NEW YORK -- While awaiting arbitrator Fredric Horowitz's decision on the fate of Alex Rodriguez -- and by extension, that of the 2014 Yankees -- it is important to remember that there are three possible outcomes:
The first is that Horowitz upholds baseball's original 211-game ban, knocking A-Rod out for this season, part of next season, and quite possibly, for good. The second is that he rejects baseball's evidence and allows A-Rod to walk, freeing him to join the Yankees for spring training. The third (and probably most likely) is that Horowitz accepts enough of baseball's evidence to give A-Rod a reduced suspension of at least 50 games.
(There is a fourth scenario, of course, which holds that A-Rod's lawyers will be able to get an injunction against any suspension, allowing him to at least start the season with the Yankees, but I am not convinced this is a winning strategy.)
And even without handicapping the odds of one outcome over the other, this much is clear -- there is at least a two in three chance that the Yankess will begin the 2014 season without the player they had penciled in as their regular third baseman.
So what is the backup plan?
Right now, there isn't any.
Publicly, the Yankees have said they are proceeding under the assumption that Alex Rodriguez, and his $25 million salary, will be with them for the 2014 season.
Privately they may believe differently -- and you know which way they are rooting, for 189 million reasons -- but the truth is, they are taking no steps to protect themselves in the event Alex Rodriguez is unavailable on Opening Day. There simply is no urgency right now within the organization to come up with a backup plan if they need to replace A-Rod at third, which seems likely to happen.
According to baseball sources I have spoken with, who have knowledge of the club's thinking, the plan right now is to get by with Kelly Johnson and Eduardo Nunez at third if A-Rod is shelved by the arbitrator. The same goes if A-Rod is cleared to play, even though for the past three seasons he has shown no ability to play a full season at third base, or at anywhere near his former levels. And he will turn 39 in July.
All that being said, the odds are that when the Yankees open the season on April 1 in Houston against the Astros, the starting third baseman will be either Johnson or Nunez, unless the club chooses to re-sign Mark Reynolds or pursue, say, a Michael Young, both of whom are possibilities.
But I must emphasize that right now, the Yankees do not feel that making a contingency plan for the post-A-Rod Era, which could begin before anyone expected it to, is high on the priority list. Perhaps they believe their offseason pickups -- Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann -- provide enough of an offensive boost that they can manage with a journeyman at third base.
Admittedly, the Yankees are in a holding pattern waiting both for Horowitz to make his decision, and for Masahiro Tanaka to make his. According to a source, Tanaka's agent, Casey Close, is still in the process of organizing details and has yet to field any serious offers. The negotiating window for Tanaka runs until Jan. 24, and considering Close's history of slow and private deliberations, it is likely to go the distance. Another source told me that if the Yankees land Tanaka, their free-agent shopping spree would be virtually finished and Hal Steinbrenner's wallet safely tucked away for the year.
That may answer the remaining questions about the Yankees' starting rotation, but it hardly provides an answer to a question Abbott and Costello wrestled with 75 years ago: Who's on third?
I don't know, they concluded, and right now, neither do the Yankees.