On-Base Perception

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Yankees would be smart to keep Alex Rodriguez

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez watches from the

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez watches from the bench during Game 4 of the American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers last year in Detroit. (Oct. 18, 2012) (Credit: AP)

The Yankees could look a lot different in 2013.

Following an anemic offensive postseason, the lineup could see a great deal of turnover as the team continues looking for a winning combination of bats to help secure yet another trip to the World Series.

And Alex Rodriguez will almost certainly be a part of that group.

There are a few reasons A-Rod will very likely be manning third base next season and for several seasons to come. Not the least of which is money; A-Rod is owed $114 million over the next five seasons, not including a $30 million marketing agreement based on him attaining several home run milestones.

But performance is also a factor. The simple, odd fact is: the Yankees are better off with an aging, diminished A-Rod at third base.

What to expect

In defense of Rodriguez's 2012 season, several commentators have noted that his 18 home runs came in just 122 games. Had he played a full season, that number could be at 24 or higher, a much nicer looking power output for a corner infielder.

But Rodriguez has played 138 games or less every season since 2008, and it's no longer fair to expect him to go above the 120-130 range in games played. He's getting older, and older players generally get hurt more frequently. Over the past five seasons, A-Rod has averaged 124 games. He's not quite a part-time player, but it wouldn't hurt the Yankees to keep a capable backup on the bench in 2013.

A-Rod's 2011 and 2012 batting lines are probably indicative of what to expect from him for the next couple years. In 2011, A-Rod hit .276 with a .362 on-base percentage and 16 home runs. In 2012, he hit .272 with a .353 OBP and 18 homers. Over the last four seasons his batting average is .275. That's about what you're going to get going forward.

Comparisons at the hot corner

In 2012, third basemen combined for a .266 average, .327 OBP and .427 slugging percentage (.754 on-base plus slugging percentage). A-Rod's numbers exceed each of those averages (.272/.353/.430 - .783 OPS).

He's essentially a just-above league average hitter and power hitter at this stage, but his eye remains a strength, and his ability to work a walk fits in well with the Yankees' strategy since the 1990s.

The only qualified American League third basemen to hit for a better average than A-Rod in 2012 were Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre and Brett Lawrie. Only Cabrera and Beltre slugged higher than him or had a higher OBP than he did.

Also, despite being tied for the fewest games played (with Kevin Youkilis) among qualified AL third basemen, A-Rod is tied for the stolen base lead with 13.

Alternatives

There simply aren't many alternatives to A-Rod on the free agent market, even if the Yankees did accomplish a deal to send him out of town. Youkilis is the biggest name, but he's 34, has a $13 million club option for 2013 and hit worse than A-Rod last season (.235/.336/.409).

True trade upgrades like San Diego's Chase Headley (.286/.376/.498) would cost the kind of prospects the Yankees don't really have right now.

Might as well stay

So the choice the Yankees are faced with is: (a) eating the majority of a $114 million contract to trade A-Rod, then also paying a replacement who likely won't perform as well as A-Rod or (b) paying all of a $114 million contract for above-average production at third base.

Putting sentiment and postseason frustrations aside, it seems like a clear choice.

Even if it's not a choice many fans will be happy with.

Tags: Alex Rodriguez , Yankees

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