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What do you do with A-Rod this year?

Not since the early days of the Barry Bonds BALCO scandal have we had a mess like this involving an elite player in fantasy sports. What the heck do you do with Alex Rodriguez this year?

The dude was easily a top-three fantasy player a month ago, but his latest offseason drama — which includes his admitted use of something he calls “Boli” and now his hip surgery — have really thrown a monkey wrench into our preseason plans. A-Rod is expected to miss six to nine weeks at the start of the season after he underwent a procedure to repair a torn labrum — a sports injury usually associated with shoulders, not hips. The New York Yankees, who’ve committed more money to this guy in the next decade than the government has to AIG, are confident he’ll be back and productive sometime in May, and early reports say he has an excellent chance to return to his old self by about midseason.

So the prognosis seems good, and even A-Rod playing at 80 percent capability for 80 percent of the MLB season is an extremely valuable fantasy commodity. If you’re in a keeper league it’s obviously bad news — you’ve got to hold onto Rodriguez even though he won’t give you anything for at least the first month and a half of the season. That will be a painful pill to swallow (or inject, if you like), but I don’t think I could toss him back in good conscience and let somebody else pick up his 30 homers and 90 RBIs and 10 steals, assuming he rounds back into form by the end of May.

Now, if you’re redrafting and A-Rod is sitting out there for the taking, when do you pull the trigger? I’m seeing him ranked by several respectable fantasy publications somewhere around the low 20s to the low 30s, which would put him at the end of the second round or into the third round in a 10-team league. He’s the very definition of a high-risk, high-reward pick at that point, and if you think your team can stay afloat offensively until he returns, go for it. You’ll want to grab a capable fill-in at third base, which is a somewhat scarce position to begin with this year, but holding onto A-Rod could really pay off by midseason.

As for what all this means for the rest of the Yankees’ stars: Those who think New York will be better off without him are sorely mistaken. As you may recall, A-Rod’s offense has almost single-handedly kept the Yanks alive through some otherwise terrible starts to the past two seasons — they don’t call him Mr. May for nothing — and the team will miss his bat immensely in the middle of the batting order.

The pressure’s mounting on offseason import Mark Teixeira, notorious for being a slow starter to begin with and now missing his primary protection in the lineup. Table-setters Johnny Damon, Derek Jeter and sleeper candidate Brett Gardner could see their run-scoring drop off significantly without Rodriguez batting behind them. And if you’re thinking of scooping up A-Rod’s replacement (for now), 33-year-old Cody Ransom, forget it: He’s a career .242 hitter with a .748 OPS in 11 (count ‘em, 11) seasons in the minor leagues. I’m sure you can do better unless you’re taking him at the very end of an AL-only draft.

With A-Rod plummeting in the rankings, here’s how I’m sorting out this year’s top 10 overall fantasy players: 1. Hanley Ramirez, 2. Albert Pujols, 3. Jose Reyes, 4. David Wright, 5. Miguel Cabrera, 6. Grady Sizemore, 7. Ryan Braun, 8. Tim Lincecum, 9. Mark Teixeira, 10. Josh Hamilton.

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