Curtis Granderson

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That PED thing sure was fun, wasn’t it? Now I am going to focus on the actual team for a little bit.

Since the All-Star Break, the Yankees haven’t won a series. They are 6-10 and the solid starting pitching of the first half has deserted them. It’s a small sample of course, but Yankee starters in the second half have a 4.89 ERA compared to a 3.96 ERA in the first half. Of major concern, three-fifths of the rotation, Sabathia, Hughes and Pettitte all have ERA’s closer to 5 than to 4 for the season and they have been getting worse for awhile now.

The problem is, there are not a lot of alternatives right now. Both Phelps and Pineda are going to see Dr. Ahmad today. Vidal Nuno is on the DL in AAA and the rest of the rotation in Scranton is a mess. In fact between Scranton and Trenton the Yankees have only one pitcher younger than 28, with 10 starts this year, and an ERA under 4. That’s really bad. So the rotation is ” Kuroda and Nova and then it’s ovah.”

A look at the standings paints a grim picture. They are 9-1/2 back from the division and 5 back from the second wild card. Coolstandings puts their playoff odds at 3.4%.  We can certainly expect the offense to improve with Granderson and that other guy back in the lineup, But unless the pitching improves a lot, it’s hard to see how the Yankees get back into the playoff picture.

 

 

 

What Does Hal Do Now?

Let me be clear from the get go, the following is not an argument that a payroll of $189 million is insufficient to win a World Series. Starting from scratch, that big a payroll would be much, much, more than you would need to compete and win. But, the Yankees aren’t starting from scratch, so keep that in mind as you read the following. 

I’m not sure Hal grasps the fundamental deal between the Yankees and their fans. The fans agree to pay exorbitant prices in exchange for star players and a competitive team. We respect the fact that ownership is in the business to make money, but we won’t tolerate that pursuit at the expense of a good team. If you want the attention and the dollars that come from owning the Yankees, you have to put a good product on the field. If you don’t, the fans won’t show up. Furthermore, the combination of HDTV and ridiculous prices at the ballpark have made it very easy for the fans to stay home.

The Yankees now find themselves at a crossroads. The $189-million mandate has been issued for 2014, but it is very hard to see how that figure would produce a championship club. I’ve detailed it before, but almost $90-million is already tied up in four players with serious questions hanging over them- A-Rod, Sabathia, Teixeira and Jeter (assuming Jeter exercises his player’s option). Cano, Kuroda, Pettitte, Granderson, Youkilis, Hughes, Logan and Joba will be free agents. Mo will have retired. The minors offer some hope of pitching help in 2014, but little in the way of positional help. And, as of right now, Cervelli and Nunez are the only potential 2014 starters under the age of 30.

Why does this matter now? Because the trade deadline is approaching and Brian Cashman needs to factor in that $189-million figure in his decisions over the next 11 days. Alfonso Soriano and his righty power bat would be a boost for this anemic lineup, but his $17-million salary hit in 2014 won’t work with the $189 million figure.

I use Soriano merely as an example of the type of trade the Yankees have traditionally made in the past. They have taken on salary while giving up less than stellar prospects. Without that financial flexibility, Brian Cashman will have very few options on the trade market this year. Some will argue that the additions of Jeter, A-Rod and Granderson will be enough, but can you really count on them? Jeter made it back for a game and got hurt again. A-Rod is headed for a MRI today on his quad and might be suspended.  Granderson isn’t even playing rehab games at this point. Look at tonight’s lineup. None of the bottom five guys are hitting above .239. The highest OBP among the quintet is .312 and the highest slugging percentage is .401.  And really, when you look honestly at the whole lineup, only Cano and Gardner are probably starting players on a true contender. The rest of the guys are role players at best.

So what is Hal going to do? If the Yankees had seen some of their younger players step up and contribute, meeting the $189-million goal while fielding a competitive team would have been achievable. But I think it is fair to say now that it won’t be. Hal can stick to the plan and force Cashman to run around signing cast offs and fading stars, or he can swallow hard and let the payroll stay where it is now. Financial restraint was a great idea, but the reality of four guys making $85 million and a lack of young talent should force the Yankees to come up with a new plan. Better they do so in July than wait until November.

 

Change Of Persepctive

A year or so ago everyone in Yankeeland was screaming about the trade of Michael Pineda for Jesus Montero. Pineda was headed for shoulder surgery and Montero was a big league catcher. Now Montero has been demoted to the minors while Pineda is apparently throwing 95-mph in extended spring training.

I said it before and I will say it again, you can’t judge this trade until years have gone by. I think the fairest thing to say about it is that Montero simply didn’t fit the 2012 or 2013 Yankees. Sure, his bat looked like a huge asset, but where was that bat going to play? You can read this post about Montero’s demotion, I think it makes it very clear that he is not a viable big league catcher. The Yankees obviously were never going to come right out and say that, but they did tip their hand back in September of 2011 when they had Austin Romine fly across the country at the last minute so they could avoid putting Montero behind the plate. So, I think the Yankees did a smart thing and cashed in on Montero when his value was at its peak. They got a very good pitcher, who got hurt, and a very good prospect, who also got hurt. Both are on the way back and we may yet see a day when people say the Yankees “won” this trade. One thing is for sure, if Montero had been in pinstripes the past 14 months and posted the same .252/.293/.377 line he has with Seattle, plenty of fans would have screamed about how overrated he was. GM’s really do have a thankless job.

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I think it was a very good sign that Curtis Granderson looked like Curtis Granderson again last night. There are too many nights when the Yankees simply have too many dead spots in the lineup. Ichiro has doing nothing. Gardner is about what we expected him to be (maybe a little low in the OBP category). Wells was amazing in April, but has cooled considerably in May. So has Travis Hafner. The Yankees need Granderson just like they need Teixeira. The subs did some amazing things over the first quarter of the season, but it is time for the stars to earn their paychecks.

