The Yankees’ situation at third base feels both unique and familiar. Let there be no doubt that Alex Rodriguez is a one-of-a-kind player with a one-of-a-kind contract, but in terms of the Yankees plans and preparations, Rodriguez isn’t all that different from Mark Teixeira. Both are among the game’s premier players, locked into long-term contracts at positions where the Yankees don’t have an obvious replacement rising through the system. First base belongs to Teixeira, third base belongs to Rodriguez, and it should stay that way for a long time.
Starter: Alex Rodriguez
Backup: Ramiro Pena
Veteran insurance: none
Almost ready: Kevin Russo
Low rising: Brandon Laird, Brad Suttle, (plus a handful of lower-level guys who play all over the infield)
Pena seems to be the favorite to open as the Yankees utility infielder, and that makes him the most obvious backup at third base. Similar to the situation at second, though, Russo might be a better long-term solution should the Yankees need someone other than Rodriguez to play third base more than once or twice a month. With Jerry Hairston and Eric Hinske gone, there is no veteran who could step in and handle the position for a few weeks. Laird should be in Double-A, and he has legitimate power, but Suttle might be the most intriguing young third baseman in the system. He needs to bounce back from injuries and regain the form that made him a highly touted college hitter in the 2007 draft.
Worst-case scenario: You remember what happened last spring. At the time, it was believed that Rodriguez would need a second surgery this winter, but his doctors checked him out and determined that second surgery was no longer necessary. The worst-case scenario is that those doctors were wrong. There is absolutely no reason to believe they were wrong, but the possibility looms. If Russo takes a step backward in his return to Triple-A, Laird proves unable to stick at third in his Double-A debut and Suttle’s injuries prove too much for him to stay on the field at any level, the minor league system would take a hit at third base.
Best-case scenario: Ladies and gentlemen, your 2010 American League MVP, Alex Rodriguez. The same best-case scenario that applied to first base fits perfectly at third. Look at Rodriguez’s 2007 numbers. That’s what we’re talking about here. Icing on the cake would be another .320 batting average from Russo, 20 home runs from Laird and 400 at-bats from Suttle. A huge season from one of the lower-level infielders — Garrison Lassiter, Corban Joseph, Addison Maruszak, Jimmy Paredes – would be the cherry on top.
The future: Rodriguez is signed through 2017, so any talk of the future begins with him. He even has a contract that becomes more affordable year-by-year. There is some third base talent in the minor league system, but none of it is likely to bump Rodriguez as long as Rodriguez stays productive. If Rodriguez gets hurt, his skills fall off a cliff or the Yankees make a radical decision to have him change positions, then we can talk about a change of plans. For now, Rodriguez is the Yankees present and the future at third base.
An attempt at the complete depth chart
An educated guess, but just a guess
Scranton: Kevin Russo
Trenton: Brandon Laird
Tampa: Garrison Lassiter, (eventually Brad Suttle)
Charleston: Rob Lyerly, Kevin Mahoney
Both High-A and Low-A could have a lot of guys moving all around the infield, and even Double-A and Triple-A will likely see some defensive flexibility at second, third and short.