March 05, 2009

There are two schools of thought regarding Alex Rodriguez's absence from the Yankees lineup in the wake of a torn labrum: The optimist would say A-Rod, who Yankees GM Brian Cashman said could be out as long as four months if he needs surgery, has seldom been an all-world force in April during his time with the Bronx Bombers (2004-08) -- so the loss in fantasyland production would be minimal, at best.

And the pessimist would say A-Rod is a slow starter -- no matter when the clock starts on his season -- and even if he returns to the team in full health by mid-May, he'll still need another 3-4 weeks to regain his elite form. And from a fantasy perspective, that'd be a case of too little, too late.

Taking away his record-setting April of '07 (14 HRs, 34 RBIs, 27 runs, .355 average), A-Rod is averaging 5.5 homers, 15.1 RBIs, 17 runs, 2.1 steals and a .286 BA during baseball's opening month as a Yankee -- good numbers for Garrett Atkins, Carlos Guillen and Adrian Beltre ... but nothing in the class of David Wright, now the gold standard of third basemen. And if you factor in the loss of two weeks in May (historically, one of A-Rod's best months), all told, Rodriguez stands to lose approximately 11 HRs, 28 RBIs, 29 runs and two steals off his seasonal projections.

In the fantasy baseball preview, I originally had A-Rod slotted for 34 HRs, 107 RBIs, 102 runs and 14 steals; but with the post-injury numbers adjustment, I'm now projecting 24 HRs, 89 RBIs, 83 runs and 10 steals.

(Note: If his hip requires the four months of post-surgery rehab, as the Yankees are predicting, and Rodriguez returns in mid-July or so, you might be looking at 15 HRs, 51 RBIs, 43 runs, five steals and a .288 average.)

So, where does A-Rod rank among third basemen in drafts and overall in our Top 225 countdown? Well, David Wright, Aramis Ramirez, Evan Longoria, Chipper Jones, Kevin Youkilis and even Beltre have a great shot at eclipsing A-Rod's '09 numbers; and yet, I still would have him rated higher than Atkins, Guillen, Chone Figgins, Ryan Zimmerman and Alex Gordon.

Verdict: At the risk of sounding hypocritical here, ailing A-Rod warrants a six or seven ranking among third basemen ... but in the Super 225, he tumbles "only" 35 spots to No. 39 -- just two slots below Longoria, and well ahead of Chipper, Youk and Beltre.

Why is this? Because injured or not, steroids or no steroids, the vast majority of fantasyland owners could never let the legend of A-Rod slip past the fourth round of a mixed-league draft -- as long as the minute possibility of an early May return exists on the horizon. After all, who wouldn't love to brag to their grandchildren someday about snagging A-Rod in Round 4 of a fantasy draft? It could be the comeback story of the year!

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