Are Alex Rodriguez’s days as a full-time third baseman numbered?
New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman says no. But others in the industry say the team may be laying groundwork to use Rodriguez as their primary designated hitter, starting next season.
The Yankees, who say they do not plan to trade Rodriguez, are trying to land a veteran infielder who can play third and also fill in at short with Derek Jeter coming off surgery on his left ankle.
However, few available players fit that description, and Cashman said Saturday that the Yankees’ intent is not to move Rodriguez off of third base.
“There is no discussion whatsoever about Alex transitioning from third base to DH, part-time DH, first base or any other position on the field,” Cashman said.
“As we approach anyone in the free-agent market or anyone in trades, we’re making sure we have insurance policies, (asking) our what-ifs?”
Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix currently are the only backup infielders on the Yankees’ roster. Eric Chavez, who started 50 games at third last season, is a free agent.
So, the Yankees are looking for additional help.
The team has renewed its longstanding interest in free agent Jeff Keppinger, sources say, and also has expressed interest in Stephen Drew, according to CBSSports.com.
Two other infielders – free agent Marco Scutaro and Detroit shortstop Jhonny Peralta – might be even better fits for the Yankees due to their greater experience playing both short and third.
The Tigers, after exercising Peralta’s $6 million club option for 2013, are willing to trade him if they can find a more athletic shortstop. But they have not spoken with the Yankees, sources say.
Rodriguez, 37, started 81 games at third and a career-high 38 at DH last season. He also missed nearly seven weeks with a broken left hand after Seattle’s Felix Hernandez hit him with a pitch July 25.
The injury marked the fifth straight season in which Rodriguez has spent time on the disabled list. Advanced metrics showed that his defense at third regressed after ranking as above average in 2011.
Cashman said that the Yankees again plan to use a rotating DH, enabling them to rest older players. Rodriguez led the club with 150 at-bats as a DH last season. Jeter had 103, Raul Ibanez 92, Chavez 54 and Nick Swisher 47.
The expected departure of Swisher, a free agent, means that the Yankees also will need a backup to Mark Teixeira at first. Chavez could help fill that role, as he did last season, but also would be needed at third.
Keppinger, who turns 33 on April 21, played 41 games for Tampa Bay at third last season, 23 at second and 21 at first. He has not played short since 2010, but the Yankees have twice pursued him before.
They tried to trade for Keppinger after the 2010 season, but the infielder failed his physical, a source said, requiring surgery on his left foot. They also talked to Keppinger last offseason before he signed a one-year, $1.525 million contract with the Rays.
Keppinger’s appeal to the Yankees is obvious – he is a career .333 hitter with an .864 OPS against left-handed pitching, and the Yankees had the second-highest number of plate appearances in the majors against lefties last season.
Drew, who turns 29 on March 16, is a different type, a left-handed hitter who has been exclusively a shortstop in both the majors and minors, but would figure to have the necessary skill set to play third.
Scutaro, 37, probably is best at second base, his primary position for the World Series champion San Francisco Giants last season. The Giants want him back, but Scutaro, a right-handed hitter, possesses the versatility that the Yankees are seeking – he also played 25 games for Colorado at short and 15 at third for San Francisco.
For now, the Yankees remain focused on re-signing two of their veteran pitchers, left-hander Andy Pettitte and closer Mariano Rivera. Eventually, they will need to make a decision on free-agent catcher Russell Martin. And after that, they must figure out their infield.
Rodriguez is still their third baseman. The question is for how long.