he matures. However, he has only one home run and 28 RBIs and is batting .252 with Single-A Charleston (SC) in the Carolina League.
Brandon Laird, 24, is considered a major-league-ready third baseman defensively and he does have some power. But Laird is hitting just .236 with seven home runs and 42 RBIs at Scranton.
There is not much third base talent within the Yankees’ minor-league system. But with A-Rod halfway through his 10-year-deal it does not seem to be much of a concern now.
OVERALL POSITION GRADE: C-
I am not optimistic that Rodriguez will suddenly find his power stroke and will start launching A-Bombs all over Yankee Stadium in the second half.
Rodriguez currently is hitting a home run every 22.3 at-bats. In 2010, Rodriguez hit a home run every 17.4 at-bats. In his career, he has homered in every 14.7 at-bats.
Clearly, there is a major decline here and Rodriguez can’t be expected to erase the march of time. He is aging rapidly and it is coming a lot quicker than anyone thought it would.
Rodriguez is also sometimes his own worst enemy because he does tinker with his swing and mechanics so much that he sometimes looks like he is thinking at the plate instead of just reacting. As a result pitchers do not seem to fear him as much anymore.
When Girardi finally admits this is the A-Rod he is going to get for the next five years, maybe he can move him down in the order. But, for now, do not expect much out of Rodriguez in 2012. He will only break your heart.