The Yankees after A-Rod

Yankees fans and Yankees haters don’t agree on much, but the exception is Alex Rodriguez. Off with his PED-swollen head, they concur.

Who said A-Rod wasn’t a unifying force?

Saturday’s announcement banning Rodriguez for the 2014 season pleased both sides. (There was even a victory for A-Rod, albeit a Pyrrhic one of reducing 49 games off his original 211-game sentence.) But it’s in the aftermath that Yankees fans and Yankees haters diverge.

In truth, the suspension offers something for each side. Unfortunately for the Yankees, a denouement isn’t one of them. Rodriguez, legal expert that he is, says he’ll appeal in federal court (I’m going to guess, given his association with Tony Bosch, most of Rodriguez’s legal knowledge comes from watching Nancy Grace. Or Judge Judy). A-Rod seems unaware that’s what the just-completed arbitration process was: an appeal. There seems a better chance Brendan Ryan will hit 20 home runs this year than Rodriguez’s legal team will hit one in court.

The Yankees get $24 million off their payroll, but they still have to pay A-Rod $3 million for spring training, and he says he’ll be there. The Yankees should pay him twice that to stay away.

The Yankees can use A-Rod’s salary to give to Masahiro Tanaka, the Japanese pitcher up for auction. In truth, the Yankees always had money to offer Tanaka, but saving on A-Rod gives them a chance to stay under the luxury tax. Of course, the Yankees’ New Year’s resolution is always to stay under the tax, and they usually break it by the time the first bowl game is over.

Currently, the Yankees’ payroll is reportedly at $150 million. That doesn’t include those eligible for arbitration — David Robertson, Brett Gardner and Ivan Nova, among others — which should add $15 million to the payroll, or help that’s needed in the bullpen.

Nor does it include a replacement for A-Rod at third, and the Yankees aren’t nearly forgetful enough to ignore what 2013 was like without A-Rod. Hate A-Rod all you want, and point out how much his skills have depreciated, but A-Rod with a bad hip can still create more runs than Jayson Nix. Yes, A-Rod creates drama in adiition to runs, but Nix did neither. Ten Yankees, besides A-Rod, manned third base last year, none more than Nix, who lived up to his surname with his .619 OPS (given A-Rod and Nix, can you name the other nine Yankees who played third in 2013? answers below.)

Currently, the Yankees have Kelly Johnson at third, who might strike out 300 times if given enough at-bats. And that’s assuming Johnson isn’t needed at second, where Brian Roberts hasn’t played more than 77 games since 2009.

Given 500 at-bats of Johnson whiffing, or free agent Michael Young slapping .270 and whiffing in the field, and even Yankees fans might begin to miss A-Rod a little.

They’ll miss Tanaka more if they don’t get him, because Yankees fans are like 16h-century explorers: they see something they like and claim it (with a checkbook instead of a flag), regardless of the competition.

The Yankees want Tanaka (and who doesn’t), but there’s no telling what Tanaka wants. He might be fascinated with New York, like Hideki Matsui. Or he might be more comfortable in Seattle, like Hisashi Iwakuma.

It’s safe to assume the Yankees won’t be outbid for Tanaka.

Of course, it would have been safe to assume that even had A-Rod won his appeal.

The 11 Yankees who played third base in 2013: Jayson Nix 41 games; David Adams 31; Alex Rodriguez 27; Kevin Youkilis 22; Mark Reynolds 14, Eduardo Nunez 14; Luis Cruz 13; Chris Nelson 10; Brent Lillibridge 9; Alberto Gonzalez 6; Vernon Wells 1.

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