I'm not going to bother recapping the Alex Rodriguez suspension saga for all of you – everyone knows the gist of things. A-Rod's suspension has been reduced to 162 games, and barring some sort of miracle, he's not going to play at all in 2014. But while his season is done before it really got started, are the Yankees really in a better place in 2014 without Rodriguez in the fold?
Consider this – even with Rodriguez not suspended, there would be more questions than answers in relation to New York's infield. Robinson Cano, who was far and away the best player in the Yankees infield over the last four seasons, is now a Seattle Mariner. Derek Jeter played in just 17 games last year. Mark Teixeira played in only 15, and neither player could hit when they were in the lineup. Couple the questions surrounding them to the Yankees' disastrous attempts to replace Rodriguez's bat in the lineup over the first half of 2013, and you have all the makings of situation that could get ugly rather quickly.
New York is also being forced to break in a new cast of characters this offseason following the departure of Cano and Rodriguez's suspension. Of the nine players to play at least 150 innings in the infield for the Yankees last year, the only ones that will return (assuming Rodriguez's suspension holds up) are Eduardo Nunez and Brendan Ryan – though Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds currently haven't signed with new teams and could conceivably be brought back. The cast of characters that included Kevin Youkilis, Jayson Nix, David Adams, and (of course) Cano and Rodriguez will be replaced by Kelly Johnson, Brian Roberts, and the hopefully healthy duo of Jeter and Teixeira. But New York is one injury away from having to give playing time to Nunez, Ryan, or a host of largely unproven options, like Dean Anna, Scott Sizemore, Russ Canzler, or Yamaico Navarro – your 2014 New York Yankees, everyone.
The dirty little secret about A-Rod in 2013 is that he was actually a pretty competent player in the 44 games he played – especially compared to his teammates. Even surrounded by the PED circus, Rodriguez hit .244/.348/.423 with seven home runs in 181 plate appearances. Those seven homers were more than every Yankee infielder in 2013 aside from Overbay (in 300 more plate appearances) and Cano. Only Cano managed to top Rodriguez in wOBA and wRC+. And it's not as if the Yankees are replacing those two with a pair of perennial All-Stars in Roberts and Johnson – Roberts hasn't logged 300 plate appearances in a season since 2009 and hasn't had a wRC+ over 100 (which is set as the league average) since 2010, while Johnson joins his fifth team in six seasons after breaking the wRC+ threshold twice in the last five years.
Last month, I wrote about how Johnson is primed for a big year at Yankee Stadium – and I stand by that opinion today. But he's not a sure thing, and neither are Roberts, Jeter, or Teixeira – and this is the glue that's expected to hold New York's infield together. Rodriguez has struggled over the last three seasons – but he's never been as bad as the Yankees infield minus Cano was last year. Losing Cano is obviously the bigger deal, but losing both Cano and Rodriguez could be a death blow for New York's 2014 – even with the upgrades the club has made in their lineup with Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann. There are serious questions about the Yankees in 2014, and losing Rodriguez hasn't made anything easier for them.