Whether yesterday’s flurry of moves made the Yankees any better might depend on whether you consider Thomas Neal an upgrade over Kevin Youkilis or Chris Bootcheck an upgrade over Adam Warren. One thing the moves seem to have done for certain is add a few options and alternatives to the Yankees lineup.
For the time being, first base, second base, center field and catcher are pretty much set. Mark Teixiera is healthy, which means he’s going to play every day. Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner have been the team’s best hitters, so they’re obviously in there. Chris Stewart is hitting for a higher average than expected, and has outperformed young Austin Romine.
But without Youkilis, and with Neal, the Yankees could play around with some different combinations.
Left side of the infield
Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter are rehabbing in Tampa, and their replacements — Youkilis and Eduardo Nunez — have followed them to the disabled list. So the Yankees are left with a trio of Jayson Nix, David Adams and Reid Brignac.
The obvious: Yesterday was a special case because of Thursday’s marathon, but I have to think Nix plays shortstop and Adams is at third against basically every lefty.
The choices: Out of necessity, Nix has played a ton this season. He’s hit against lefties, hasn’t done much against righties, and could probably use a day or two. Brignac is an obvious alternative against righties, but despite being left-handed, Brignac’s vRHP career splits are brutal. The question is, how often should he play? Should Brignac be an everyday guy against right-handers, with Adams occasionally playing against them so that Nix can get a day off? Or should Adams be the regular at third base, with Brignac and Nix splitting the shortstop duty?
The alternative: Corban Joseph is on the 40-man, but the more intriguing option at third base is Ronnier Mustelier. He got off to a slow start, and still hasn’t hit for a ton of power, but he’s starting to heat up in Triple-A. If Adams gets a second chance at regular playing time and stumbles, how long will the Yankees wait before giving Musty a look? You know, assuming his latest injury isn’t serious.
Brett Gardner is the everyday center fielder, but Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki have done little to keep their everyday status in left and right. With Lyle Overbay getting some time in the outfield, and Neal freshly promoted from Triple-A, the Yankees could mix and match.
The obvious: Neal was brought up specifically to face lefties, so he’s probably in there somewhere on that side of a possible platoon. Overbay only hits righties, so when he plays, he’ll be on that side of a platoon. Despite his overall struggles, Wells has actually been alright against lefties this season, and that’s clearly his best fit.
The choices: Ichiro is actually hitting lefties much better than he’s hitting righties, so it’s not quite as simple as platooning Wells/Neal with Ichiro/Overbay. I guess it comes down to who you trust. Overbay has been the best bat of the bunch, but he’s also the least experienced outfielder and presumably the worst defender. Neal has hit both lefties and righties in Triple-A, but will he do the same at this level? Can Girardi play matchups and ride the hot hand from night to night?
The alternative: Mustelier certainly factors into the outfield discussion, but so does Zoilo Almonte. He’s a switch hitter who’s better from the left side, and that’s always made him kind of a bad fit in this left-heavy outfield. Today, though, the Yankees need help against right-handed pitching, and that could be a perfect opportunity for Almonte to get a look.
Girardi quickly shot down the idea of Travis Hafner no longer getting all of the DH starts against right-handers, but the idea might not be so easily cast aside if Hafner continues to struggle like he has the past three weeks. Hafner has one responsibility, and right now he’s not doing it.
The obvious: Clearly the easy thing to do is stick with Hafner. He was terrific earlier this season and he still has some of the best overall numbers on the team (which says more about the team than Hafner). He’s drawn walks and at times he’s hit for power, but his batting average is undeniably ugly and his recent success is nonexistent.
The choices: Overbay is the obvious immediate alternative. He was terrific as Mark Teixeira’s fill-in, hitting well enough that the Yankees have kept him despite having no obvious role for him. He could slide into this spot against righties if Hafner continues to sink lower. Meanwhile, against righties, the DH spot is basically wide open. The Yankees only have two right-handed outfielders and three right-handed (or switch-hitting) infielders, so left-handed hitters are going to have to lay against left-handed starters.
The alternative: Dan Johnson has gotten a little better down in Triple-A, but the reality of this offense is that there aren’t any standout hitters who have emerged as legitimate alternatives at the DH position. At some point, guys like Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez might be available, but for now, the choices are slim.
Associated Press photos