The AL East has been hit hard by injuries this season, with about a dozen above-average to star-caliber players needing lengthy stints on the disabled list. The Yankees have been without Michael Pineda all year and without Brett Gardner and Mariano Rivera for most of the season, and now they’re going to be without Alex Rodriguez until sometime in September. Felix Hernandez clipped him with a 3-1 changeup last week, breaking a bone in his left hand.
The Yankees have a healthy lead in the division — eight games in the loss column — and will platoon Eric Chavez and Jayson Nix at the hot corner for the time being. The 34-year-old Chavez is very quietly having a solid season off the bench, posting a 101 wRC+ overall with a 121 mark against righties. Nix, 29, has a 95 wRC+ overall and a 112 wRC+ against lefties. The concern is that all the extra playing time will expose Chavez to injury and just expose Nix in general given his career 72 wRC+. For the time being, they’ll do.
Given their place in the standings, the value of adding marginal wins via trade is essentially nil. Chase Headley‘s name is on the block and he would obviously be an excellent fill-in and actually improve the team without Rodriguez (what would happen after A-Rod comes back is anyone’s guess), but lesser players like Ty Wigginton or the since-traded Marco Scutaro just add depth. They’d be replacing no-hit/all-glove infielder Ramiro Pena as the 24th or 25th man on the roster. Adding that extra half-a-win (maybe) doesn’t hold much value to the Yankees.
Long-ish term, the team’s concern should be A-Rod’s ability to rebound after the injury. Hand and wrist injuries tend to linger and if you don’t have the strength to hold the bat properly, you can’t produce at the plate. Since it’s his bottom hand, that strength is even more important. Rodriguez is no longer the historically great version of himself, but he’s sixth among qualified third baseman with 15 homers and seventh with a 122 wRC+. That’s a pretty valuable player, and the Yankees could instead be heading into the postseason with a question mark at third base.
A-Rod’s injury opens the door ever so slightly for the other four teams in the AL East, but that eight-game cushion is one giant obstacle. It’s one thing to leap over one team, it’s another to duke it out with four others. The Yankees will lose a win or two the rest of way without Rodriguez barring a significant trade before tomorrow’s deadline, but they still have plenty of firepower to maintain their division lead. This isn’t exactly equivalent to the Rays losing Evan Longoria. The Yankees’ concern should be A-Rod’s recovery and health heading into the end of the regular season and potentially the playoffs, where they need everyone at full strength.