The announcement that Alex Rodriguez will need to have surgery on his left hip and could be out at least until the middle of the 2013 season was an eye-opener for me. Suddenly, it is clear to me that A-Rod is done even if no one wants to admit it yet. His last full season was 2007. His last .400 wOBA season was 2009. His last 30 homer season was 2010. For the past couple years I’ve been among those Yankee fans who were waiting for a throwback season from A-Rod, arguing that all he needed was to be healthy and the team would have one of the better third basemen in the game, even at this late stage in Rodriguez’s career. This second hip surgery is cold water on my face. Alex will never be healthy again. He’s too old. Maybe he has 250 games left in him over the remainder of his contract, but I expect him to hang around, collecting pay checks, and not do much else.
Alex’s steady decline sheds a concerning light on the rest of the Yankee roster. This team is not a youth movement. Derek Jeter broke his ankle in the post season and, despite an excellent 2012 performance, will turn 39 next season. Mariano Rivera suffered a season ending injury in 2012, and turned 43 years old at the end of November. Andy Pettitte has tantalized Yankee fans with the stuff he has shown on the mound the past few seasons that he has played when he is healthy, but he too fits the potential A-Rod description. His mounting injuries are part of his decline, perhaps the defining part. No matter how good his stuff, a pitcher who will turn 41 next season poses a significant injury risk.
The newer players aren’t that young either. Mark Teixeira played only 123 games last season and has seen his wOBA decrease each year since he joined the team. Hiroki Kuroda will turn 38 next season. Even Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano are over 30 and probably have their best baseball behind them.
None of this is to say that the Yankees will be bad in 2013. The team is awash in pitching that can be used during the season or in trade. But the clock is ticking on the Yankees. As difficult as it may be to accept, there will come a day quickly when the team no longer has Mo, Andy or Derek, but is still paying a combined $50 million a year to A-Rod and Tex. When that day comes it will be difficult for the team to be good, no matter how much money it spends. That time bomb is another, less mentioned reason, for the team to cut costs now. The Yankees have too many legacy contracts to be truly spend thrift at the present time, but they’ll need to be as lean as they can as quickly as possible if they are going to be able to compete over the next several years while simultaneously absorbing the dead contract weight that has been put on the roster. Starting now, when you still have a legendary core of players who don’t figure to be on the payroll in a few years time, is as good a time as any.
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