KOBEshigawa: After several years toiling away in the Major Leagues, left-handed pitcher J.A. Happ may have made his first significant contribution to the game…but not in a good way.
Last Sunday in a spring training game, Happ served up a breaking ball in the most literal of senses, fracturing Curtis Granderson’s right forearm. The Yankees, already having lost the offensive punch of sluggers Nick Swisher, Russ Martin, Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones this offseason, will be without a potential 35-40 home run threat for at least the first five weeks of the season.
Knowing full well how competitive the AL East is with five teams that could compete for a playoff spot, the Yankees simply cannot afford to fall behind seven, eight or nine games behind the division leader even as early as April.
We of course sent out the Pinstripe-Signal to our man Vin for some insight on the Yanks in this latest edition of MAMBINO’s Bronx Tales.
Vin, will the Yanks really miss Curtis Granderson? And who should be the opening day left fielder?
Vin: Obviously, the Yankees will definitely miss Curtis Granderson over the first month plus of the season, which seems to be the time he is guaranteed to be sidelined even if he comes back from his broken forearm as quickly as possible. As has been said by many, the only silver lining (playbook) of this injury is that it occurred during Grandy’s first spring AB and thus will missing as few games that actually count as possible. Of course, missing spring training could affect Granderson’s numbers after he returns (presumably he’ll have some rehab games in the minors but nowhere near the preparation time he otherwise would have had), but you’d still rather him miss spring training than larger chunks of actual spring or summer.
Still, this will be the weakest Opening Day Yankee lineup on paper in years (some say in two decades), and Granderson clearly is one of their better hitters and one of the few who would have entered the season without serious question marks. Living legend Derek Jeter is coming off the most severe injury of his career and is 38, soon to be 39. Brett Gardner, who’s shown he can be a useful player in a major league lineup and has shown flashes of being able to produce sufficiently to be at the top of a good major league lineup, is nonetheless not a guaranteed commodity and is also coming off an injury that basically cost him the entire 2012 season. Ichiro was considered a fully regressed version of Ichiro 2.0 before turning into a rejuvenated Ichiro 3.0 with the Yankees. Even then, that was obviously a small sample size (thus the oddity of them giving him a two-year deal of all people in an offseason when they mostly refused to go beyond one year for a 30 year-old Russ Martin). Youkilis and Hafner are declining, injury prone players, and whoever is catching cannot be relied upon to provide major league offense.
Going into the year, Granderson/Cano/Texeira were the three guys the Yanks were going to have to lean on the most; now one of them is missing the first month. It should also be noted that after seasons of 41 and 43 homers, Granderson is the Yankees’ premier slugger, especially after the offseason subtractions. His injury also throws a wrench into the Yankees’ plans to move the superior fielder Gardner to center and Granderson to left, a switch they were “auditioning” in camp but that seemed to be inevitable. Brett will now start the year in center, but when Grandy returns they will face the choice of moving Gardner back to left or having Grandy, who has played 22 games of leftfield in his career, learn the position on the fly.
As for who should replace Grandy on the roster for now, there is really no slam dunk answer. For many reasons, these are not the Yankees of past years, such as 2009 when Xavier Nady was lost to injury 8 games into the season… and was replaced by Nick Swisher. At the time, Swish was a bench player having come to the Yankees as a first baseman..only to see them sign Mark Texeira later in the offseason.
The Yanks signed the mediocre Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz as potential 4th outfielders and righties off the bench, and so obviously they have a chance to win the job for the month. There is a solid group of minor league OF prospects (Mason Williams, Slade Heathcott, Tyler Austin, Zoilo Almonte), however none of them are knocking on the door yet due to age and inexperience more than potential. The people who are talking about the Yankees trading for Alfonso Soriano apparently have been living under a rock and still think the Yankees are run by George Steinbrenner, who once demanded a trade for Raul Mondesi after Juan Rivera (yes, same guy as mentioned previously) was hurt running into a golf cart before a game. The Yankees are not taking on any portion of Soriano’s money, especially considering he’s signed through 2014, just because they need an outfielder for a month.
As a Yankee fan, it’s easy to root for one of the young guys, particularly Almonte who homered in the first spring game and is the oldest and has the most minor league experience of the bunch, to shine in the spring and win the job. You know what you’re getting with Rivera and Diaz (which leaves much to be desired), so you might as well root for a prospect to force the Yankees to give him the job, roll the dice and see what happens. As just mentioned, there’s cries for Cashman pull off a deal for someone who is a better Rivera/Diaz. BUT, if that person is out there, the Yankees already had a need for him as a 4th OF/righty off the bench and would have been poking around anyway. The absence of Granderson for a month would thus have scared Cashman into now making a deal for someone he wouldn’t before. Not exactly the way you want to get a 30 day substitute teacher.
The bottom line though is that there is no “good” option to replace Granderson, a critical component of this relatively punchless Yankee lineup.