Will Brian Cashman try to upgrade at third base with Alex Rodriguez out?
For the Yankees, nothing succeeds like excess, and if that involves building more redundancy into the roster, so be it.
Did Brian Cashman need to trade for Ichiro Suzuki a week ago? Not really. But the temptation to improve a first-place team is always there, like a pinstriped elephant in the room. Now he is dealing with it again in the hours before tomorrow's non-waiver trade deadline.
If Alex Rodriguez doesn't break his hand a week ago, courtesy of Felix Hernandez's 88-mph changeup, we're not even having this conversation. Getting Ichiro was a relatively cheap alternative for Brett Gardner, and despite rumblings Sunday of a setback with Andy Pettitte, Cashman assured Newsday's Erik Boland it was merely "the ebb and flow of rehab" and that he remains on target for an early September return.
Which brings us again to third base. A-Rod is not expected back for another six weeks, at the earliest, and Cashman is left to wrestle with the idea of biding his time with Eric Chavez and Jayson Nix. That tag team went 0-for-3 Sunday night, with Chavez striking out as a pinch hitter to open the ninth inning of the Yankees' 3-2 loss to Boston.
Can the Yankees get by with that combo? Sure. Even with Chavez's brittle nature, Nix is a solid stand-in at the position. During the past week, Nix delivered a game-winning double Wednesday against the Mariners and also smacked his third career homer off Jon Lester in Saturday's losing effort. Only Carlos Peña and Jose Bautista have more against Lester.
"A-Rod is a presence -- there's no doubt about that," Bobby Valentine said. "But you can't allow Nix to be overlooked. Whoever is in there instead is a pretty good player, but they're not A-Rod. Sometimes it gets confusing. It's a guy that you haven't seen as much and you don't realize that you have to work just as hard to get him out."
A utility player can get exposed over an extended period of regular use, however, and Chavez put a scare in Cashman on Friday night when he got drilled above the ankle by Red Sox reliever Mark Melancon. Chavez escaped with a bruise, but it was a gentle reminder of how fragile the Yankees' depth at that position could be.
Cashman has enough in-house to ride the eight-game division lead the Yankees carried into Sunday night. But that hasn't stopped the GM from checking in on a number of possible A-Rod replacements, including the Padres' Chase Headley, who should command a decent prospect in return.
A person familiar with the situation said Sunday that the Yankees have talked to the Padres about Headley (12 homers, .781 OPS). But if the third baseman is dealt, it appears "the chances are not good" he'll wind up in the Bronx. The cost in talent might be the primary reason.
The Yankees gave up relatively little for Ichiro in minor-league pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar, along with taking on $2.5 million of his $17-million salary for this season. That was fine with Cashman for a two-month rental, and he's not in the market for a longer-term replacement at third base -- not right this minute, anyway.
A-Rod eventually will become a full-time DH at some point during the remaining five years on his contract. But for now, the Yankees are thinking more about a six-week substitute such as the Phillies' Ty Wigginton, who could be on the block Monday after the Phillies were swept this weekend in Atlanta.
That's not to say the Yankees are out on Headley. They were described as "keeping an eye" on his availability. And if the past week was any indication, the trade market will be very much in flux up until 4 p.m. Tuesday.