Rodriguez, who will be out for a significant chunk of the 2013 season due to upcoming left hip surgery, is an effective player even now that he's in the decline phase of his career. If the Yankees have to make do without him for 40, 50, 60, or more games, it will be a problem.
In a difficult 2012, when Rodriguez apparently was slowed by the hip condition for at least a portion of the year, he was still one of the better-hitting third basemen in the American League. He posted a .353 on-base percentage and hit 18 home runs, and while that's a massive dropoff from his Hall of Fame-caliber peak, it's a productive offensive player.
He will be missed.
"Prior to this revelation, he was still providing, although in a different way, above-average caliber offense at that position," general manager Brian Cashman said Monday.
Compounding the problem is that this is a bad time to be in need of a third baseman. There's just not a lot out there in the way of potential replacements. Kevin Youkilis is the biggest name, but he's coming off the worst full season of his career. And even so, it's difficult to envision Youkilis signing to join a team where he knew he'd likely be headed to the bench by midseason.
After that, the options thin out quickly. It's names like Brandon Inge, Chone Figgins and Placido Polanco. One potentially intriguing option, Jeff Keppinger, recently suffered an injury himself and thus might be a risky choice. Mark Reynolds could make for a risk-reward play for the Yanks, but he probably is best suited to playing first base at this point.
"That's just a difficult position to fill," Cashman said. "There's a lot of teams out there looking for that position right now. If I have a healthy Rodriguez even after surgery in this capacity, you're still going to be better off than what the alternatives could be right now."
Eric Chavez hit very well in part-time duty for the 2012 Yankees and is a free agent. Chavez is not a good fit for everyday work, but as part of a platoon, he might be an excellent piece. It's easy to envision Chavez and the Yankees working out a return engagement for 2013.
Chavez could split time with in-house options Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix if the Yankees are confident that Rodriguez will be back on the shorter end of the projections. Or they could sign Chavez and acquire another part-time option, either via free agency or trade.
There's still one other worry, though. It's an open question as to just how able Rodriguez will be when he returns. This will be his second hip surgery, and even before it, his mobility was diminished compared to earlier in his career. It's at least fair to ask whether he'll be able to be a full-time third baseman even when he comes back to the lineup.
Another complication is that the Yankees might actually be down more than one infielder at the start of the season. The club is maintaining an optimistic tone regarding Derek Jeter's progress from a left ankle injury, but until Jeter is playing, nothing is a given. The injury was quite severe, and the rehab will not be easy for Jeter, who turns 39 in June.
The uncertainty surrounding Jeter naturally has some effect on Rodriguez's situation. Nunez and Nix both play shortstop as well as third base, so any third-base solution that includes either of them must also account for the possibility that they may be needed at short as well.
So while the Yankees are downplaying any need for extra bodies to cover for Rodriguez's absence, if they don't make any accommodations, they'll be a weakened club. They may be willing to abide that for a while, but if the absence stretches deep into the year, it will be a significant problem.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.