By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Losing a 14-time All-Star for a season would usually be seen as a bad blow for a team, but in the case of Alex Rodriguez a lost season would mean a $25 million windfall for the New York Yankees.
That figure represents the 2014 salary for Rodriguez, who would forfeit the sum after Saturday's ruling by an independent arbitrator suspending Rodriguez for all of next season due to his involvement in the Biogenesis doping scandal.
The Yankees issued a terse statement saying they respected the ruling, but the front office of the Bronx Bombers could not be blamed for feeling a lift by the boost to their budget for the upcoming season.
Three successive injury-plagued seasons for Rodriguez, 38, produced severely diminished returns for the Yankees as the back end of a 10-year, $275 million deal given to Rodriguez after a 54-home run season in 2007 has been an economic disaster.
Last season, Rodriguez came back after a second hip surgery to hit seven home runs with 19 runs batted in and a .244 batting average as New York missed the postseason for the second time in 19 years.
The season before Rodriguez was limited to 18 home runs and 57 RBIs, following a 2011 campaign in which he hit 16 homers and 62 RBIs, again hampered by injuries.
Rodriguez was paid a total of $89 million for those three seasons of mediocre production.
An average 162-game season over the slugger's career produced 41 home runs, 124 RBIs and a .299 batting average.
Anticipating that Rodriguez could miss a substantial part of the season despite his appeal of his original 211-game suspension, the Yankees shored up their infield by signing Kelly Johnson.
Johnson, a left-handed hitter with some power, who has primarily played second base in his eight-year career, played 16 games at third base last season and could share time there with Eduardo Nunez unless the Yankees go free-agent shopping.
"My thinking coming in is to be prepared, work my butt off and get my work in," Johnson, 31, said recently about where he might fit into the Yankees' plans.
"I'll get my early work in at third, go to second, go everywhere."
Veteran third basemen Michael Young, Wilson Betemit and Mark Reynolds were all still available on the free agent market along with Stephen Drew, who started at shortstop for the World Series champion Boston Red Sox last season.
Or the Yankees could use their extra money in pursuit of a frontline pitcher, such as Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, is not out of the Yankees' picture.
Standing fifth on Major League Baseball's career home run list with 654, Rodriguez has vowed to take his fight over the suspension to federal court.
Even if he does miss 2014, Rodriguez is owed $61 million for three more seasons, plus bonuses for reaching home run milestones, following his return.
(Reporting by Larry Fine, Editing by Gene Cherry)
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- Alex Rodriguez