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What A-Rod’s 162-game suspension means for the Yankees

Mark Townsend
Big League Stew

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(USA Today)

It's finally official, arbitrator Frederic Horowitz ruled on Saturday that Alex Rodriguez's 211-game ban issued in 2013 will be reduced to 162 games, meaning he'll be forced to miss the entire regular season in 2014 without pay. Horowitz adds that Rodriguez will not be eligible for reinstatement should the Yankees reach the postseason.

It's a monumental ruling that should be considered a major win for Major League Baseball. Even with the suspension coming down from 211 games, it's still the longest suspension under MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, meaning their message has been sent loud and clear.

But MLB alone isn't the only big winner on Saturday. The New York Yankees are also breathing a sigh of relief and quietly celebrating, though they did a swell job of hiding it in their quick statement released on Saturday.

"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."

Why would the Yankees be so happy and relieved? One simple reason.

Holes to fill and new found money to spend? This sounds like a dream scenario for general manager Brian Cashman. Over the next few weeks, he's likely to get even more aggressive to guarantee that the A-Rod suspension pays off for the Yankees. Here's a closer look at how this ruling will likely change Cashman's offseason plans, as well as some new questions that will arise.

• The pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka: The Yankees were already considered favorites to land the prized pitcher from Japan. Now that door isn't only open, it's off the hinges. With A-Rod's $25 million off the books, the Yankees have the flexibility to sweeten the pot even more to lure Tanaka into their fold, and still stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold. That if and of itself would be a major win for New York.

• If not, Tanaka...: The Yankees could go any number of directions, including pursuing one of Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza or Ervin Santana. That would help fill the rotation need and perhaps leave enough money leftover to sign an experienced reliever for the late innings or a replacement at third base.

• Who plays third base?: The only downside to A-Rod's suspension is the hole it opens up at third base. Even at this point in his career, he's still the best option available internally and on the free agent market. With that said, New York's financial flexibility could allow them to piece together their production at the hot corner.

The Yankees already have Kelly Johnson, Eduardo Nunez and Brian Roberts on the roster as less-than-thrilling part-time infield options. Should they attempt to sign a free agent, the best available options with third base experience would be veterans Mark Reynolds, who connected for 21 home runs between Cleveland and New York last season, and Michael Young. Both players could provide cheap offense, but the defensive hit would be enormous and probably not worth it in the long run.

Another name being thrown around is free agent shortstop Stephen Drew. With Derek Jeter and Brendan Ryan around, the Yankees could look to sign Drew and move somebody to third base.

Again, there aren't many exciting options available here. The Yankees still have to find a steady replacement for Robinson Cano at second base as well, so the mixing and matching will be interesting.

• What happens after 2014?: When A-Rod's suspension ends following the 2014 season, the then 39-year-old third baseman will be back on the Yankees payroll for another three years with another $61 million being owed. What type of player will A-Rod be at that point? The Yankees would probably prefer not having to figure out the answer, but with retirement not sounding like a consideration at this point, A-Rod will be back knocking at their door.

At that point, the Yankees will have a couple options, but only one is truly realistic: The Yankees can, and likely will, offer to buyout the remaining three years on A-Rod's contract, allowing him to test free agency. It's the Yankees best shot to get out from under the contract, but even that scenario seems unlikely since it could potentially put the death knell in A-Rod's playing career.

Where would the interest come from at that point? It seems safe to assume everybody would be ready to move on the from A-Rod circus and not bring that distraction to their clubhouse, so he'd likely be a man without a country if he accepted the buyout.

That's a potential big issue for New York, but it's one they won't have to think about again for at least the next ten months. As we know, a lot can change during that time, so perhaps they'll have more clarity as to what their future and A-Rod's future holds.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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