For the ladies and gentlemen who wanted to see more small ball out of the Yankees, you got your wish.
Unfortunately, it happened in a rather painful manner.
Outfielder Curtis Granderson, the team leader in home runs (43), RBI (106) and strikeouts (195) in 2012, has a fractured right forearm after being hit by a J.A. Happ fastball in his first at-bat of the spring. The injury will cost Granderson ten weeks and will sideline him until May.
Matt Filippi wrote a great article examining the possible replacements the Yankees could provide in the meantime. As he noted, however, guys like Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz, barring unbelievably hot streaks, could never hope to replace the power provided by Granderson. And even though Granderson was presumably headed for his first season as a corner outfielder, both Rivera and Diaz are not known for their speed or defense per se.
There is not a ton of major-league ready outfield depth in the minors either, as top prospects Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, and Slade Heathcott still need time to develop. Zoilo Almonte (who homered in the first spring training game on Saturday), Ronny Mustelier (who replaced Grandy in left field after his injury today) and Cuban-defector Adonis Garcia round out the organizational options.
In the short-run, Granderson’s injury forces two dilemmas on the Yankees. While New York will deal with them here and now, both issues have potentially high impacts on the rest of the season and beyond.
First, Granderson’s injury will adversely affect the Yankees’ original plan for the DH role in 2013. Against righties, Travis Hafner was to fill the spot; against lefties, Juan Rivera/Matt Diaz could DH or give an outfielder a half-day off (or a full one with Eduardo Nunez at DH). Derek Jeter, recovering from his ankle injury, was also expected to get a greater percentage of DH innings with Nunez taking over at shortstop (for better or worse). Now that Rivera/Diaz will be counted on in the field with greater regularity, will the Yankees make Nunez their regular DH against lefties? Will this compromise their plans with Jeter? Should the Yankees prioritize Jeter’s time at DH, will Hafner’s at-bats be diminished, further sapping potential power from the lineup? Or will Jeter spend more time at short, increasing the possibility of further injury while also damaging team defense? (This has to do with the "Jeter has no range" argument as it does with any ankle injury.)
Second, the Yankees will have to find other ways to score without their biggest power threat in the lineup. This comes on the heels of losing potentially one hundred home runs to free agency and prior injuries, including Nick Swisher, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, Russell Martin, and Alex Rodriguez.
A month might be a small sample size, but in it the Yanks will have to showcase their ability (or inability) to scratch and claw for runs with timely hits and sacrifice flies. But this month has the ability to alter future organizational policy. The $189 million deadline looms over Brian Cashman’s head. Granderson’s contract is set to expire after this season. April success could show him the door. In addition, if power is considered too costly a commodity in future free agencies, wins without Curtis in the middle of the order could point to a new era of lineup construction in the Bronx. Don’t get me wrong, the Yankees will always attempt to play their home park to their advantage. We’re not taking the “bomb” out of the Bombers. But wins are wins, with or without fly balls over 408 feet. And a Brett Gardner will always cost less than a Josh Hamilton, though each player’s value comes on different sides of the ball.
Of course, a disastrous April would do just the opposite. Yankees fans, who were (for the most part) supportive of the Ichiro signing, could quickly turn against management for the two-year deal. Or current fans of Francisco Cervelli’s hustle or Chris Stewart’s defense might be clamoring for the return of Russell Martin.
So yes, the Yankees’ April playbill might include some bunts and hits-and-runs. Whether or not fans will like the new show is another story.