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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

The Yankees and Alex Rodriguez have never needed each other more

Alex Rodriguez reacts at first base after hitting

Alex Rodriguez reacts at first base after hitting an eighth-inning RBI single during the Yankees' 5-4 victory over the Mets. (June 10, 2012) Credit: AP

BOSTON - Carlos Beltran doesn't plan on being the Yankees' designated hitter next season. In talking to him, he's not happy to be doing the job full-time now.

So when Beltran gets the bone spur in his elbow fixed in the offseason, he'll be thrilled to step aside and let someone else take over DH duty.

Such as Alex Rodriguez.

Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of A-Rod's 211-game suspension, which later was reduced to 162 -- plus the postseason, if applicable -- for his involvement with Biogenesis. At that time, the Yankees and Rodriguez were at each other's throats, barely keeping the peace for the three-plus hours he spent in uniform.

But after watching this $200-million team struggle on a daily basis to scrape up any offense this season, it's become painfully evident the two have never needed each other more.

"You know what? He's a guy that can hit, man," Beltran said before Sunday night's game at Fenway Park. "He's done it all his career. It would be a big plus."

Rodriguez was last seen in these parts taking his revenge on Ryan Dempster, whose PED-motivated drilling of the disgraced Yankee was answered with a spectacular home run by A-Rod. Those were the days. Rodriguez's every trip to the plate was must-see TV, and his presence alone in the Yankees' fractured lineup carried weight.

Last week, Brian Cashman's search for offensive help at the trade deadline yielded Chase Headley, Martin Prado and Stephen Drew. Not exactly Murderers' Row, but a trio of useful bats able to fill a few positional vacancies. Headley already has turned out to be a good two-way get by Cashman. The jury is still out on the other two.

The Yankees' best acquisition this offseason, however, might wind up being A-Rod, whose Bud Selig-imposed exile finally will be lifted.

Looking back now, what if Rodriguez and Selig -- maybe with some diplomatic assistance by the Players Association -- had settled on a slightly lesser penalty last August, like an unprecedented 125 games? Or 150?

Had that been the case, and had Rodriguez chosen not to appeal, he'd already be back hitting cleanup. The idea seemed preposterous a year ago, in the middle of all the Biogenesis muck. But it must sound pretty appealing now for the Yankees, whose 438 runs ranked 17th in the majors and .699 OPS was tied with the Nationals for 14th.

Would A-Rod, who turned 39 a week ago, have helped to improve those numbers? Last season, in 44 games, Rodriguez had a slash line of .244/.348/.423 and homered every 25.9 plate appearances. Mark Teixeira, Sunday night's No. 4 hitter, entered at .236/.321/.472 with a homer every 17.7 PA. Behind him was Beltran (.247/.302/.444) and Brian McCann (.238/.291/.371).

A-Rod doesn't look so bad, huh?

Next year's roster likely will include a full-time DH situation with Rodriguez, whose mobility is limited by two surgically repaired hips. Prado, who still has two years and $22 million left on his contract, can slide over to third -- unless the Yankees decide to re-sign Headley.

Headley has played excellent defense since coming over from the Padres, and insists that the herniated disc in his back -- which required a June epidural -- hasn't been a problem since.

As far as DH, Girardi had preferred to rotate that slot before he was forced to install Beltran there on a daily basis. Beltran eventually is expected to return to rightfield. But after the trade for Prado, the Yankees aren't so anxious about it anymore. And when Beltran does get to use his glove again, he wants to be wearing it often.

"I'm just going to play out there until my legs break," he said, laughing.

The Yankees will need him in right to clear the DH for A-Rod, and even though Girardi would like to use a revolving door for that spot, he admitted Sunday that sometimes the personnel won't allow that luxury. Like David Ortiz for the Red Sox.

"I think it depends on the makeup of your team," Girardi said.

A-Rod will dramatically change the Yankees, in many ways, when he returns next year. In the meantime, while watching them struggle at the plate during the final two months, use your imagination.

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