It wasn’t only for a year or two. It was over an extended period of time that Alex Rodriguez established himself as the best player in baseball, and that nearly unanimous title helped him land a massive contract (and then a second massive contract). Signed through 2017, the Yankees third baseman is no longer the best player in the game, and he has been hobbled by injuries, but he can still hit when he’s healthy, and he can still play the field with occasionally dazzling results. Keeping Rodriguez healthy is key not only this season, but for the foreseeable future.
In the big leagues
Before he hurt his knee, Rodriguez was hitting .283/.365/.506 through two and a half months last season. Not quite the numbers he was putting up in his prime, but still good production in the cleanup spot. After that Cubs series, though, Rodriguez’s slash line fell to .250/.343/.371 through the rest of the season. When he got back from the knee injury, he hurt his thumb in his very first game, and he just wasn’t the same. His timing seemed off, and he never recovered. Right now, the Yankees say the knee is fixed and the thumb is a non-issue. They also say his surgically repaired hip is causing no problems. If Rodriguez is healthy, he can still be a difference maker, but the Yankees might want to rest him occasionally, which increases the need to re-sign Eric Chavez or find an Eric Chavez-type replacement.
On the verge
Brandon Laird was a 27th-round draft pick back in 2007, not even close to the top third baseman in his own draft class. But he kept hitting all the way through the organization, and now he’s next on the depth chart. After minimal big league time last year, Laird will likely return to Triple-A in hopes of putting up better numbers than last season (his first truly disappointing year since joining the organization). The Yankees have additional third base depth in Eduardo Nunez, Ramiro Pena, Kevin Russo, Jayson Nix, Corban Joseph and David Adams — and Jorge Vazquez occasionally — but another big year from Laird could keep him on the map and put him in contention for a four-corners bench job.
Deep in the system
It’s a long road from the amateur draft to the big leagues, but Dante Bichette Jr. took an impressive first step with his standout season in the Gulf Coast League. The Yankees top pick this summer hit .342/.446/.505 in his debut, and he seemed to surprise some critics with is play in the field. Rodriguez isn’t going anywhere, so the Yankees can afford to take their time with Bichette and not rush him through the season (see Duncan, Eric). Rob Segedin, Rob Lyerly and Tyler Austin can’t be completely overlooked in the lower levels — and catching prospect J.R. Murphy can play some third base as well — but Bichette is the system’s top prospect at the position. Just like at second base, Cuban utility man Ronnier Mustelier is a wild card who’s put up impressive numbers so far and spent his time in the Arizona Fall League playing third base.
Organizational depth chart
My rough guess. It’s too early for the Yankees to decide who will be where next season.
New York: Alex Rodriguez
Scranton/WB: Brandon Laird
Trenton: Ronnier Mustelier
Tampa: Rob Segedin
Charleston: Dante Bichette
I have Musterlier as a third baseman on the depth chart — and I’m projecting him in Double-A to open the season — but he’s more likely to move to various positions while a guy like Brad Suttle also gets regular time at third. From the 2011 draft: Fourth-round pick Matt Duran is also a third baseman, fifth-rounder Greg Bird seems like a candidate to move from catcher to an infield corner, and 21st-round third baseman Zachary Wilson hit a team-high 10 home runs in Staten Island last year. The low-level depth at third goes well beyond Bichette, and there are multi-position guys with upside who could see time at the hot corner this season throughout the system. In the Yankees system, third base isn’t as high-end as catcher or center field, but it’s a fairly deep with a lot of guys whose best-case scenario is intriguing.
Associated Press photo of Rodriguez, headshots of Rodriguez, Laird and Bichette