March 15, 2013 1 Comment
By this point in time, we all know about the New York Yankees’ offensive woes, at least for the first month of the season. With the Toronto Blue Jays poised to win now, the cost-conscious-yet-perennial-contending Tampa Bay Rays, the Boston Red Sox added solid clubhouse pieces and the budding Baltimore Orioles, many predict the New York Yankees to take a step back this year; their over/under wins is set at roughly 84.5, a considerable drop-off for a team that prides itself on being a consistent threat the last 17 years (sans 20008).
In recent weeks, the Bombers moves have appeared incredibly desperate. They’ve reached out to the retired and lifetime-Brave Chipper Jones, the retired Derrek Lee (who has turned down their offer) and Scott Rolen (.716 OPS in 2012). When asked about whether or not this reeks of desperation in the wake of first baseman Mark Teixeira’s wrist tendon injury, General Manager Brian Cashman said it instead is a matter of “creativity.” Teixeria is expected to be out until mid-May, and wrist injuries are well-known for sapping power. In addition to Teixeira going down, outfielder Curtis Granderson, and his .843 OPS in his three seasons with the New York Yankees, will be out until the middle of May after a J.A. Happ fastball fractured Granderson’s forearm. With a lineup that now features only one hitter that eclipsed the 20-homer mark last season–Robinson Cano–the Yankees are going to need additional power. With castaways like Dan Johnson (career 101 OPS+) and Juan Rivera (.661 OPS last season), there isn’t much optimism from a power perspective.
While the aforementioned Cano is the top free agent going into 2014, the Yankees will also see starter Phil Hughes and reliever Joba Chamberlain hit free agency after the 2013 season. Called up with such acclaim and promise in 2007, the Yankees have seen both battle injuries and inconsistency throughout their Yankee careers. Once thought to be the heir apparent to the retiring closer Mariano Rivera, Chamberlain has fought a rotator cuff injury, Tommy John surgery, a freak ankle injury on a trampoline, and was impaled last season with a bat in the 2012 ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles. Despite all this, we learned the Texas Rangers are scouting Chamberlain. This Spring Training, the trifecta of Josh Lindblom, Evan Meek, and Tanner Scheppers have allowed a .387 batting average against. Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria are both recovering from Tommy John surgery; bullpen depth is key to any contendor, and the Rangers would welcome Joba’s career 3.64 FIP. Unlike the Rangers, the Yankees have depth in the bullpen, with RHP David Robertson (career 12.03 K/9), RHP Shawn Kelley, RHP David Aardsma and prospect RHP Mark Montgomery (99 strikeouts in 64.1 IP between Single-A Tampa and Double-A Trenton) poised to succeed Mo. For the Yankees, who are tiring of Chamberlain’s antics, from his “look-at-me” attitude, to an incident early in Spring Training where he stated he could start or relief, suggests he is likely to bolt via free agency following this season.
If that is indeed the case, it would behoove the Yankees to maximize value before Joba leaves for just a draft pick. With the Rangers having MVP-candidate Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, and Ian Kinsler, Mitch Moreland poised to man the infield on Opening Day, with no.1 prospect Jurickson Profar likely called up sooner rather than later, there is likely no room for third baseman Mike Olt, whose name first surfaced last season in a rumored trade with Philadelphia over LHP Cliff Lee. Getting his cup of coffee in 16 games with the Rangers in 2012, the 24-year-old Olt posted a .922 OPS in the minors, drawing a comparison to Mike Schmidt in some circles. Certainly, more would have to go from the Yankees perspective if they traded Chamberlain for Olt (28 homers in 95 games at Double-A). I’d imagine packaging Chamberlain and the aforementioned Montgomery for Olt would be enough; both Olt and Montgomery would have the six years of service team on their respective teams, and Chamberlain, who is in line for a decent payday (consider Twins RHP Jared Burton and his career 3.81 FIP earned a 2-year $5.4mm deal) could conceivably sign such an extension with Texas. For the cost-conscious Yankees, Chamberlain’s departure would allow them to spend elsewhere. Olt’s offensive prowess would be enough to combat the invading age-and-injury troops moving into Yankees camp at an absurd rate. The young corner infielder could play first base while Teixeira is out, and the Yankees are fooling themselves if they think third baseman Kevin Youkilis can get through a full season unhurt, as well as DH Travis Hafner. If the miracle of prolonged health somehow strike both Youkilis and Hafner, who are past their primes, the Yankees could initiate a DH platoon of Youkilis/Hafner with Olt at third, or Youkilis at third, with Olt DHing. Of course, the wildcard here is Alex Rodriguez, who may or may not return following another hip labrum surgery. According to the New York Daily News, the surgery is likely to put an end to Rodriguez’s controversial yet successful career. If A-Rod comes back and tears the cover off the ball, Olt could receive time in the minors with a full-time promotion coming in 2014, given the Yankees are likely to inject much youth, or even “fake” right-field. In a lineup of all left-handers (Brett Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Ichiro), Olt’s right-handed presence would be a welcome addition, even in a platoon role. As Yankee fans have already seen, one the outfielders is likely to be injured for a prolonged period of time or experience ineffectiveness–that’s baseball.
Joba’s value is likely to be no higher than now, and considering the Yankees are more than likely to lose Chamberlain (and Hughes) in free agency, the Yankees should look to maximize value given their bullpen depth. For an aging team, they need youth, in the form of a third baseman from Texas.