MLB's arbitrator Fredric Horowitz ruled Saturday that Alex Rodriguez's suspension would be reduced from 211 games down to 162 games, or the entire 2014 regular season and any potential playoffs. Rodriguez has vowed to fight his reduced suspension in federal court, but all indications are that he won't be successful in that endeavor and MLB's Players Association has made it clear that he is on his own taking it to that level.
The Yankees' job is now to find someone capable of playing third base every day for the entire 2014 season and maybe beyond. No one knows how a year's absence will impact Rodriguez's body, even if he keeps up a strenuous workout schedule in his downtime. It's unlikely that we have seen the very last of Rodriguez as a Yankee, but it isn't impossible to imagine either. That being the case, the Yankees have about one month to come up with a contingency plan. Do they fill third base from within, or do they look to the outside via trade or free agency instead?
At the major league level, the Yankees have Eduardo Nunez and Kelly Johnson who could see time at third base. Johnson is more of a second baseman and would make an ideal platoon partner with fellow second baseman Brian Roberts. That being the case, and the Yankees having already expressed that Nunez could be their A-Rod back-up plan, it's very possible that this news is very, very good for Nunez.
If Nunez is the player they decide to head into 2014 with at third base, the already shaky infield defense gets even worse. The left side of the infield would be of constant concern for the entire season with Derek Jeter's ankle hanging on by a thread, impeding his defense for however long he can hold up in the field, and Nunez's adventurous defense. That's not even covering the offense, which is another facet of baseball where Nunez has not redeemed himself. There's nothing that can be said that hasn't already been said a million times about Nunez, but the idea that he will magically put it together one day when he will turn 27 this year is not an idea I can subscribe to. He may be the Yankees' preference out of insane continued loyalty to a player they thought at one time might be Jeter's successor, but it doesn't seem realistic to hold on to that hope at this point.
Farm system options:
The Yankees' farm system doesn't have a lot to offer at third base near the majors, but Ronnier Mustelier has played there during his time at Triple-A. Mustelier might have made the roster out of spring training last year before he ran into a railing that ended up costing him a good chunk of his season with the RailRiders. Defensively, a man who is as round as a fire hydrant will probably not make too many highlight reel plays, but what Mustelier really brings to the table is his bat. In 90 games in 2013, Mustelier hit .274/.321/.397 after hitting .314/.371/.488 the season before when he managed to stay on the field for 114 games. If the 29-year-old can put up numbers like he did in 2012, or even something close to that, he might be the Yankees' best option at third base that they already have in their system.
Jose Pirela presents an interesting option for the Yankees, because he has absolutely raked in winter ball this year. The 24-year-old has played mainly at second base and shortstop, but has also gotten reps at third base. His offense is there but his defense, so far, has not been, which has kept him in Double-A instead of advancing through the system. Pirela hit .272/.359/.418 for the Double-A Trenton Thunder last year. In 63 games in the Venezuelan Winter League Pirela has hit an impressive .332/.415/.514 with six home runs. The Yankees could take a chance on him at third base, make him the every day second baseman to gain the ability to slide Johnson over to third base, or bring in another third baseman via trade or free agency.
Another potential option from the farm is Corban Joseph, who was getting reps at third base during his time in Triple-A before having to undergo season-ending surgery. Like Mustelier, Joseph struggled a bit last year, but put up impressive numbers in 2012 with a .266/.366/.474 batting line. Joseph got his first taste of the majors early last season and should be healthy going into 2014. If the Yankees favor his experience at the higher levels of the minors over Pirela's he could be an interesting option, but he'd also be playing out of position at third with his usual position being second base.
The main problem with exploring the trade market for the Yankees is that they don't have many trade pieces to offer. Brett Gardner represents their best trade chip with major league experience and the farm system had a pretty bad system top to bottom in 2013. If a team is shopping a third baseman, the Yankees should be all over it. Whether a deal can get done or not is another matter entirely, but it's always possible that a team is desperate enough to unload a player for even minimal return.
It seems unlikely that the team has the pieces to bring in an impact third baseman. Coupled with the fact that every team in baseball knows that the Yankees will be desperate for one now means that the prices will rise dramatically. To save having to mortgage the farm and everything else, it's probably best for the Yankees to find players they can bring in from the free agent market or ones that are already on the roster.
Who is your ideal replacement for Alex Rodriguez this season? Who is your realistic hope as a replacement? Should the Yankees go for someone like Stephen Drew to have him play out of position, or are you in favor of the Jose Pirela experience?