The Yankees were hit with a double whammy yesterday. They lost Giancarlo Stanton to a biceps strain and Miguel Andujar to a “small” labrum tear. Stanton got hurt taking a swing and Andujar got hurt diving back into third base. Once CC Sabathia’s suspension ends tonight and he’s placed on the injured list tomorrow, the Yankees will have ten players on the shelf. The season is four games old! Good gravy. Anyway, let’s get to some thoughts.
1. The Andujar injury is brutal. Stanton’s a great player and an important Yankee, but he pulled a muscle and is expected back in a few weeks. It sucks but it’s not the end of the world. Andujar has structural damage in his shoulder and is potentially facing season-ending surgery. Career-altering surgery, maybe, because it is his throwing arm. He was all set to build on what was a historic rookie season in some respects, and now he’s instead looking at a lost season and an uncertain future. The Yankees passed on Manny Machado and showed faith in Andujar as their long-term third baseman over the winter. He’s missing out on a chance to reward the team’s faith in him and further seize the job. I feel terrible for the kid. Andujar’s best case scenario is spending a few weeks rehabbing and what, coming back in May or June? Maybe even later? He worked hard all winter and all Spring Training on his defense and just like that his season might be over. Baseball ain’t fair sometimes.
2. Andujar, Stanton, Aaron Hicks, and Didi Gregorius are four-ninths of the Yankees’ best possible lineup and they’re all on the injured list. They combined for 119 home runs and +15.1 WAR last season. That is a ton of production. A ton. There is of course no guarantee they would’ve repeated those numbers this season, but all four guys are in their primes, and it’s not unreasonable to think they would have put up similar (or better!) numbers with good health. Instead, they’re all out of the lineup and it is impossible to replace them. Their replacements aren’t putting up those numbers. No team could lose four-ninths of their best possible lineup and not feel it. The worst part? I’m not sure any of those guys is coming back anytime soon. We know Gregorius won’t return until June or July or August. Hicks hasn’t started baseball activities yet. Aaron Boone said Stanton will “hopefully” return before the end of the month. Andujar? Who knows. I hope the rehab approach works but I can’t get the Mason Williams/Dustin Ackley base-related shoulder surgeries out of my head. Fingers crossed. I’m not really sure where I’m going with this other than to say geez, the lineup has really thinned out. The Yankees will be without their two best left-handed bats (well, one lefty and one switch-hitter), no worse than their second best power hitter, and their best contact/power threat. It stinks. It really, really stinks.
3. With the lineup thinned out, the Yankees are going to need several incumbents to pick up the slack offensively with Andujar and Stanton injured. They have to get something out of Greg Bird. Have to. Enough with the “he has upside and he hit some homers in the postseason two years ago!” theoretical production. Bird keeps falling upwards into playing time — he hit .199/.286/.386 (81 wRC+) last season and four games into this season he’s hitting cleanup! — and the Yankees need him to be the on-base/power threat they envisioned when he first arrived. They also need something more than nothing from Troy Tulowitzki, and they need Gary Sanchez to be 2017 Gary Sanchez rather than 2018 Gary Sanchez. Also, Brett Gardner too, especially since he’s apparently entrenched as the leadoff hitter. I don’t like it, but there’s nothing I can do about it. Gardner’s looked more like himself the last two games, and Sanchez is socking dingers, so hopefully that continues. It is literally impossible to replace Stanton’s power and there’s no other player in the organization who combines contact ability with extra-base ability like Andujar. Forget about replacing their individual production. Just get as much as you can from everyone else and worry about fielding the deepest possible lineup. Get more from catcher, get more from first base, get more from Gardner and Tulowitzki. Easier said than done, of course, but it’s the only thing the Yankees can do. No one player is coming to save the day.
4. As much as the injury stinks, one thing losing Andujar does is improve the infield defense and quite a bit at that. I love the kid, and I do think was kinda sorta maybe possibly getting better at third base, but yeah, DJ LeMahieu is a much better gloveman. I’m sure LeMahieu’s inexperience will pop-up at some point — that usually happens on a cutoff play or something non-routine — but, overall, he’s looked rock solid at worst and legitimately above-average at best at the hot corner in limited looks. Going from Andujar to LeMahieu means the Yankees will lose something offensively but gain a lot defensively. Heck, the defensive gain might more than make up for the offensive loss. Then again, it’s not Andujar or LeMahieu. The Yankees should have Andujar and LeMahieu. Still, the infield defense will be improved now that LeMahieu is at third full-time. That’ll help CC Sabathia in particular given how many weak rollers to the left side of the infield he gets. That’s the silver lining in otherwise terrible situation.
5. The Yankees really lucked out with the schedule this month. We know any team can beat any other team on any given day in this game — we certainly saw that this past weekend — but I will happily take a month filled with games against rebuilding teams than a month filled with games against contending teams. Especially while dealing with so many injuries. No Andujar, no Gregorius, no Hicks, no Stanton? Give me the Tigers and Orioles and White Sox and Royals as much as possible until they start coming back. The season is four games old and already it feels like the Yankees are just trying to keep their head above water. That’s not good. The Yankees have come out and play well — they clearly didn’t do that against the Orioles the last few days — but at least the schedule gives the a little reprieve. Staying afloat is easier against bad teams than good teams.
6. The potential for the Yankees to use the injuries as an excuse for, well, anything, is annoyingly high right now. Don’t win the division? Don’t make the postseason? I can already hear Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner talking about all the injuries and adversity and all that. I hate it. Injuries happen and yes, the Yankees are dealing with an inordinate number of injuries now, but I’ve never liked leaning on them as an excuse, especially when you’re in the game’s biggest market and have the most resources. Every team has injuries. The teams that best overcome them are the teams left standing at the end of the season. We’re four games into the season and already the injury excuse is built-in. I really hope we don’t hear it later in the season and we’re instead talking about how Clint Frazier and Greg Bird and others stepped up. Would be cool.