On June 19, exactly three months from today, the Yankees will not be able to use a Designated Hitter for the first time all season. That day, the team travels down to Miami for a three-game Interleague set with the Florida Marlins, and on that day, Hideki Matsui will finally test his surgically repaired knee.
For months now, Hideki Matsui’s lack of mobility has been an open secret around Yankee Universe. When Matsui went down last season, it was clear that his days in left field were long behind him. If Matsui returns to full health — if he can generate enough power at the plate from two surgically-repaired knees — he’ll do so merely as a DH. According to numerous articles published this week, that’s a-OK with Matsui.
But for the Yankees, it poses a difficult question of depth and lineup construction. Earlier this week, Joe tackled just that issue as he assembled a 1-through-9 that should strike fear into the hearts of any opposing pitcher. While Joe proposed an efficiently-maximized lineup with Jeter in the one hole, Teixeira behind him and Damon batting third, odds are good that Damon will lead off followed by Jeter and Tex.
That part doesn’t matter. It what happens next that I want to tackle. Back-to-back behind A-Rod once he returns will be Hideki Matsui and Jorge Posada, both returning from injuries and both limited in their playing time. On days when Jorge catches, Matsui will DH. But what to do on days when Posada doesn’t catch?
According to the optimistic Yanks, Posada will be behind the dish for around 110 games this year. That still leaves Jose Molina and his anemic career OPS+ of 61 with 52 starts. When Molina is in the lineup, he and Brett Gardner or Melky Cabrera will make for a rather tame bottom of the order.
Here is where the Yanks need to rely on Gardner (or Cabrera) to pick up the slack. Here is where the Yankees need to hope that no one else gets injured and that Hideki’s knees can withstand the beating of a season.
In a way, the need to DH Jorge will pay dividends for Matsui. He’ll be able to rest his knees and stay fresher. But if the Yanks lose Matsui at all this year, the team’s DH will be…Cody Ransom? Jose Molina? Shelley Duncan? All of a sudden, the Yanks’ great lineup, while still very good at the top, looks quite weak the bottom.
In a roundabout way, then, the Yanks’ bench looks to be an Achilles Heal. If anyone on the bench is asked to contribute in a meaningful way, the Yanks won’t have much to offer. Hopefully, this reality won’t come to pass, but with Matsui’s inheriting the DH spot in the news, this depth — combined with an old Yankee team — is something to consider as Opening Day nears.
Updated (10:56 p.m.): As many commenters have noted, I omitted a discussion of the Xavier Nady/Nick Swisher platoon from this piece. That was a grave oversight on my part. Clearly, if Matsui were to go down, the odd man out of that combo will slot in as the DH. Still, I’m not sold on that idea.
Nady had a good month and a bad month in New York last year, and his career numbers pale in comparison to Hideki Matsui’s. I feel far more comfortable with Swisher who had a bad year last year but has seen his OPS+ over 120 the two years prior. Of course, their presence adds a lot of depth to the Yanks, but that doesn’t solve the Jose Molina problem.