The Benefits of Playing With a Lead

Jayson Nix makes case against a trade in 5-2 win

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Nix made for a winning first day without A-Rod.

    Even though he isn't the player he once was, there aren't a lot of teams that could shrug their shoulders at the prospect of losing Alex Rodriguez for much of the rest of the regular season.

    For all the hand-wringing about his downturn in productivity at the plate, A-Rod still has an 806 OPS this season. That's 29th best among all players in the American League and third among third basemen, so, again, it's not like you've just lost a utility infielder who can be easily replicated by someone toiling at Triple-A.

    The Yankees aren't letting anyone see them sweat, though. They are surely sniffing around for trades and positioning themselves to grab a player who falls into a reasonable price range, but they aren't going to run out and make a deal that fundamentally changes the look of the roster even though they could probably afford it.

    Such is the joy of having an eight-game lead in the AL East with August just around the corner. The Yankees can roll the dice with Eric Chavez and Jayson Nix secure in the knowledge that it won't be up to those two players to keep them afloat, in the race or some other euphemism for keeping their season out of the gutter.

    We left out one OPS ranking for Rodriguez while we were touting his still strong spot in the American League. He's fifth on the Yankees, who have the best overall OPS in the American League and, as a result, even less reason to make a move out of desperation in response to A-Rod's broken hand.

    And, in a case of the rich getting richer, going with Nix might win you a game now and then. That was the case on Wednesday when Nix doubled with the bases loaded to erase a 2-1 Seattle lead and spur the Yankees to a 5-2 win that sent the team home from a frustrating West Coast trip with some positive momentum.

    It's not the first time that the Yankees have realized gains from keeping the status quo in the face of injury. Everything we said about A-Rod is doubly true of Mariano Rivera, yet the Yankees didn't overreact to his torn ACL earlier this season.

    It helps that they can afford to keep Rafael Soriano around for a rainy day, but that's just another way of playing with a lead. It's one thing to act all confident with a big lead in late July, but the Yankees have that confidence from Opening Day because they know they have stocked their roster with players who can step into other roles if the need arises.

    The Yankees' greatest advantage has been money for a long time. The difference now is that they are using it correctly.

    George Steinbrenner would trade for Raul Mondesi after a rough patch because he could afford to satisfy his petulance with a move for a player the team doesn't need. These days, the Yankees use the money to make for a deeper bullpen, a better bench and keeping Freddy Garcia around in case of emergency.

    All in all, the Yankees are on their way to over 1,000 games missed due to injury. That should be an overwhelming number, but it is one that has caused the Yankees about as much trouble as a right-hander who hangs his curveballs. 

    Such is the benefit of playing with a lead.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.