MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Don't discount A-Rod's importance to Yankees

Justice: Don't discount A-Rod's importance to Yanks

Don't discount A-Rod's importance to Yankees
It's easy to overlook Alex Rodriguez's contributions to the Yankees. After all, he has fewer extra-base hits than Jose Altuve. His 14 doubles are fewer than 114 other players, and he's hitting .218 with runners in scoring position.

Three Yankees have more home runs. Four have more RBIs. Offensively, the Bombers seem to revolve around others these days. Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson are having huge years. Derek Jeter has shown no signs of slowing down, and Mark Teixeira is still an impact player.

So there may be some Yankee fans wondering how much A-Rod will be missed as the Yankees prepare to play the next few weeks without him, after he was placed on the 15-day DL on Wednesday with a broken left hand.

They should not kid themselves. It's a significant loss. It probably won't cost them a division championship because they are a tough, resilient group that prides itself on shutting out the noise and focusing on the bottom line.

With Andy Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain seemingly on the road back, and with Ichiro Suzuki now in the mix, the Yankees are plenty good enough to win the American League East.

But they're not nearly as good as they were before a Felix Hernandez offering broke a bone in A-Rod's left hand Tuesday night.

Suddenly, the lineup chemistry is different. A-Rod's importance was discounted by some, in part, because he's baseball's highest-paid player at $29 million.

No, he's not that player.

His power has diminished significantly, and Cano and Granderson are the Yankees hitters opposing teams fear most.

Still, good lineups feed off one another. Hitting really is contagious. Part of what has made the Yankees go this past decade is that they wear down pitchers. They don't swing at bad pitches. They understand the importance of a walk.

A-Rod could still do all those things. His .358 on-base percentage is the second-best on the Yankees, and among the 20 best in the AL. With the focus on A-Rod's declining power numbers, it became easier to overlook the things he still did well.

One of the best moves Yankees manager Joe Girardi made this season was moving A-Rod from fourth to third in the batting order. He did it to split up Cano and Granderson, both left-handed hitters, and to make late-inning match-ups harder for opposing managers.

Rodriguez has benefitted, too. He's hitting 94 points higher as a No. 3 hitter (.320) than in the cleanup spot (.224).

What does general manager Brian Cashman do? He'll surely telephone the Padres about Chase Headley. The A's and Pirates have been linked to Headley the most in recent weeks, but the market could change quickly with the Yankees kicking the tires on third basemen.

Cashman had hoped to get through the Trade Deadline without giving up any of his best young prospects. His farm system has been widely discredited because several players on the upper end have been hurt or are having poor seasons.

But the Yankees have depth in their system, and Cashman could almost certainly put together a package that would tempt Padres general manager Josh Byrnes. So many players have changed teams in the past few days that it's easy to see something happening quickly.

The A's appear to have more players close to being ready for the Major Leagues, and the Pirates have a ridiculous amount of quality young pitching. In the end, either might be able to outbid the Yankees.

But if the Yankees get involved, the market for Headley would change dramatically. The A's need him more than the Yankees, but it would also be a huge mistake to sell A-Rod's importance short.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.