30° Good Afternoon
30° Good Afternoon
SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Alex Rodriguez's role further marginalized by Chase Headley signing

The New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez speaks at

The New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez speaks at a news conference before the Yankees played the Chicago White Sox in a baseball game at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago on Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. Credit: AP / Charles Cherney

Last week at the winter meetings, Brian Cashman mentioned that Alex Rodriguez needs to lose a few pounds before spring training.

Truth is, the Yankees wish he'd vanish altogether.

But that isn't happening -- at least not right away -- so the Yankees continued with their next phase of phasing out A-Rod by bringing back Chase Headley on a four-year, $52-million deal Monday.

Yes, that's a lot of money for someone like Headley, who put up an MVP-type season in 2012 with San Diego and never has come close to matching it. But Cashman much prefers Headley over the guy on his roster with three MVP trophies and twin hip surgeries, and Monday's signing apparently slams the door on A-Rod's third-base career in the Bronx.

If we had a nickel for every time Cashman has said the Yankees don't know what to expect from Rodriguez in '15, we'd already have paid off our holiday credit-card bills. Going all-in on Headley, rather than using Martin Prado as a stopgap measure at third, demonstrates that the Yankees don't see A-Rod, who will turn 40 in July, as physically capable of manning the position on a regular basis.

Hardly a shocking assessment. Rodriguez played 43 games in 2013 after his return from a second hip surgery. He made 27 starts at third but was forced to DH in his final 13. There's no way of calculating how a season "off" is going to affect A-Rod's production. Limiting him to DH duties, however, increases the odds he can stay in the lineup.

Not that anyone seems all that crazy about having him there, either. The Yankees still owe A-Rod $61 million through 2017, and he's only six home runs away from a $6-million bonus that will kick in when he reaches Willie Mays' 660. It's a bit premature for them to start worrying about 714 (or 755), though, when the Yankees talk as if he might be nothing more than a bench player at this point.

If they're going to squeeze any remaining value from A-Rod, it would be as the regular DH, with maybe occasional stints filling in at first base for Mark Teixeira, who casually floated the idea of needing more rest as he gets older. Rodriguez has never played first. But then again, neither had Carlos Beltran before last season, and Rodriguez could have no choice but to take what he can get if he's not hitting enough to hold on to the DH job.

For now, the Yankees are treating him like a third wheel, unless he impresses them during spring training. "Depending on the makeup of the club," Joe Girardi said last week in San Diego, "we have to see where he's at."

Rodriguez is used to having teams built around him, not the other way around. And with an older roster, Girardi tends to favor leaving the DH spot somewhat open so thirty-something players who need a rest -- like Beltran and Teixeira -- can recharge while still getting their bat in the lineup.

Cashman, who remains in "acquisition mode," is worrying more about how to improve the Yankees than where A-Rod fits into the '15 blueprint. So the GM can keep kicking him farther down the road until February, when the Yankees will be forced to deal with him in Tampa.

That circus is only two months away. But in signing Headley, the Yankees have locked up their third baseman of the future and added the type of player they hope can help offset the looming A-Rod drama. During his two-month stay, Headley showed he could handle the Bronx both on and off the field. We'll see how he does when the combustible A-Rod is stirred into the mix.

Headley said the Yankees convinced him to come back by guaranteeing him the third base job. The piles of cash had to be persuasive, too. But they need Headley for more than his superb glove. By installing him at third, the Yankees hosed down a spot that could have been a potential brush fire if it still was unsettled when Rodriguez arrived.

"I don't see there being any friction, especially coming from my side," Headley said. "I think it's going to work out fine."

For Headley, sure. We're not so optimistic about A-Rod and the Yankees.

New York Sports