Bronx bummer: New York Yankees need to find a fast fix at first

New York Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira runs his hand through his hair.
Mark Teixeira’s injury adds to the New York Yankees’ spring training woes. (Ron Antenelli/NY Daily News)

In just a few short months, the tables have turned for the New York Yankees. The injuries are mounting. Opening up the checkbook and throwing some greenbacks around is no longer acceptable. The New York Yankees are on the verge of becoming irrelevant for the first time since 1995. Or are they?

A franchise that once brought moneybags to the discussion table is no longer doing so. In the short term, austerity appears likely to cost the Yankees. Alex Rodriguez could be shelved for the entire 2013 season. Curtis Granderson will be out for at least eight-to-10 weeks. Meanwhile, Mark Teixeira will be absent for up to two months, possibly longer.

The A-Rod injury was something the New York Yankees could absorb. It’s not like Rodriguez was pivotal to making a run at their 14th American League East title since 1996. His production has been on the mend. The soon-to-be 38-year-old’s popularity is fading rapidly, too. A few months (or better yet, an entire season) without A-Rod might be the prescription the Yankees need to temporarily forget the 10-year, $275 million contract he signed in 2007.

Granderson’s fractured forearm is something the New York Yankees were nervous about. After all, Granderson has been a critical offensive component since coming to the Bronx in the winter of 2009. However, with an estimated return date of sometime in May, Granderson’s production was something the Yankees could absorb for the time being.

Then Teixeira strained his right wrist. Expected to be sidelined until mid-to-late May, the Yankees are struggling to keep the House that Ruth Built II  from turning into a house of cards.

A daunting task remains for the New York Yankees. With less than a month until opening day, the Bronx Bombers resemble paper airplanes as they are expected to field a lineup of Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Brett Gardner and Kevin Youkilis. Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine are still competing for the catcher job. Meanwhile, projected designated hitter Travis Hafner will square off against right-handed pitching, while Matt Diaz will face lefties.

The picture gets more grim. If Hafner and Diaz platoon at DH, what is the deal at first base? For the time being, Dan Johnson is slotted in as the first baseman. Johnson is a platoon player at best. He is likely to face righties. This leaves the door open for the Yankees to pursue another first baseman.

Rumors have the Yankees checking into Derrek Lee, Scott Rolen and Chipper Jones. A problem persists with this notion: If the Yankees are to keep 13 hitters for their 25-man roster, do they have the room to sign an extra bat to platoon at first base while Teixeira is out?

Eduardo Nunez is set to make the opening day roster due to A-Rod’s injury. Added with the aforementioned players, that leaves one spot open on the 25-man roster for a hitter. The consensus suggests outfielder Melky Mesa will earn the last slot until Granderson can return from the disabled list.

The Yankees bullpen is already set, so they can’t short themselves there.

Fixing the Yankees tumultuous lineup is more likely to come in-house. By utilizing a “super-platoon” between third base, shortstop, first base and designated hitter, the Yankees would be able to maximize the capabilities of their lineup while still giving Jeter and Youkilis ample at bats at DH.

Nunez is capable of playing third, short and first. Youkilis can play third and first. Albeit a defensive liability anywhere, Diaz could find himself at third, as well as first. Johnson and Hafner are strictly first basemen when in the field. Finally, Jeter is expected to see days when he is the DH.

With six players capable of occupying four slots in the batting order, intelligent management of the lineup may be the order of the day. It’s highly unlikely the retired Lee and Jones would return to baseball for playing time that is not guaranteed. Meanwhile, Rolen has already spurned several clubs in order to ensure his playing time is guaranteed.

By utilizing an intelligence-based approach to the daily lineup, the Yankees may avoid being flung from contention by the end of May. This will also keep the front office in line with its newfound doctrine of thriftiness.

It appears that injuries could lead the 2013 Yankees down the same path taken by the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies. Last season, the Phillies began the season slow and hobbled, but when they appeared to gain full health after the All-Star break, they were back in playoff contention.

However, the game of catch-up is not something the Yankees want to do. They are the fourth-oldest MLB club. They are in a rejuvenated AL East where the Boston Red Sox are clamoring to bounce back, the Toronto Blue Jays are favorites to win the World Series, the Tampa Bay Rays are division contenders and the Baltimore Orioles are coming off of their first playoff appearance since 1998.

Therefore, the fix the Yankees need can be found in their current projected 25-man roster. Granderson and Teixeira’s DL stints do not spell the end of the season for the Yankees. Rather, the injuries introduced a couple of hurdles for the club to overcome. A Bronx disaster could be unfolding, but with a strong starting rotation and even stronger bullpen, the Yankees have the resources in-house in order to avert a catastrophe.

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