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With A-Rod suspension, Yanks need to address third

New York has options internally and in free-agent market to fill infield gap

With A-Rod suspension, Yanks need to address third

NEW YORK -- The Yankees now know for sure that they will need to plot a new course at third base.

Arbitrator Fredric Horowitz informed Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association Saturday that Alex Rodriguez will be suspended for the entire 2014 season for violations of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

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Horowitz reduced the suspension levied by MLB from 211 games to 162 games, and he clarified that Rodriguez will not be eligible for the postseason if the Yankees qualify. MLB had issued its suspension last August, and Horowitz presided over arbitration hearings between the two sides in November.

Rodriguez, who returned from offseason hip surgery to bat .244 with seven home runs and 19 RBIs in 44 games last season, is still under contract with the Yankees for 2015, 2016 and 2017. The 14-time All-Star will turn 39 in July, and he's played at least 100 games just once in the last three seasons.

The Yankees released their own official statement via press release on Saturday afternoon.

"The New York Yankees respect Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, the arbitration process, as well as the decision released today by the arbitration panel."

Both MLB and the MLBPA also released an official statement Saturday regarding the suspension. Both sides expressed disappointment at the length of the suspension, but acknowledged that the arbitrator had listened to the case fairly and delivered a ruling that closed the matter for good.

"For more than five decades, the arbitration process under the Basic Agreement has been a fair and effective mechanism for resolving disputes and protecting player rights," said the official statement that came from Major League Baseball's home office. "While we believe the original 211-game suspension was appropriate, we respect the decision rendered by the Panel and will focus on our continuing efforts on eliminating performance-enhancing substances from our game."

"The MLBPA strongly disagrees with the award issued today in the grievance of Alex Rodriguez, even despite the Arbitration Panel's decision to reduce the duration of Mr. Rodriguez's unprecedented 211-game suspension," read the official statement from the MLBPA press release. "We recognize that a final and binding decision has been reached, however, and we respect the collectively-bargained arbitration process which led to the decision. In accordance with the confidentiality provisions of the JDA, the Association will make no further comment regarding the decision."

Now, without Rodriguez, the Yankees have an infield with several question marks. First baseman Mark Teixeira and shortstop Derek Jeter missed virtually the entire season with injuries, and the Yankees lost star second baseman Robinson Cano to a free-agent contract to the Mariners earlier this winter.

New York signed veteran second baseman Kelly Johnson in December. Former All-Star Brian Roberts has also reportedly agreed to terms with the Yankees, but no contract has been finalized. Johnson has played 16 career games at third base, and utilityman Eduardo Nunez has played 78 games at the hot corner. Johnson knew when he signed that he may have to move around the infield a bit.

"My thinking coming in is to be prepared, work my butt off and get my work in," Johnson said recently, but before Horowitz's ruling had been announced. "I'll get my early work in at third, go to second, go everywhere. I've got to think that I'm going to play in a lot of different places. That's my thinking. I'm definitely not going to come in making any assumptions."

The Yankees will also have capable reserves in Brendan Ryan and Minor League veteran Dean Anna, acquired from the Padres earlier this offseason. Ryan, one of the game's best defensive shortstops, has only played 29 games at third base -- none since 2007 -- and Anna has played 53 games there in the Minors. Kevin Youkilis, who played with New York last year, will play in Japan next season.

The Bombers are also reportedly close to an agreement with infielder Scott Sizemore, according to the New York Post on Sunday. The 29-year-old missed all of the 2012 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee, and then he retore that same ligament last year that limited him to just two games. He's a career .238 in a very small sample size of 160 games. 

Veteran third basemen Michael Young, Wilson Betemit and Mark Reynolds are all available on the free-agent market, and the Yankees will have plenty of time to mull their options before Spring Training.

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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