Vin Mercogliano back here to add my thoughts on a topic that Chad touched on over the weekend. You guys miss me?
With the bulk of the Yankees’ work to improve their offense presumably done, I noticed a lot of you discussing what the Opening Day lineup might look like. As Chad wrote about the other day, it’s likely that the Yankees will only have one starter back from the 2013 Opening Day lineup (Brett Gardner), which creates a lot of uncertainty for what it might look like in 2014. There are a lot of possibilities and this year’s lineup should have more depth – on paper, at least – but it may take awhile to figure out who fits where. Joe Girardi admitted at the Carlos Beltran press conference on Friday that he’s already toying with ideas in his head.
“I do start to think about it, obviously, because there’s a lot more pieces in place,” he said. “You know, there’s two guys coming off of injuries that we expect to be fully healthy (Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira), but they affect the lineup. But I feel good about where they’re at right now.”
It’s obviously very early to be putting together a batting order, but it’s also a source of intrigue at this point in the offseason. Here, I’ve tried to answer few basic questions that need be examined before constructing a lineup, and then I’ve concluded with the order that I think makes the most sense.
1. What to do with two leadoff hitters? I think most expect Jacoby Ellsbury to hit leadoff, and that certainly seems to be the safe bet. He’s been one of the best leadoff men in baseball — when healthy — over the last six seasons, and the Yankees just paid him a lot of money to come here and provide a spark. With the run producers that they’ve brought in — namely, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran — Ellsbury could be the ideal table-setter. I don’t buy into the talk of him hitting third. That short experiment didn’t stick in Boston, and his best numbers have come when he hits first. Gardner was the Yankees’ leadoff hitter last season and did an admirable job, but aside from nearly identical career on-base percentages, Ellsbury’s numbers are better across the board. His batting average is 30 points higher, his slugging percentage and OPS are each nearly 60 points higher, and his success rate for stealing bases blows Gardner out of the water. So, we’ve established that Ellsbury is the more effective leadoff hitter, but then where do you put Gardner? There has been some discussion of him hitting second to give the Yankees two speedy leadoff types at the top of the order, but we all know how much Girardi loves to split up his lefties. Assuming that Jeter is healthy to start the year, you’d have to think that he’ll get the first crack at hitting second. He only played in 17 games last season, but the year before he hit .316 and led the AL in hits while batting mostly in the 2-hole. Dropping Gardner in the order will be an easier pill for Girardi to swallow than it would be to drop a first-ballot Hall of Famer. In my humble opinion, it’s much more likely — and logical — that Gardner ends up hitting eighth or ninth.
2. Who takes Cano’s spot in the 3-hole, and who follows? While the Yankees definitely look deeper and more versatile on offense, they’re not going to be able to equal the production that they got when Robinson Cano was hitting third. In many respects, he was the ideal 3-hole hitter, but he now resides in Seattle. Without his pretty left-handed swing, it’s pretty clear who will make up the middle of the Yankees’ order — Teixeira, McCann, Beltran and Alfonso Soriano — but how Girardi lines them up is very much up for debate. Cano was clearly the best hitter on the team last season, but you can’t say that about anyone on the current 2014 roster. None of the four that I named have numbers that standout above the rest, so we have to take a different approach. Teixeira and Beltran are each switch-hitters, while Soriano is a righty and McCann is a lefty, so no matter which order you put them in, they will naturally avoid any matchup problems late in games. If you look at the history for each player, there are two who have had notable success while hitting third — Tex and Beltran. In my opinion, it will be one of those guys who occupies the 3-hole on Opening Day. The last time that the Yankees won the World Series, it was Teixeira hitting third with a powerful righty in Alex Rodriguez hitting behind him. Soriano — another power right-handed bat — flourished as the cleanup hitter last year, reviving his career by slugging .525 with a .825 OPS and hitting 17 homers in 58 games with the Yanks. It could be tempting for Girardi to try to see if he can ignite both by putting them back in familiar spots. But there is one glaring fact that favors Beltran starting the season in the 3-hole. Teixeira is a notoriously slow starter — who also happens to be working his way back from a serious injury — while Beltran has made a habit of coming out of the gate hot in recent years. So, while part of me thinks that it makes a lot of sense to give Tex a shot at hitting third to get him going and offer him some protection, I tend to think that Beltran will get the first crack at it.
3. How does the bottom of the order shake out? It’s no secret that Girardi likes to use different lineups depending on whether the Yankees are facing a lefty or a righty, so there’s a good chance that this portion of the order will fluctuate. But for the purposes of this exercise, we’ll use a projected starting lineup with players who are currently on the roster — meaning Brian Roberts at second and Kelly Johnson at third. Ultimately, I think that the Yankees will add a right-handed infielder to platoon with the lefty-swinging Johnson (Mark Reynolds, perhaps?), and I think they’ll hold down the seventh spot in the order. Roberts is another leadoff-type, and to split up two lefties in Gardner and Ellsbury, I think it’s pretty logical that we’ll see Gardner hitting eighth and the switch-hitting Roberts ninth.
Here’s how I would fill out my lineup card. What would yours look like?
1. Ellsbury, CF
2. Jeter, SS
3. Beltran, RF
4. Soriano, DH
5. McCann, C
6. Teixeira, 1B
7. Johnson, 3B
8. Gardner, LF
9. Roberts, 2B
Associated Press photos