What piece do you think is the most important for the Yankees to add in the next 16 days? Should the Yankees be adding players at all? These are questions we’ve been discussing for the past few months, and become ever important right now. The Yanks hit the break at 50-45, though things could have been a ton worse. With the injuries and general ineffectiveness, the team could have just as easily been five games under .500. With Tampa Bay faltering, and the Red Sox looking at least a little vulnerable, the Wild Card and AL East are still within sights. Clearly, though, something has to change over this three-day vacation.
Problems with the offense
When your starting left fielder and starting DH hit the shelf, there’s not much you can do to compensate. Sure, you can swing a trade or sign a free agent, if a very good one still exists on the market. Given the nature of these injuries, though, such a move could cause a logjam, kind of like we saw at the end of 2006. Except this logjam would figure to become an issue far before that.
Johnny Damon should be back before the end of the month. Hideki Matsui has been taking BP, and could be back on a similar timeframe, though his ability to hold up over the duration of the season is in far more doubt. Still, it appears as though both will be back in the lineup at some point. Meaning that if the Yanks swing a trade for someone to replace either, they’re stuck with 10 guys filling into nine slots. While some of the vets could use a day off here and there, this would make the roster a bit crowded.
What do you do with the lineup if, for instance, you go out and sign Barry Bonds, and then Damon and Matsui come back healthy? You could institute a rotation, but is that really the answer? I’m not sure myself. I just think that with those two coming back in the reasonably near future, making another offensive acquisition makes little sense. Unless we’re talking Richie Sexson, who would occupy mostly a platoon/bench role. If he even wants to sign, that is.
Then again, the Yankees woes against lefties is overstated. They hold a .257/.338/.394 line against southpaws, versus a .271/.338/.422 against righties. So while adding a lefty masher like Sexson could be a strategic advantage, it’s not going to completely turn around a lackluster offense.
Problems with the pitching
When Wang came up limping in Houston, we knew we had a problem. At the time, I don’t think many of us imagined it would be as large as Sidney Ponson. While fattie has produced decent results thus far, you know he’s not going to sustain it. Getting him, and even Rasner, out of the rotation is of necessity if the Yanks want to contend in the second half.
The problem is, there’s not much help on the horizon. Kennedy is still working his way back, and cannot be counted on to be better than Ras/Ponson. Hughes is out until at least August, though he could probably benefit from an extended rehab stint. Wang we won’t see until September, if at all. Alan Horne has been injured much of the year. Igawa is a trainwreck in the majors. Etc., etc.
Of course, the problem with buying a pitcher is that not many are available. A.J. Burnett is the most attractive name on the market, though you have to wonder how willing J.P. Ricciardi is to send a veritable Yankee killer to the very team he kills. I’ve mentioned in the past that given Burnett’s opt-out likelihood after this year, the Jays might be more willing to deal him to the highest bidder, regardless of division. The exception, upon further thought, might be the Yankees. So we can safely forget about him for now.
So who can they add? There don’t appear to be many names to fill that void. The road ahead is going to be awful rough with 2/5 of the rotation composed of Rasner and Ponson. With a high-powered offense, they might be able to compensate. As it stands, though, they’re not going to win those Rasner/Ponson starts frequently if they’re scoring two to three runs per game.
Offense from within
The problem, as has been noted thoroughly this season, is hitting with runners in scoring position. As a team, the Yanks are hitting .254/.337/.376 in those situations. Puh-thetic. Worse, they’re hitting .220/.302/.318 with runners on first and second. They’re far better off with no one on, as the team hits .265/.335/.421. Though, as you can notice, OBP is a huge issue in all regards.
The team can try to add players, but a huge part of the problem is with the current starters who will not, under any circumstances, be replaced. You’re not getting Derek Jeter’s .345 OBP out of the 2-hole or, for now, the leadoff spot. First, because Girardi would never do that, and second, because there aren’t many guys on the team who are doing better. If Jeter has his career-average .386 OBP, the Yanks are likely a ton better off.
Robinson Cano and his horrible OPB skill aren’t going anywhere, either. while his batting averages have been better since his abysmal .151 April, he has yet to exceed .300 in any month. While he might end up with an OBP around .300 to .320 over the final months of the season, that’s still below an acceptable level for a starter. He’s going to need to bring up his batting average, which isn’t always easy for a guy like Cano, who hack and hacks away.
Bobby Abreu has a career OBP of .405. That is what the Yanks signed up for when they traded for him from Philly. This year, he’s at .345. While that’s one of the higher marks on the team, it is not befitting of Bobby. It’s tough to ask more of one of the few guys producing, but in order for the Yanks offense to succeed in the second half, he’s going to have to be the .390 – .420 OBP Bobby we were used to seeing.
The list goes on. The only players with OBPs above .350 are Giambi and A-Rod, and their respective marks have come down in recent weeks. Damon and Matsui both sit well above the .350 mark, and we’re sorely missing them from the lineup.
The overall point, though, is that you’re not replacing some of these guys who aren’t performing the way we’re used to. You can talk about adding Bonds all you want. The bottom line is that his playing time would cut into that of Damon and Matsui, two of the guys who were already shouldering a good portion of the offensive load. The problem is with Jeter, Abreu, Cano, and Melky, none of which, it seems, will be replaced anytime soon. Not that they necessarily should be. It’s just that they need to up their game to normal levels.
The hitting with runners in scoring position won’t be fixed by adding a player, either. We know this team can hit in those situations. They hit .293/.378/.451 with RISP last year, which was consistent with their numbers with no one on (.828 OPS) and with any number of men on (.830 OPS). The overall numbers are down this year, and the discrepancy is greater. The team OPSs .755 with no one on, .745 with runners on in general, and .317 with runners in scoring position. Once again, puh-thetic.
So no, this team is not just a move away from turning it around. The guys currently on the roster, and who for the most part cannot be replaced, are going to have to start hitting like they’re capable of in the second half. If they can’t do that, you can add as many OF/DH/1B types you like. They’re not replacing poor production in premium lineup spots.