Why Not?

There seems to be a segment of Yankeesland angry over the signing of Brennan Boesch. I understand he had a terrible year last year and he is left-handed, but the anger is misplaced. It’s a small investment of $1.5-million and the Yankees can send him to the minors. And its important to remember that he is only 27 so there is a decent chance he rebounds from the .240/.286/.372 he hit last season.

Maybe the anger is more about the fact that the Yankees need to take a flier on a guy like Boesch. What the injuries to Granderson and Teixeira have exposed is how thin the Yankees are depth-wise. At this point it seems very likely that the Yankees will open the season with three guys they signed to minor league deals and two of them will be guys they signed in the past week. Unless another move is made, you have to think that Juan Rivera will open up at first with Ben Francisco and Boesch splitting time in right. It’s not exactly an optimal situation but there is not much else the Yankees can do.

So, Boesch may not be anything to get overly excited about, but at least the Yankees are gambling on a guy who isn’t over 30. The Yankees have taken a flier on a guy who could help right now and also provides some insurance if Travis Hafner breaks down. In addition, he is not eligible for free agency until 2016, so he provides a possible low-cost option for next year as well. Is an outfield of Boesch, Gardner and Ichiro something to drool over? Of course not, but it’s the probably the best the Yankees can do right now.

It’s Getting Ugly

The Yankees took another injury hit today when it was announced that Mark Teixeira will miss 8 to 10 weeks with a wrist injury. That timetable puts him back into the lineup right around the same time Curtis Granderson should return. It’s another blow to a team that does not have the depth to handle a lot of injuries.

Sure, the Yankees weren’t going to re-sign Swisher, who would have been a great player to have right now, but they didn’t have to get to this point. Eric Chavez, a 35-year old player who could play first and third, while really only hitting righty pitching, was allowed to sign with Arizona. Travis Hafner, a 35-year old player who can’t play at all in the field, while hitting only righty pitching, was brought in for roughly the same amount of money. Just in case you were wondering if the Yankees would try Hafner at first now, the answer is still no.

Now, let’s not forget that so far Derek Jeter is only projected to be ready for Opening Day. Phil Hughes has been out for more than 2 weeks and David Robertson felt “tightness” in his pitching shoulder. If I am the Yankees, I drive over to the Dominican WBC Team, kidnap Robinson Cano and put him in bubble wrap for the next four weeks. After that, there are not a lot of positive steps they can take to improve this situation. A panicked trade will most likely hurt more than help, so the Yankees should cross their fingers and hope that someone can step up and show them something. The opportunity is certainly there. But, I leave you to ponder the following Opening Day lineup:

Ichiro-RF

Nunez-SS

Cano-2B

Youkilis-3B

Hafner-DH

Cervelli-C

Gardner-LF

Mesa-CF

Dan Johnson-1B

 

Not A Shock

I speculated about this last weekend, but apparently Joe Girardi has made it official- Curtis Granderson will play center when he returns from his broken arm. It’s unfortunate because I don’t think Granderson is much of a center fielder anymore.

What surprised me about the article I linked to is the comment from Girardi saying he would play Mesa in center and Gardner in left if Mesa made the team. Mesa is certainly considered a very good defender, but so is Gardner. Maybe it’s simply a case of putting the rookie in the spot that makes him the most comfortable, but it doesn’t thrill me. A 2014 outfield of Gardner-Mesa-Ichiro might hit 30 homers between them. However, Gardner in center and a free agent in left would make a lot more sense.

Then again, Mesa needs to not only win the job in 2013, he needs to win it for 2014. We shall see.

Bad News

According to reports Curtis Granderson has broken his forearm and will miss approximately ten weeks. That figure includes rehab, according to Jack Curry, but it means the Yankees will not have Granderson in the lineup until early May.

This is exactly the type of injury the Yankees really couldn’t afford to suffer. They simply don’t have a lot of depth in the upper levels of the system and their options in camp aren’t great. Perhaps the best one is Thomas Neal. Neal is 24 and hit .314/.400/.467 in AAA last year. Unless Melky Mesa or Zolio Almonte is ready to make the leap to the bigs, its hard to see how Juan Rivera or Matt Diaz would be a better option.

In addition, this probably puts an end to the idea of Granderson in leftfield. Without the benefit of practicing the position in spring training, I can’t see the Yankees throwing him out there in the middle of the season. So, I would expect Gardner to play center until Curtis returns.

 

Win-Win-Lose

Local columnists aside, I can’t think anyone who has paid attention to the Yankees over the past few years is surprised at the news that the Yankees are moving Brett Gardner to center and Curtis Granderson to left. Granderson hasn’t looked great in the field the past few years and fielding stats back that impression up. His range factor was 10th in the AL. His UZR was an abysmal -17.8.  Compare that to Brett Gardner who had amazing back-to-back UZR’s above 20 in 2010 and 2011 and had the second-highest range factor in the AL in 2011. (He only played 85 innings in the field in 2012, so I ignored those numbers.) Gardner is clearly the better fielder and moving him to center makes baseball sense.

But it also makes business sense. Granderson will be a free agent next season and there is a big price difference between a 40-home run centerfielder and a 40-home run leftfielder. By putting Granderson in left, the Yankees reduce his potential price tag, which might just allow them to keep him after 2013. (We can debate whether or not they will want to later.)

So, the Yankees improve their team and they improve their business potential, that’s a win-win in my book. Of course Granderson is the loser in all of this. By doing this the Yankees put a dent in his price tag and they force him to learn the toughest outfield position in Yankee Stadium. Granderson is not the type to complain, but I can’t imagine he is happy about any of this.