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Baseball Notes

A-Rod injury has to hurt

One way or another, Yankees must adjust

By Nick Cafardo
March 8, 2009
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It doesn't matter how big their payroll is or how much they insist they can ride out the Alex Rodriguez firestorms, the Yankees will be hurt if the man who is arguably the game's best player is less than 100 percent.

The Red Sox understand this all too well.

Their third baseman, Mike Lowell - albeit not the superstar A-Rod is - had the same injury he is trying to play through, a partially torn hip labrum (except Lowell's was torn in the front, A-Rod's in the back). With Lowell, it reached the point where he could no longer be effective as a middle-of-the-order hitter.

When the Sox won the championship in 2007, the threesome of David Ortiz, Manny Ramírez, and Lowell gave opposing pitchers nightmares. Last year, without Lowell and Ramírez, the Sox felt it in the postseason, bowing to Tampa Bay in the American League Championship Series.

The Yankees have Mark Teixeira, Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada in the middle of their order, but if A-Rod gradually gets worse and becomes unable to play with the pain, they are left with a far less potent lineup, one pitchers can adjust to. The Sox found that out.

"He is an amazing player," said an AL general manager. "Any time you take an incredibly talented guy like that and he's diminished because of an injury, as an opponent you feel as if you have a new confidence against that lineup.

"It's still a great lineup, but you'd have to say that losing an A-Rod would be like losing Manny Ramírez or Albert Pujols. Or even losing part of him is a huge problem for the Yankees."

If Rodriguez opts to have surgery in the next few days, we'll likely see him again in late July or August. If he tries to play, how long can he go? When Lowell had his hip issue, he declined rapidly over a matter of two months.

If he elects to play, Rodriguez will have to be rested - missing more games than he's likely ever missed in a season - and he'll probably have to be used as a designated hitter more.

And what will the Yankees do to replace him if he undergoes surgery?

Will they opt for Colorado's Garrett Atkins, who could be available for a small ransom of prospects? There's also Arizona's Chad Tracy. Could they deal for someone like Melvin Mora? Could they go get one of their former players, Aaron Boone? Could they pry someone like Chone Figgins from the Angels with the thought that when A-Rod comes back, they could move Figgins to the outfield? Or would they just go with Cody Ransom, whom Johnny Damon calls "one of the best athletes I've ever been around."

There's also a theory that the absence of A-Rod would be a good thing for the Yankees. They certainly would be rid of a huge distraction.

When the Yankees won their four championships, they didn't have a player with A-Rod's cachet. What they had was a group of winning players like Scott Brosius and Paul O'Neill and Tino Martinez and Bernie Williams who just got it. They still have players like that in Derek Jeter and Posada and Matsui and Xavier Nady and Damon, but they are aging, and whether they still have the "it" that those special Yankees had remains to be seen.

For the last five years, A-Rod has averaged 42 homers and 123 RBIs, but the Yankees have not won a championship. You can't blame that all on him.

What could help the Yankees ride this out is their superior starting pitching. Don't forget, it was pitching and defense that won them championships.

"It hurts not having A-Rod, but I'm not sure it kills them," said another AL GM. "When they throw those five starters at you, that's awfully tough. They still have good hitters who can score runs, and if I were a betting man, I'd bet they're trying to get another hitter in that lineup."

You have to be able to score runs. For all of their faults, Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu were run producers. They're gone. The Yankees have to hope Matsui and Posada, two of their best clutch hitters, can stay injury-free. If they don't, and if A-Rod is out for a long time, the Yankees will have trouble offensively.

"Losing Alex Rodriguez is never a good thing," said an AL GM. "But one thing this may do is bring the Yankee team closer. Sometimes in times like these, players tend to rally around the guy replacing the big superstar and the guy winds up winning a few games and adding a spark. That's what they have to hope for."

A bitter pill to swallow

Phillies lefthander J.C. Romero is talking to his lawyers about potential legal action concerning the 50-game suspension he was given after testing positive for an over-the-counter GNC supplement. The fact that he can play in the World Baseball Classic but not for the Phillies is all very confusing.

