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Best case, worst case: Third base

Tweet [1]

I haven’t written posts for any other positions ahead of time, but right now, it’s hard for me to imagine a more extreme best case, worst case than at third base. One hip surgery, a reclamation project, a 20-year-old, and a guy who’s basically played one season in the past three years. What could possibly go wrong?

[2]Best-case scenario
Too much of a good thing
Kevin Youkilis bounces back. Surgery does the trick for Alex Rodriguez. David Adams rakes in Triple-A. The Yankees best-case scenario at third base is a problem of overcrowding.

In Youkilis and Rodriguez, the Yankees have two elite talents, each of whom has fallen significantly (and quickly). As recently as 2011, Youkilis had an .833 OPS. The year before that, it was .975. If some of last season’s decline can be explained by bad luck — the Yankees think that was part of it — and some of it can be corrected with slight mechanical tweaks, Youkilis could be a powerful and patient hitter again at 33 years old. If Rodriguez’s lack of power was caused by a gradually worsening hip problem that reached its breaking point — Dr. Bryan Kelly thinks that was part of it — and surgery can truly help Rodriguez regain his explosiveness, he just might be able to return to his 2010 form (.270/.341/.506) — or, if you really want to dream big, his 2009 form (.286/.402/.532). Hard to imagine, even in a best-case world, that Rodriguez can be an MVP candidate again, but a guy who draws walks and hits some homers might not be out of the question.

And if things go really well, it won’t only be Youkilis and Rodriguez available at third base. Adams finally returned from an ankle injury to hit .306/.385/.450 in Double-A last season. He hit for more power than that before the injury, and if his power picks up again in Triple-A — he did slug .538 in August last year — Adams could legitimately push for big league at-bats before September. Ronnier Mustelier, Corban Joseph and Russ Canzler have also shown enough upper-level offense to suggest they could be viable options at third base if necessary. Add in a bounceback year from 20-year-old Dante Bichette to restore his prospect status and the Yankees could have immediate production, short-term options and long-term potential at third base.

[3]Worst-case scenario
Everything falls apart
The amazing thing about the Yankees third-base situation is that absolutely nothing seems assured. The Yankees can more or less count on Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson hitting for power, Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki providing some speed, and Robinson Cano and CC Sabathia being well above average at their positions. But third base could reach some significant lows if things go really badly.

The worst-case scenario isn’t Rodriguez never getting healthy, it’s Rodriguez getting healthy and still not deserving an everyday job. If the surgery is a success but doesn’t bring back some of Rodriguez’s hitting ability, then the Yankees will be in real trouble for 2013 and beyond, with no reasonable hope of being able to fix their highest paid player. Rodriguez’s replacement, Youkilis, has seen his OPS go from .975 to .833 to .745 in the past three years. If that sort of decline continues, the Yankees best source of right-handed power on the left side of the infield just might be unproven Canzler, which isn’t reassuring.

Down in Triple-A, both Adams and Mustelier have shown promise, but Adams doesn’t have much of a track record for a guy who’s about to turn 26, and that’s even more true for 28-year-old Mustelier. Adams certainly has potential, and Mustelier seems fairly advanced as a hitter, but it’s not out of the question that one or both of those two could flop and never see the big leagues. Same for Bichette, who had everyone’s attention following a terrific 2011 season, only to lose that attention with a three-homer season in 2012. The worst-case scenario at third base doesn’t only leave the Yankees without a viable option for this year, it leaves them without an answer any time in the foreseeable future.

Associated Press photos