Nothing about the Yankees roster changed yesterday — they’ve been without Brett Gardner since mid-April — the only thing that changed was the hope that Gardner might return.
“I always make the assumption, you just manage the guys you have in the room anyway,” Joe Girardi said. “You can’t say, ‘If we get this or we get that.’ We’re going to get it cleaned up. Let’s get him healthy and get him back on the track where he can help us next year.”
With Gardner heading for season-ending surgery, the Yankees could look to replace him, but there’s no real indication that they’re going to be particularly aggressive in trying to fill a spot that’s been open most of the season.
Solid production as it is
The most obvious reason that the Yankees don’t necessarily have to replace Gardner is the only reason that really matters: They have the best record in baseball. Sure, the lineup has gone through dips when a run creator like Gardner would be helpful, but how much better would their record be if they had Gardner? I’m one of the biggest Gardner believers out there — I’m pretty far away from the camp that believes he’s an overhyped fourth outfielder — but the Yankees are clearly able to win without him, and if that’s the case, why go overboard to replace him? Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez are far from complete players, but they’ve hit for power, just like the Yankees expected. In this lineup, the left fielder is a complimentary piece anyway, and the Yankees already have that.
Still something left
A left-handed-hitting outfielder is hurt, so it makes sense to replace him with a left-handed-hitting outfielder. Right? Maybe not in the Yankees case, partially because Eric Chavez has been playing so well — keeping Ibanez in the field frees Chavez to play everyday against right-handers — and partially because the Yankees have plenty of left-handed, outfield role players. Dewayne Wise is already in New York, and the Triple-A outfield has Chris Dickerson, Kosuke Fukudome and Jack Cust (not to mention Russell Branyan if the Yankees wanted to give him regular DH at-bats). That might explain why Jon Heyman reports that the Yankees have no interest in Juan Pierre or Rick Ankiel, two left-handed outfielders who would seem to be quality role players.
The system works
Remember when the Yankees were in spring training and Girardi explained that Eduardo Nunez would be a regular starter against left-handers? He indicated that either Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter would regularly DH vs. LHP, meaning Jones would be in left field and Gardner would be on the bench. If the Yankees planned for Gardner to be a part-time player from the beginning, then the plan is still working. His absense has basically allowed Chavez to play more often — which has been a good thing — at the expense of some outfield defense. Instead of Nunez resting Jeter or Rodriguez against left-handers, Chavez has rested Rodriguez against righties and Jayson Nix has rested Jeter against lefties. It’s not a completely new lineup construction. It’s just a slightly altered version of the orginal plan.
What’s the alternative?
At the end of the All-Star break, Brian Cashman acknowledged that this is an awkward roster to upgrade. “You’d have to put the pedal to the metal to overpay or significantly pay to find something that everybody says, ‘This just significantly upgraded this aspect of the club,’” Cashman said. That’s still true after news of Gardner’s upcoming surgery. The Yankees still have a pretty good thing happening in their outfield, and a role player or platoon player wouldn’t necessarily help that situation. Shane Victorino is one of my favorite guys I’ve ever covered — I’d love to see him show up in the Yankees clubhouse — but he’s not having a very good year, and what exactly would his role be? Would Peter Bourjos or Denard Span play everyday for this team? Is Josh Willingham, Carlos Quinton or Justin Upton worth the prospect cost considering it isn’t an overwhelming need in the short-term? Clearly the Yankees could upgrade with an acquisition, but the bigger the upgrade, the greater the cost.
Associated Press photo