Romero concurs that if he were a "cheater" who injected himself with a steroid, he should be punished, but he doesn't think of himself that way.

Romero, who pitched for the Red Sox in 2007 and helped the Phillies win the World Series last year, understands that he misstepped in not calling the Players Association hotline to check on the supplement he took. But he contends that he never even knew about a hotline.

Though he hopes to get the suspension reduced, right now he is "taking my punishment like a man," said Romero. "My lawyers are trying to prepare something solid before we do something."

Romero said the toughest part will be his absence from the Phillies bullpen "when my team could really use me. It's going to be tough because I really love the game of baseball. I love being around the guys. It just feels like I'm paying for the wrongdoing of other people."

The mistake is costing him $1.3 million for those 50 games, but as Romero said, "Money comes and goes, but while you're a major league player, you want to do the best you can for your team and your teammates. The money doesn't matter, but not being able to help the Philadelphia Phillies win is the worst part."

A few offerings from a veteran lefthander

A few questions for Braves lefthander Tom Glavine, coming back from elbow and shoulder surgery, who starts the season with 305 career wins:

If this goes well, will there be another year and another year?

TG: "I'm not prepared right now to say. It would take a lot of good things to happen this year to consider playing next year. Last year, I didn't think I'd be sitting here this year, so I guess you never know."

Is it weird being here without John Smoltz?

TG: "Definitely. It's a lot quieter, I know that. He's obviously been a staple of this organization. There are certain things I'm accustomed to, and him being here is certainly one of them. It's strange for me and I'm sure there's going to be quite an adjustment for everybody."

John left Atlanta with guns blazing. You were quieter when you left the Braves for the Mets.

TG: "Both of our circumstances were similar. I know how he feels in terms of the emotion of it all. I certainly understand where he's coming from, but he's definitely been a little bit more outspoken about things than when I left. John's always been that way. On the one hand, it's hard on him, but I think he's going to be able to experience baseball and how it's played in that division. Hopefully he's healthy and contributing, and if he does, I think he'll enjoy it."

John said you two weren't going to compete for the same spot. Is that something you talked about?

TG: "Yeah, certainly from my point of view, John was ahead of where I was, rehab-wise. He was at the point where he was looking for a job and confident he was going to pitch somewhere. My question to him was, 'What's going on and are you going to start or are you going to relieve?' The last thing I was going to do is go to spring training and compete for a job. If push came to shove and they had signed him, I probably wouldn't have come here. I wouldn't want to compete against him."

Does it tick you off that he gets to pitch for Boston and you never did?

TG: "I'm a little envious of it. When you've had the kind of career that I had, there aren't many things that I haven't been able to do that I regret. That's one of them. If I could have scripted my career, I would have loved to have had the opportunity to pitch there, especially in my prime. It would have been a blast. I guess I wasn't there for a reason, but I enjoyed my time in Atlanta."

Etc.

Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. I make the Clay Buchholz-Jarrod Saltalamacchia deal right now; 2. When the time comes - and at age 34, it could be soon - I wouldn't want to be the one telling Derek Jeter that he has to move from shortstop; 3. The Reds have already hit four grand slams; 4. David Ortiz should play more first base to give Mike Lowell DH time; 5. Is there really anything wrong with City of Palms Park?

Catching up with . . .
1. John Wylde, president, Wareham Gatemen: This giant (6-foot-9-inch) teddy bear of a man died of liver cancer at 70 last week. Many major league players played for his Cape Cod League club, including Ben Sheets and Barry Zito, who were teammates in 1998. According to longtime friend Joe Sherman, "The hearse that carried him from the hospital to the funeral home made a special detour to John's beloved Spillane Field and literally took John from 'third to home.' " More on Wylde's extraordinary life at capecodbaseball.org.

