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Hartnett: A-Rod’s Injury Dramatically Changes Yankees’ Offseason Plans

A-Rod’s Absence Will Force Yankees To Target Cody Ross
Cody Ross (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

Cody Ross (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

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‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

Losing Alex Rodriguez until June at the earliest has turned the Yankees’ biggest weakness into a gaping hole.  The Yankees are currently without a full-time right-handed power bat in their everyday lineup.

Brian Cashman is yet to address the Yankees’ imbalance of relying on left-handed power hitting.  Torii Hunter proved to be too costly, and the Yankees were hesitant to give a 37-year-old a two-year, $26 million deal.  Hunter opted to sign a two-year pact with the Detroit Tigers, who made their interest obvious since the start of the offseason.

Re-Signing Ichiro Is Not A Priority For The Yankees

(credit: Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

Ichiro Suzuki (credit: Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

A-Rod’s surgery will also drastically impact Ichiro’s future.  The Yankees’ lineup has lost a lot of power by declining to bring back Nick Swisher and losing A-Rod until at least mid-season.  Ichiro gave the Yankees two strong months and was one of the few Yankees batters who performed during their American League Championship Series sweep at the hands of the Tigers.

Since 2011, Ichiro hasn’t been an all-world leadoff hitter over the course of a full season. Over 67 games with the Yankees, Ichiro hit .322 with a .340 on-base percentage.  Chances are slim that he repeats that kind of production for the entire 2013 season at the age of 39.

The Yankees probably got Ichiro’s last good run of his career. He was brought in to replace the speed and defense of the injured Brett Gardner. Going into 2013, Gardner will be healthy and the need to bring back Ichiro on a one-year deal isn’t a huge priority for Cashman. What he needs is legitimate right-handed power.

Cody Ross doesn’t give the Yankees the sizzle of Ichiro. He doesn’t bring any of the things that Ichiro brings to the table — marketability, foreign merchandise sales, new commercial partners or speed on the basepaths.

What Ross does have in common with Ichiro is that he can play all three outfield positions adequately and is a plus-fielder in the corners. Ross is the best available right-handed power-hitting outfielder on the free-agent market.

Victorino To The Red Sox Opens The Door For Ross To The Yanks

Shane Victorino. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Shane Victorino. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

It was confirmed on Tuesday evening that Shane Victorino and the Boston Red Sox agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal.  Boston drops their interest in Swisher.

This lowers Ross’ value, as Boston’s outfield is now filled with Jonny Gomes in left field, Jacoby Ellsbury manning center field and now Victorino in right field.

A two-year deal in the $7-to-$8 million range would be fair value for Ross and the Yankees. Ross hit 22 home runs and drove in 81 RBIs in 130 games last season with the Red Sox.  His on-base plus slugging was a strong .807 in 2012.  Also keep in mind that  Joe Girardi managed Ross in Florida and would make a recommendation to Cashman, as he thinks highly of Ross’ abilities and “gamer” style of play.

Scott Hairston posted a similar 2012 OPS of .803, but does not have the track record of Ross, nor does he bring plus-defense to the table. A reunion with the Mets appears likely.

Based on their current depth chart and the probability of Derek Jeter being able to play on Opening Day in a designated-hitter role, the Yankees’ Opening Day lineup would look like this.  (I’m also expecting Girardi to swap the range-blessed Brett Gardner to center field and move Curtis Granderson to one of the corners.)

1. Gardner CF

2. Jeter DH

3. Cano 2B

4. Teixeira 1B

5. Granderson LF

6. Nunez SS

7. Dickerson RF

8. Nix 3B

9. Cervelli C

Obviously, the Yankees’ Opening Day lineup will not resemble this when the club takes the field against the Boston Red Sox on April 1. Cashman will look to address right field, third base, shortstop and catcher long before April of 2013.

How Cashman Can Find An A-Rod Stopgap And Fill Out His Bench

Brian Cashman (credit: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Brian Cashman (credit: Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

The Yankees need a stopgap solution at third base. Cashman stated during Monday’s press conference that he views Eduardo Nunez’s future at shortstop. They need an upgrade over Jayson Nix who is currently top of the Yankees’ depth chart at third base.

A platoon of Eric Chavez — who isn’t considering retirement — with a right-handed infielder sounds like the plan. Kevin Youkilis is coming off a poor 2012 campaign and there are legitimate questions about his durability and clubhouse reputation.

Either Marco Scutaro or Jeff Keppinger would make ideal utility infielders for the Yankees. They still need to figure out their catcher situation. Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine do not possess the trademarks of a full-time catcher.  It’s more likely that Cashman goes the trade route rather than taking A.J. Pierzynski on a short-term deal.

In addition, Raul Ibanez will likely fill out the Yankees’ bench as a part-time designated hitter and key pinch-hitter.

Should Cody Ross be the Yankees’ main free-agent target?  Sound off below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.