Hard to look back on 2013 and not think about the injuries that impacted the team in the short term (and will continue to impact the team in the long term). Last week I listed all of the players who spent time on the Major League disabled list last season. Here are some of the injury-related situations that standout for 2013 and beyond.
Greatest impact in 2013: Derek Jeter
This is a tough call because so many of the Yankees injuries were significant. Curtis Granderson missed almost 100 games and forced the Yankees to lean heavily on Vernon Wells and Ichiro Suzuki. Alex Rodriguez missed 110 games, and his third base replacement missed 125 (leaving the Yankees sorely lacking in right-handed power). Mark Teixeira missed nearly the entire season, and his replacement had a rocky second half and never hit lefties. But looking for the Yankees most damaging 2013 injury — after quite a bit of changing my mind — I’ll go with Derek Jeter. That’s largely because the Yankees kept expecting him to come back. It was Charlie Brown trying to kick that football over and over again. And the Yankees primary replacements at shortstop were Jayson Nix and Eduardo Nunez, who missed a combined 116 games because of their own injuries. The Yankees had no one to fill Jeter’s shoes, and by the time they knew for certain he wasn’t coming back — at which point they traded for Brendan Ryan — it was too late to do anything of substance.
Greatest lingering concern: Mark Teixeira
Jeter. Rodriguez. CC Sabathia. Michael Pineda. Even Manny Banuelos. Whether it’s their ability to stay on the field, play a position, or live up to past production, there is some sort of lingering injury concern with all five of those guys. That’s part of the problem with last year’s health problems: They’re not necessarily finished because it’s a new season. But of all of the carry-over concerns, I’ll single out Teixiera because of the nature of his injury and the length of his contract. Hitting for power is the one thing that’s kept Teixeira productive even as his batting average has dipped. If wrist surgery has sapped that power, that’s a huge problem for a guy who’s signed for three more seasons with no in-house replacement on the horizon. There are obvious problems with the others as well — Rodriguez’s injury situation is significantly overshadowed at the moment — but a power hitter coming back from a wrist injury is pretty uncertain, and that’s more than a one-year concern.
Most unexpected: Curtis Granderson
An aging shortstop coming off ankle surgery. An aging third baseman who’s become familiar with the disabled list. A replacement third baseman with a history of back problems. A few pitchers coming back from surgery. A lot of the Yankees injuries were somewhat predictable. They weren’t certain, obviously, but it’s hard to be shocked by them. The injuries that were legitimately stunning happened to Curtis Granderson, if only because of unbelievably bad luck. Hit by a pitch in his first spring training at-bat, that broken bone forced him to miss a month and a half of the regular season. And in his 31st plate appearance off the DL, basically the exact same thing happened. Another broken bone, this time costing him more than two months. Unreal.
Most predictable: Kevin Youkilis
When the Yankees found out Rodriguez needed hip surgery, the entered into a risky replacement market. The Padres didn’t want to trade Chase Headley, Stephen Drew didn’t want to play third base, and Eric Chavez didn’t want to leave his home in Arizona. So the Yankees were left sifting through a series of unimpressive options. Mark Reynolds was out there as an all-or-nothing slugger (who ultimately played so poorly that the Indians released him), and Jeff Keppinger was a popular free agent (who signed with the White Sox and had a .600 OPS), but the Yankees went with Youkilis, who had a terrific spring training but couldn’t get his back healthy enough to stay on the field. Despite his own insistence that his injury was not a big deal, he ultimately had season-ending surgery. There wasn’t a great alternative out there, but the Yankees went with a clear injury risk and paid the price.
Lesson learned: Kelly Johnson
It’s interesting that, when the offseason got starter, the Yankees quickly signed a veteran left-handed hitter who can play second, third and the outfield (but also very quickly acknowledged that he was a backup plan, not someone intended to play every day). It was obvious insurance for Robinson Cano, but it also seemed to be a bit of injury insurance all over the diamond, an acknowledgment of what the Yankees learned last season: That their farm system is not ready to plug significant holes, especially in the infield. The Yankees were also quick to re-sign Brendan Ryan (to a multi-year deal), and they’ve grabbed a few experienced guys on minor league contracts (improving their minor league depth from the outside), and they’ve basically given themselves four everyday outfielders (with plans to give the older guys time at designated hitter).
Risking it again: Jacoby Ellsbury
There’s no such thing as a multi-year contract without risk of injury. It’s part of the territory. So, when the Yankees sign a significant free agent, it’s with the understanding that their investment could land on the DL at some point. Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran have been hurt in the past, and each is signed for a several years (Beltran in his last 30s, no less), so those two are far from risk-free. In fact, you could pretty easily argue that Beltran is the greatest injury risk of them all because of his age. But I’ll argue otherwise, if only because the Yankees are clearly planning to give Beltran some time at DH. A big part of Ellsbury’s impact comes in the field, and his value as an elite player is entirely tied to his legs. If those are hurt — and with his high-energy style of play, it’s certainly possible — then Ellsbury could become a black hole for years to come. Ellsbury without great speed just doesn’t seem to be a great player.
Associated Press photo