2. Fab Four: Remember these names. First baseman Frederick Freeman, outfielder Jayson Heyward, outfielder Jordan Schafer, and righthanded pitcher Tommy Hanson. They may just keep Bobby Cox managing for a while. Cox has seen a lot of young players come up through the fertile Braves farm system over the years, and after a short drought, he sees a bright future. "Hanson is as good as I've seen come through here," said Cox. "He reminds me of a young John Smoltz." Cox has seen Hanson hit 97 on the radar gun. He also loves the 6-foot-5-inch, 220-pound Freeman's lefthanded stroke. Heyward, a lefthanded-hitting right fielder, has incredible athleticism. Schafer is the likely center fielder of the future.

3. Alex Gonzalez, SS, Reds: The former Red Sox shortstop, coming back from a broken left kneecap, has opened manager Dusty Baker's eyes. "He's pretty special out there," said Baker. "If we can keep him on the field, it really improves our overall team defense. He makes plays that make you want to say, 'Did he really do that?' " Gonzalez is not quite 100 percent, according to Baker. Last week he was limping down the first base line, but the team is not concerned at this point.

4. Nomar Garciaparra, INF, A's: He placed a call to the Sox front office inquiring about their potential interest. He would have provided some protection at third and first, but the Sox felt they were all set in that department and passed. Garciaparra, who spent a lot of time in Boston this offseason having his calves worked on, then signed with Oakland.

5. Joe Mauer, C, Twins: General manager Bill Smith said the attention is more on getting him healthy after knee surgery than talking contract extension, but the contract will be a huge story for a player who would be highly sought in a limited free agent market next offseason. While the Minnesota native would like to stay in the Twin Cities, he is expected to receive offers in the $20 million- to $25 million-per-year range. The Sox are expected to be front and center if Mauer is available.

6. Barry Bonds, OF, free agent: Baker, his longtime manager in San Francisco, feels Bonds could still be a top hitter in the league if a team would give him a chance. "I know he can still hit," said Baker. "He's one of those guys that will be able to pick up a bat when he's an old man and still get a hit." Baker feels Bonds may be better suited for the American League given his age (44), but that a year off might have helped his knee and leg ailments. "Besides knowing he can hit, the other thing I'm sure of is that he'll be in great shape," said Baker. "The guy really works." Bonds's agent, Jeff Borris, indicated he was going to contact all 30 teams to see if there was interest now that Bonds's perjury trial has been delayed.

7. Andruw Jones, OF, Rangers: That comeback? Well, how is 4 for 18 with 10 strikeouts to start spring training? "He looks completely overmatched," said one baseball official. "The thing about Andruw is he was never a great hitter to begin with. He played great defense, had some power, and would occasionally have a big year production-wise. But it doesn't look as if he's changed much, and that's probably his stubbornness because he's got one of the best hitting coaches in the game [Rudy Jaramillo] working with him."

8. George Kottaras, C, Red Sox: The Sox may have to deal him before all is said and done because he is out of options, but in asking a few scouts the other day representing six teams on whether Kottaras would clear waivers so the Sox could outright him to Pawtucket, five said he'd clear.

9. Jeff Moorad, prospective owner, Padres: His gradual takeover of the team seemed solid, but now we're hearing of financing difficulties.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: "Rays fans, what you see with Pat Burrell is pretty much what you get. Over his career, he has hit .257 prior to the All-Star break and .257 following the break with 413 RBIs overall at home and 414 RBIs overall on the road." Also, "Last season, Jose Reyes had about twice as many runs scored as stolen bases (113/56), the same with Jacoby Ellsbury (98/50), B.J. Upton (85/44), and Ichiro (103/43). Yet somehow, stolen base leader Willy Taveras (68) had fewer runs scored with 64. " . . . Maple Street Press in Hanover does a nice job with its "annuals" publications (Red Sox, Cubs, Yankees, Phillies, Mets, Cardinals, and Indians). Order from maplestreetpress.com . . . Happy birthday to Win Remmerswaal (55) and Jim Rice (56).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com

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